Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another Use For A Whip

I'm feeling very uninspired lately. Spider is doing well, but I'm a little afraid to push him. I don't want to injure him or make his stifles worse. So we're just doing very light conditioning work. Which, quite frankly, is as boring as it comes. I suppose I'm going to have to just push him a little and see what happens, eventually. In the meantime I've been trying to work on my position, which needs a lot of work.

I don't care who you are or what discipline you ride, we all get a little "handsy" from time to time. Dressage riders get a bad rap for it, but all disciplines are guilty of the "crank and yank" at some point. I don't really consider it something to get bent out of shape over, so long as it doesn't become a habit. Like I said, everyone has done it at some point. As long as you take steps to fix it, you're OK. Now, if you consider the crank and yank a viable training option, then you have a problem. But that's another post...........

Yesterday I was doing arena work with Spider. Transitions and lateral work and such. I noticed he was a bit "bridle lame". Bridle lame is when the horse's head bobs as though he's unsound, but he isn't actually lame on any of his legs. You can check for this by standing in your stirrups and giving the reins for a few strides. If the bobbing disappears, you are the cause. More specifically, you're riding with too much hand, or too unsteady hands, and not enough leg. The best remedy I know for this is a horrific torture I learned from a classical instructor I had years ago.

While holding the reins in the normal fashion, you take your dressage whip across your hands, perpendicular to the horse's withers. Hold the whip under your thumbs with your hands on each side of the horse's wither. Then you ride around like this. Keep your elbows at your sides. Keep the whip straight. Keep your hands on either side of the horse. Curse the day you first heard the word "dressage" and decided to give it a try.

Okay, it's not that bad, but it is difficult. And it lets you know exactly how much you are relying on your hands. In my case, I was definitely being way too handsy and not enough legsy. With my hands locked on the whip, I was forced to start using my leg correctly or else go careening into the trees like a drunken madman.

In the end I got the job done. And I only ran into the trees a couple times. Spider is smart enough to dodge the trees in the event of rider failure. He does not, however, make sure that I don't hit low hanging branches. There's really nothing like getting slapped in the face by wet leaves to get you focused.


  1. Yeah, that unsteady hands thing will get you every time - Maisie taught me this lesson. I'm also a big fan, particularly for riders who are still developing independent hands, of the strap that goes across the withers between the saddle Ds, as well as lunging without reins. I've finally begun to learn to use my hands as a boundary that doesn't move - this allows the horse to figure out what I want.

  2. Ha ha - I love this post. My teacher Cheryl got me to do the whip exercise last winter when I was learning to teach a green horse (Rogo) to bend. I was using WAY to much inside rein, when going to the left poor thing. I couldn't even tell that I was doing it. I was also suffering from partial loss of use of my left arm at the time, making my difficulties worse. With the whip held as you describe we sorted it out, but it took time and work. Thanks for sharing and reminding me about this great exercise. I'm going to try it again too.

  3. Ugh. I should do that. Pretty sure we'll hit the fence, though.

  4. Want to try something else to totally confuse you?
    Because I was using the reins too much to steer, one clinician had me cross the reins to my left on was in my right hand and my left in my right hand. Could I steer??? Hardly. It was pathetic, and I've been riding for over 45 years. You'd think......

    These techniques are always good reminders.

  5. ;-) I did that exercise, I found that Teena had a beautifil white lipstick afterwards ;-)
    I should do it, last time I rode, I realsie dthat I was STILL not balanced enough. she is horse trained to weight aids, and really a bit there and then makes her so unbalanced and then I was over-using my hands to steer.

    thanks for the reminder, monday I will ride her with the whip.

  6. I totally forgot about this exercise! Thanks for the reminder, I'm totally doing this next ride:)

  7. Ooh, I'm going to try this!

    One thing an instructor made me do when I was hunching my shoulders was put the whip behind my back but in front of my elbows. Make sense? So your elbows are pushing the whip up against your back. It forces you to keep your shoulders and elbows back, that's for sure!

  8. Yes but does it not make your lower back arch and tensed, and in return brace against the horse-back?

  9. I forgot about the whip behind the back! That's a real torture, too. You do have to be careful not to arch your back with that one. The idea is to stretch your shoulders back and down to avoid arching the back. Both exercises are an exaggeration of the position you should be in. You don't really want to ride with your hands as rigid as they are on the whip and you don't want to ride with your elbows as far back as they are with the whip looped through them. You ride like that for a bit to get the muscles used to it, then when you remove the whip you should relax into a more natural and correct position. It's sort of like creating a muscle memory through torture ;)

  10. here is a short video of one exercise I do to developp the back muscles, to bringdown and in teh shoulder blade. And non, the bar does not help at all!

    Then I do 10 of the teaser, but my feet are on the mat I lift them up in the final position.
    then 10 swam, 10 teaser, wash, repeat ...

    Pilates can be realy torture, but I sit STRAIGHT! It is worth it ;-)

  11. Shannon's right - it's a temporary exaggeration to fix a particular flaw. You know how sometimes you're doing something but you can't feel it? I *thought* I had my shoulders back, but really I didn't. The whip forces your body to recognize 'Oh, so THAT is what shoulders back feels like' and you can begin to correct the problem. You're correct though, you do have to be careful not to create new bad habits while doing it!

    Going to try the whip-over-hands and maybe whip-behind-the-back tomorrow :)

  12. I love these simple exercises that really show you what you're doing wrong :)
    There's another exercise with a whip, where you put it behind your back, in front of your elbows.
    It really opens up your shoulders/straightens your back, but is so uncomfortable!


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