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NOTHING is more enjoyable than riding a well-mannered horse. Whether or not you choose to follow the competition route it is important that your horse has a clear understanding of how to behave whilst under saddle. This is of primary importance from the moment you set foot in the great outdoors as the countryside is not the quiet, peaceful place it used to be. There are hazards galore from barking dogs, fast cars and big lorries to pushchairs, umbrellas and wheeliebins! And if you come across a log that has just got to be - well you want to know that your horse has the same opinion!
HOWEVER it takes time and correct, well established training to produce a horse which is responsive to the aids, accepts a contact and is polite.
THE journey from the unbacked youngster to the confident, respectful riding horse can sometimes be lengthy and, at times challenging, but is nonetheless extremely rewarding.
THE importance of working with and training each horse according to its individuality cannot be stressed enough; training programmes and methods must be flexible.
THOSE who are not experienced in backing young horses should pass the task to those that are. It is so important that equine training is only undertaken by those with adequate experience as sadly it is not uncommon for a horse to be mentally scarred to such an extent that he never does fully overcome his trauma.
BY THE time we consider a young horse is actually ready to be backed it will have been through the various ground training stages so that it has developed a stronger physical structure and so more able to carry weight on its back. Throughout the ground training period we are constantly assessing a young horse's development so that the right time can be chosen actual backing for the particular individual and the transition is as smooth and easy as possible.
WE STILL prefer to carry out the backing process over several sessions rather than taking the approach that "today is the day". In other words we will have spent time preparing the young horse for being sat on. Usually leaning over and then ultimately sitting astride a young horse does not present any difficulties if sufficient preparation has been done but however there are always the exceptions even if no specific reason(s) is evident other than the horse just being wary of the process.
UNFORTUNATELY though, quite a number of the horses that find themselves with us have had their early training started by someone else and something has gone wrong in that horse, handler or both have managed to frighten each other; this results in a lack of confidence and a worsening of the situation.
WHEN a young horse decides that it really does not want someone on its back whether by being unhappy about being leaned on or reacting once someone is on top, depending upon what has gone wrong, it can sometimes take quite a while to restore confidence as any situation that has caused a horse to become tense, stressed or actually frightened, will take longer to overcome and restore the status quo.
OUR round pen is considerably larger than most and even the largest of horses can be jumped in it. So we always ride young horses away away for a few days in there as it provides a safer working space than the school should a youngster decide that it being off the lunge line is all just a bit too much!
TOO many young horses are spoiled by asking them to do too much too soon so early stages under saddle want to focus on free forward movement off the leg and simple rein changes in walk and trot whilst the young horse learns to balance himself once again under the weight of a rider. Once the horse has established that balance again, then we can begin to influence his way of going and the outline he makes.
HORSES vary considerably at this stage as some adjust much more quickly and begin seeking a proper rein contact sooner than others, but whatever the speed of development, maintaining free, forward movement is our main concern at this point.
NEWLY backed horses should be ridden with a very light seat to allow and encourage freedom through the back whilst balance and coordination are established and muscles buid (left photograph). By sitting more upright for a few strides the young horse can experience the different weight distribution of the rider; to start with this will be at the expense of losing from freedom through the back and a consequent shortening of the stride (right photograph above). By adjusting weight and application of the aids, the rider influences a horse's way of going. Compare the two photographs below.
CONFORMATION and breed characteristics (combined with temperament, character, etc.) play an important part in how the young horse reacts and develops at this stage of their training. Some horses need longer than others to master the basics but this does not mean that there is anything wrong with the horse - just allow them more time.
THIS young horse, destined for the eventing, has a lot of making up to do but the basic structure is already there - a good length of leg, short coupled (so handy for the fences with more than one element), strong quarters and a lovely shoulder.
IT would be easy to ask this young horse to round up more but with much developing to do, it is better to develop his balance and forwardness otherwise there is the risk of shortening up his stride as he struggles to carry himself. He has such a lovely easy movement - why risk spoiling it?
REMEMBER that a horse cannot be expected to come out of its stable and "drop" into the perfect outline straightaway. Time must be allowed for muscles to warm and loosen and the horse given a chance to relax before he is asked to start work proper. And, as with ground work, a horse cannot be expected to control his energy, excitement and exuberance all the time under saddle; there are times when he should be allowed to express his emotions. Horses are not robots and should not be treated as such.
WE love to see horses that are happy; just because a horse kicks up his heels and has a bit of a bounce does not mean to say something is wrong - horses must be allowed to express themselves and demonstrate that they feel fit and well.
HOWEVER there is a clear distinction between the horse that is just playing and one that is trying to go riderless!
EXPERIENCE enables the rider/trainer to differentiate - plus of course much also depends on the rider's confidence and ability - and how much fun they like!!!
EVERY horse can have its way of going improved by the correct execution of flatwork. Unfortunately there are many people who think that they are working their horses effectively and efficiently when all too often we see horses that are set in a fixed outline in front with nothing going on behind the saddle. Ridden flatwork is very important for all horses whatever their purpose be it for hacking, driving, dressage, etc. Attention to the rider, suppleness of the body and free, forward movement is the aim. We obviously do a considerably amount of flatwork but as we are mindful that some horses can switch off, we use varied routines and incorporate all sorts of exercises to maintain interest as well as aid learning.
THIS former point-to-point horse unfortunately fell more times than he remained standing. The reason for this was soon revealed!
LEFT to his own devices as a riding horse he used the muscles on the underside of his neck to prop himself up. He was dead to the leg and for his size shuffled along instead of stepping out.
BEING a little thick in the jowl flexion is harder but it can be achieved in time. Another conformation issue - the left hind leg being bowed (even when trotting on straight line - means the leg is crossed underneath the body) making cantering the hardest pace. No wonder he could not race!
AFTER several weeks of long reining, including raised polework, Indie was put back under saddle.
HE PROVED to have attitude and in need of very positive direction otherwise he would readily adopt his preferred way of going.
THE PRIORITY has bee to get him moving forwards off the leg after which we could work towards getting him much more supple through the back so t that he could engage and round up. However as can be seen from this photograph, the left hind is placed a little too far laterally under the body; in Indie's case this is not an evasion but his way of compensating for his bowed hing leg. What a difference a couple of months can make!
THE gelding pictured below had become tense and confused resulting in him constantly dropping his head way behind the vertical or virtually between his front legs; his behaviour generally deteriorated and he became a "dressage reject". Long reining was initially used to open him up and encourage him to adopt a lowered but stretched outline. When work recommenced under saddle, the tendency with the head carriage returned the moment a true contact was taken.
AFTER many months of extremely patient work, Oscar once again has become a happy horse and a joy to ride.
HE WILL move happily and readily forward into a soft contact but now with a nice open frame instead of curling up and not taking the rein forward. He is accepting of the leg and no longer shows the resistances that caused so many problems in his past.
ALTHOUGH already trained for elementary/medium level dressage movements, this horse has had to be taken right back to the very basics of early ridden training in order to break his less desirable habits and restore his confidence, both in himself and a rider.
SUCH a joy to ride a horse that is so soft and responsive.
THE reward for us is seeing the visible results of all our hard work; there can be no disputing the difference in the gelding below yet the two photograhs were taken only a few weeks into his training although there is still a long journey ahead.
IN A SHORT space of time we transformed him from a very tight horse carrying a lot of tension into one that is learning to relax and enjoy his work, whilst building the right physique.
PRODUCING the riding horse is a gradual process. You cannot back a horse one week and expect him to be skipping across the school in half pass the next! Remember- horses develop at different rates so allow for this most important factor. It is not only age and breed which are influential - you are dealing with an individual. The training process is a long-term project - there is always room for improvement but not for complacency! Building suppleness, attaining flexion, establishing straightness and achieving collection are effectively a journey, a most wonderful one, albeit challenging at times!
WHATEVER you do, you must be sure that the horse remains off the leg, is engaging behind and is not losing his outline - or fooling you; many horses are very clever at convincing their riders the outline is good when in fact they are inverting.
OF COURSE flatwork can be kept very simple and basic, but by introducing leg yielding and lateral work, schooling not only becomes more interesting and challenging for both horse and rider but also develops a more supple horse, teaches him to be more responsive and obedient to a wider range of directional cues (aids) and also sets in motion the ultimate aim of all ridden flatwork – achieving collection. See "Dressage" below.
SUPPLING exercises and lots of transitions are key to having a horse which is off the leg. So this is lots of changes of rein through figures of eights, loops, serpentines etc. as well as leg yielding, shoulder fore and shoulder in to start with and as the horse strengthens and develops you can think about travers and renvers, the half-pass and walk pirouettes; these movements lead into canter pirouttes and then you can get really serious with passage and piaffes!,
LEG YIELDING on a circle in walk, trot and ultimately canter is a great exercise which is what Rowena is doing here, hence the inside leg is slightly behind the girth rather than on it.
SUPPLING exercises can be done in walk, trot and canter nd with a more lowered, open neck than in this photograph.
FOR the horse that has had a lengthy period of time off due to injury (or just a long rest period generally) they need to be quietly brought back into work as care must be taken not to put strain on muscles, ligaments and tendons that have lost their strength. If a horse is being brough back into work following an injury it is just as important to go quietly and allow plenty of time as the psychological scars can remain deep-rooted for a long time.
THE mare pictured below had lost her agility and suppleness; she was rigid and tense, literally setting herself against the bit which, at the time of her arrival with us, was a Pelham. She did not seem to understand the aids and how to react to them; consequently she lacked so much confidence in herself and and her rider which was, understandably, affecting her jumping ability.
THE first thing to do was remove the Pelham, and use a saddle that fitted correctly. After a thorough check over by our chiropractor, we commenced work.
WITH long reining work, re-bitting, and suppling exercises, but most of all with gentle re-direction, the mare has quickly come to and, as can be seen here with Fred, is once again a lovely horse to ride.
FOR horses that are primarily jumping horses, as opposed to those that are directed towards dressage, then their schooling workmust be adapted accordingly. For example, it is important that a horse can maintain its impulsion and balances whilst turning the tightest of turns in a jump off.
HERE Fred is demonstrating in canter working towards those tight turns - just look how the mare is really using her inside hindleg and nearside shoulder - she is is perfect balance.
RIDING is potentially dangerous but we can minimise the risks by having horses that are as well behaved and obedient particularly if you wish to ride out on the roads.
A HORSE cannot be expected to work enthusiastically in the school environment every day so it is important to vary the working locations to provide interest and variety.
THERE are many distractions but the horse should be equally attentive and remember their manners when working in open spaces.This not only makes riding them a more pleasurable experience but is important as regards safety.
OF COURSE training work outside the school is much more interesting for a horse and helps keep him with a fresh outlook even though is can provide additional challenges for the rider!
DRESSAGE, put simply, is the progressive gymnastic training of a horse to develop his strength, suppleness, balance and co-ordination; it takes many years of working through the scales of training, with each stage or level being a development of the previous one.
HOWEVER in order to train horses to the highest levels demands accuracy from the rider too - a rider that can ride in balance with an independent seat thus allowing the correct application of the aids in a subtle manner. It is a great shame that too many riders do think they ride better than they do because they are letting their horses down; they will even blame their horse for its poor way of going when they should be examining the accuracy of their riding!.
WHILST a horse may well, for example, be able to execute shoulder-in and simple changes, it is the quality of the movements which is so important alongside suppleness, softness and elasticity; as time passes the simple movements just get better as the horse progresses to travers, half passes, tempi changes, pirouettes, etc.
DRESSAGE is accessible to everyone but if you want to be a "serious" dressage competitor then regardless of your training and riding abilities you will really need to be under the regular and watchful eye of a trainer. Everyone needs someone on the ground to ensure correctness and accuracy. Arena mirrors are a great asset in this espect.
THERE are trainers to suit all levels of horse and rider abiity. Whoever you choose it is important that you can relate to tht person and feel comfortable with them otherwise you will be tense which will transmit to your horse s the experience will not be a positive one for either of you. A trainer may be right for your friend but not necessarily for you.
DRESSAGE competitions cover all levels and abilities so don't be put off if half passes and pirouettes are beyond your capability; you can still go out there and have a lot of fun - there are tests where you do not even have to canter!
HOPEFULLY we have managed to stress the importance of giving the young horse the right start in life. Its early ridden work and how it is effected will remains with a horse throughout its life. Just as people do not ever forget how to ride a bike, likewise a horse does not forget how to be ridden - and nor does it forget what it went through to get to that stage in its life!