Saturday, March 17, 2012

Training Tip: Loosening the base of the neck

Remember when I wrote the Training Tip: Slow him down post?  The basis of that post was to use lateral flexion at the poll to soften the horse and slow him down by asking for concentration on the gait and balance, rather than just speeding around. 

To do that, I would signal for flexion by pulsing/vibrating my inside rein, asking the horse to flex his head in from the poll and bend his nose marginally so that I could just see the eye.  Hold that bend for two to four strides, then pulse/vibrate the outside rein and ask for the same degree of bend to the other side.  This can be done on a twenty meter circle or on the straight.    

This exercise is great for slowing down a fast canter on a 20m circle, but as I found out today it is also great for loosening a horse’s neck muscles.

Val from Memoirs of a Horse Girl writes her take on using in-out head flexion in this post Riding Reflection – The base of the neck.  She doesn’t go into the specifics of asking for the release of the horse’s neck, but she does go into the results saying

Asking him to release the muscles at the base of the neck allowed him to relax his entire neck and back… When he wanted to release those muscles more, I moved both of my hands slightly forward, toward the bit…

I experimented with transitions and changes of direction, always looking and feeling for the muscles in front of the withers to be soft.  Sometimes I opened the rein quite dramatically to prevent myself from pulling back as much as to encourage him to let the muscles go.  I was focusing on the withers, but the effect was on his self carriage.  I could feel him stepping evenly with both hind legs and becoming lighter in front.  I was concerned that cantering would introduce too much excitement and spoil the magic, but he actually carried the feel into the canter.  He bounded in front of me, lifting his shoulders with each stride.  The best was the last transition. 

We went from canter to a nice trot and then I asked him to walk.  He lifted his withers, making a place for his hind legs, and I felt him step deeply underneath our weight as he shifted gears.  This is so difficult for my horse, and he could not have done this if I had pulled on the reins...” 

I find it so interesting because she describes that feeling of her horse stepping under himself, and the softness in front of the whither.  I remembered how that felt with Copper’s canter – I hadn’t realised that’s what I was getting, but I was!

I also knew in a flash that the in-out flexion technique I was using in canter for Copper would be excessively valuable in walk/trot as well for loosening up Joey’s neck.  A light bulb moment if you like!

So adding on to the benefits of softening a fast gait, we can also achieve softness through the neck, which in turn allows softness through the back and then the horse can engage his hindquarters and lift/use his back.

Training exercises can produce more than one result!  *ding*  Useful to know.

See ya!


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