Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I took a picture of Spider last night. He's very out of shape, as you can see. I wanted to preserve a record of his progress as I get him back into shape. I figure I'll take another picture in a month to compare. Hopefully he'll be in better shape.

I was going to take a picture of him trotting around, but it turns out I'm not coordinated enough to lunge the horse and take a picture at the same time.

So on Monday I thought that he felt like a green horse and I felt like a green rider. That's a balance problem. A balance problem is (usually) a fitness problem. OK, I can't fix that in one ride. But, I can make sure that the work I am doing is as correct as possible. No noodling around! Everything has to be precise and balanced.

I decided to start out with some turns on the forehand. Some riders and trainers I know don't like to do turns on the forehand, as they are not "really" a dressage movement and not called for in tests, but I like them. When done properly, they encourage the horse to step underneath himself with the inside hind and take the outside rein contact. When not done properly, you just end up pulling the horse around in a circle. Which might be why some people don't like them.

Anyway, since I was working on being precise I wanted to concentrate on every step. The goal here wasn't to have a pretty circle, but to make sure that every step was correct. If he stepped forward or bent his head to the outside, it wasn't a big deal. We just tried again, one step at a time. I concentrated on feeling his inside hind leg step underneath and feeling his neck stretch into the outside rein. I gave the inside rein frequently, to make sure I wasn't pulling him around. If he bent to the outside when I gave the inside rein, I applied my inside leg a little harder, feeling for his inside hind to reach further under and his neck to stretch back into the outside rein. If the steps got quick or he stepped forward, I half-halted. The circles weren't pretty, or even circular, but in the end he felt looser and more uphill. So we moved on to 20 meter squares.

Again, we were going for precision, riding every step. Still at the walk, I picked a point straight in front of me and marched him toward it. When we hit our mark, I had him stop and do a 1/4 turn on the haunches. Again, riding every step. If he got quick or unbalanced I half-halted and concentrated on making the next step better. Then we marched off again to the next point in our square. When I was happy with our squares I asked him to trot.

At the trot we did a few figure eights. I concentrated on keeping him off his forehand and passing him smoothly to the new outside rein in the center of the figure eight. But, since we had done a lot of trot work the previous day, I didn't want to spend too much time trotting. I like to concentrate on different things from day to day. Too much of one exercise is boring and doesn't build muscle efficiently.

I brought him back to walk, did a few shoulder ins and leg yields in both directions, still focusing on riding every step, then turned him on a 20 meter circle and asked for the canter (through the trot, not directly from walk). And this is where all my previous balancing work came in handy. Because I had been concentrating on keeping him balanced and riding every step throughout the ride, it was now easier for me to maintain that feeling, even though we were at a quicker and more difficult gait. As we went around I concentrated on feeling his back and haunches under me. If he became too quick, I half halted. If he fell to the inside, I shifted my weight back to the center and put my inside leg on. If I felt him slow down or try to break to trot, I put my legs on. I didn't care how good the circles were or how pretty he looked, I just rode every stride. If one stride was bad, I fixed it on the next stride. I shut everything out and just focused on balancing him.

We changed direction through the trot a few times. Each time I took him back to trot he felt better and better. When I finally got a smooth downward transition and nice, floaty trot I took him off the twenty meter circle and trotted on the rail, allowing him to stretch down and out, chewing the reins out of my hands. And we called it a day.

I didn't work him very long, only 20 minutes excluding the warm-up and cool down, but at the end of the work he was sweating and breathing hard. On Monday he was still pretty fresh after our ride, no sweat at all even though we worked longer and did more trot work. The difference was in the intensity of the work. On Monday I was just sort of noodling around, letting him (and myself) be wiggly and not really asking for the work to be correct. Lesson learned.

I'll probably give him today off, mostly because I'm tired and sore. I'm sure he is too.


  1. Humidity was up today, so that didn't help his stamina either. Good exercises and well "played." You're thinking the training through and making good progress with his balance already.

    Hold camera in one hand, lunge line in other and snap away. Then again, horse has to be pretty reliable on the line so he stays out there and moving without much direction from you--the photographer.

  2. Super training programme!
    I like the fact that you never do twice the same exercises. It is something I must remember.

    A reining training would be split in two: *guiding, horse stays bewteen the reins, maintains gaits and directions that it is given.
    *suppling: pivot on front leg, pivot hind leg, side-passing, two-tracking, backing.

    The moves are more exagerated than in dressage, but then they are stretches.

    If done properly the horse becomes supple, and light. IF DONE PROPERLY .... I mean without anoveruse of spurs!

    Keep writing, I truly enjoy your training. Have you thought of using a heart rate monitor for Spider?

  3. Love your post. Sounds like a great session and there's a lot to be learned from your approach. I'm really trying to focus on balance with my horse right now, so reading this is helpful. Thanks.

  4. I'm not much good with a camera and longe either. I'd probably wind up sprawled on my face with the longe line tangled around my ankles.

    Good post. I like your training philosophy and the exercises you did.


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