Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Your Significant Other Should Be Trained In Basic Horse Management

TLDR version: Make sure your significant other can do basic horse care and management just in case you have an accident and cant’! There’s nothing like having backup when you need it.

I think you all know where this is going right?

I dismounted off Copper yesterday, and I think I some how landed in a small divot I didn’t see under the grass.  I came down on the side of my foot and twisted/sprained my bad ankle (the right one which I had severely sprained back in May).

This ankle has been unsteady for the last three or so odd months, I keep wrenching it, stepping on that foot wrong and semi-twisting it due to all manner of incidences - standing on Duplo (almost as bad as Lego. For reals…), half falling down stairs, falling into little potholes, you know – normal clumsy stuff that is not at all helped by the fact that I’m now 20 weeks pregnant and have a butt-ton of relaxin hormone loosening up my joints and muscles and turning me into the biggest klutz (No, seriously. I never drop as much stuff, stumble, trip and fall over as I do when pregnant. :/  But my OB is okay with me riding, so we are all good. :D )

Conformation shot - 21-09-2014- Conformation shot: beginning of spring… Is there any muscling improvement? I think so -

Anyways, enough back story, onto the good stuff – what I think happened was just fine, what I felt was ALL. THE. PAIN.  So I’m standing there, hanging onto the saddle for dear life as I’m fighting not to pass out right there and then. When my head stopped spinning I dropped down on the ground. The Pon-Pon was all curious and all “Hey, Human, wot you doin’? You ‘kay? Okey-dokey, I eat grass now…”

I just lay there, then I tried to get up and had to sit down again. Copper munched away, but he kept on ‘checking’ on me which I thought was cute! What wasn’t so cute was that I had a horse and a toddler to wrangle away from the arena and back to the yards.

I had Theodore (my three year old son) with me. Usually he plays, and I ride, and we are all good. At this point, he was happily playing with his diggers a couple of feet away from me, but I knew I had to get him, the horse, and myself somewhere safe so that I didn’t have worry about the horse or the child in case I did actually faint.

So I’m organizing the child, making sure Copper doesn’t step on his reins while grazing (the last thing I need is a broken bridle!) as well as trying not to pass out or stand on my right foot.  I helped Theodore pack up his toys, then we walked (I hobbled obviously) to the gate where I had to direct Theodore how to go under the fence when he has a big bag of toys in one hand and a giant stick in the other!

Theo finally got through and out of the way, so I could bring Copper through safely and follow behind. I just didn’t want my little guy anywhere near Copper when I was in so much pain and there was no way I was able to be alert enough to prevent accidents or stop Theodore from doing something silly.

Thankfully, Hubby had arrived by then to pick us up, but while I’m hobbling over to the car I’m thinking “Why on earth haven’t I trained Copper to support me if I do have an accident?” in between having to stop and rest on his neck to keep from keeling over. He won’t walk on with me hanging onto him, but gee, I sure wished he would at that point!

To cut the saga short, I manage to get over to the yards, call Caleb (Le Hubby) and gasp out what happened, then I  had to lie down and direct him on how to untack Copper - although he knows most of what do to already which was sooo handy, because there is no way I could have done it, and I wasn’t in much of a state to be able to do much direction.

I was glad Caleb already knows how to do some of the simple stuff, but I really want to step it up a bit after this event. If he could mix feed and groom well enough to make sure the saddle mark is all gone, that would be good too…

Yeah. My horse got turned out for the first time ever with the saddle sweat patch still there. Not a good look. :S  But at least he got turned out ‘coz there was no way I was going to be able to make it out to his paddock to do that!


Whew. What a story. If you got this far, well done!

As for the ride itself; it was good, but we are still muddling a lot. My current thoughts are that I might be too concerned and fussy about Copper’s frame – how he is or isn’t carrying himself uphill and forwards (not head set – I try not to think about that at all, because I know it will come in time!).

I think I need to stop trying to put so much pressure him to be super light in front and do more work on relaxing his back and producing as much uphill as he can manage while also doing some figures. He is really light while going around the outside track, but we really need to get stuck into our circles and serpentines now, because he tends to dive onto the forehand again when asked to bend. Which is not so good.

You can’t have a half light horse… It means he isn’t truly balanced or carrying himself. So that’s the next step in our training. Transitions and bending. Transitions while bending! Apparently walk-trot transitions on a 20m circle are hard. 

But I’m going to stop now before you all choke on the giant lumps of text.

See ya,


Monday, September 15, 2014

Working Through The Muddle

I think we are working on something good; every ride feels like an improvement, but it’s still a big muddle.  We teetering on the edge of an upgrade – I can sense it, I swear!



So, quick notes for the interim while we chip away at this:

  • I love the new Wide Barrel Loose Ring Comfort Level 1 Myler Snaffle I recently purchased, and I think Copper does too! I think he finds the mouth piece much more comfortable than the French Link Loose Ring Snaffle he was in, as it is thinner as well as shaped.  Boy, that horse has a really fat tongue.  He also can’t lock his jaw around this new bit so easily which means less running off against my seat/hands. A very good thing.
  • Loads of transitions and longitudinal flexion has turned out to be a natural progression in terms of his schooling; not the step backwards that I thought it was. He is eating it up and behold!  The back has been discovered!  This has resulted in some moments of honest-to-goodness throughness and connection over his back. Yippeee!

All in all, I am super happy with the new direction our rides have taken, and I am so keen to keep exploring this. A level up definitely looms ahead!




I might actually be able to start working in circles again!  Haha!!  Only an OCD Dressage Diva could possibly be thrilled about riding on a twenty meter circle, but there you are. :D

See ya,


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Exercises to Supple Your Horse’s Back and Topline

There are two kinds of suppleness a horse can have:

– Lateral suppleness which is activated and improved through lateral exercises such as leg yielding, shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, renvers, travers, etc.

A very helpful article: Lateral exercises at the walk and trot   

Lateral Work Diagram

- Longitudinal suppleness which is the activation of the horse’s topline through the lift and swing of his back

“Longitudinal suppleness is reflected in the horse’s adjustability. He will be able to lengthen and shorten his stride while maintaining his rhythm. Frequent lengthening or shortening of stride helps to create longitudinal suppleness if done properly by maintaining forward motion and rhythm. Longitudinal suppleness is demonstrated by looseness in the horse’s haunches, back, neck, poll and jaw.

Lateral suppleness refers to the horse’s ability to bend his body and neck and is reflective of the horse’s ability to balance. This is especially true when performing the circle. The horse that has lateral suppleness can bend comfortably around the rider’s leg in an arc appropriate to the degree of the circle. The horse should be able to bend without falling in on the shoulder or swinging out of the haunches. The laterally supple horse is able to move his hocks, stifle, shoulder, back and neck. This is generally achieved by performing movements like the leg yield and the shoulder in.” – Excerpt from The Training Pyramid – Relaxation with Elasticity and Suppleness

Your horse can be laterally supple, but still have a stiff and hollow back – as most easily seen when incorrect extension work occurs.

Extended Trot Correct vs Incorrect

Or like this:

Incorrect vs Correct

“Longitudinal suppleness refers to the relaxation and stretch of a horse’s topline from back to front. For a horse to achieve elastic self carriage, he must be free in his back. To be able to perform the increasingly more demanding movements as a horse progresses up the levels, he must have full use of his back, not tensing or stiffening the topline.

‘Lateral suppleness’ refers to the side-to-side relaxation in a horse’s body where as ‘longitudinal suppleness’ refers to the relaxation back-to-front in a horse’s topline. Both are important to enable a horse to carry himself in a relaxed and balanced manner. When a horse is stiff, lateral suppleness is often the first problem. If the horse does not want to flex in the poll and is heavy on the forehand, he needs to work more uphill in front of the leg and be suppled laterally to release the tension in the back.

When a horse carries his poll as the highest point but is short in the neck, it is indicative specifically of a lack of longitudinal suppleness. Horses like this must be taught to reach for the bit and unlock the back longitudinally. All horses can benefit from the following exercises for encouraging longitudinal suppleness.” – Except from Longitudinal Suppleness by Dancia Yates

A tight back in a horse’s work can manifest in different ways; one of those being that it is difficult for the rider to post to the trot. The horse’s back has no swing, so there is no ‘upward’ motion to push the rider out of the saddle.

It can also mean that your horse is unresponsive to seat aids, and/or rein aids. Your horse may lock his neck and jaw against the bit, and pull away from the contact, and by shortening his neck, effectively work above the vertical, or behind the contact with the bit.

Either way, a crucial component of correctly training dressage is the ‘schwung’ – or swing – to the horse’s movement only achieved through the relaxation of the topline.

Schwung - Sometimes people are described as having a certain spring in their step, and the same combination of physical and mental implications are contained in the German expression 'schwung'. In general, it describes a containment and redirection of energy that allows forward movement which comes from the whole body lifting itself out of the restraints of gravity for a split-second with each step. A well-trained dressage horse gains increasingly more forward implusion from his hindquarters, and this, together with a well-developed topline, allows him to swing through his back and therefore move his limbs freely and efficiently, almost like a puppet on a string. His athletic power, losgelassenheit (looseness) and subsequently, 'durchlassig' (submission – soft) attitude allow him to submit all his energy and ability to the demands of the task that the rider is setting, gaining ground with elastic, bouncy steps and eventually giving expression to his energy in the grace and suspension of a passage or the concentrated power of a canter pirouette.

Free movement allowing energy to flow and create elastic power is essential.

“We want the horse to demonstrate a good, lively, but not hurried, walk, which should be ridden in such a way that we can, at any moment, immediately trot or canter on. And the trot and canter must be ridden so that any transition can be executed immediately. We should have the feeling that the walk is lively enough so that we could urge the horse fluidly into the trot using only a slight pelvic tilt (this is the concept of the concerted efforts of both gluteal muscles, seat bones, and coccyx) and increased pressure with the legs (this is another concept of the concerted effort of the thighs, knees, and calves) .

With all of this, it is important to pay attention to giving the aids in a well-balanced way, so that we don’t push the horse into the trot with strong, exaggerated aids. Once the horse finds itself in the trot tempo that is correct for him as an individual, we ride him back into the walk with active haunches. Shortly thereafter we pick up the trot again, and so forth. In this way, the horse develops Schwung almost invisibly. Only when these two transitions are harmonious, fluid, and full of Schwung should we begin to lengthen and shorten the steps of the trot. The two-beat nature of the trot must be maintained as both the frame and the length of the horse’s steps become shorter. The hindquarters must simultaneously become even more active. The horse’s energies are gathered up in a way that uses hardly any strength, so that merely by yielding both hands forward slightly, we can encourage the horse to lengthen his frame as is required (this happens throughout his whole body).  Only a few steps later, this Schwung is captured by means of a light restraint with the hand and the deepening of the heels (the increased weight that the rider puts in the saddle when he deepens his heel is felt clearly by the horse in his back). Sitting too heavily will be uncomfortable for the horse and cause him to drop his back away. Merely deepening the heels also bulks the calves and drives the hindquarters under so they can take more weight off the forehand.” – Excerpt from “Schwung – Expanding the Frame” by Walter Zettl

So, how to unlock a tight back and develop longitudinal suppleness?  Start with basic lateral suppleness; circles, serpentines, leg yields and shoulder-fore. This is the beginning for developing looseness in the horse’s back, by allowing the shoulders/fore legs and sideways movement of the haunches to introduce elasticity into the horse’s motion.

Then the rider can begin focusing on exercises that create schwung, and relaxation of the topline, resulting in longitudinal suppleness.

Training Tip: Exercises for Longitudinal Suppling

Cavaletti asks the horse to compress his joints to lift his legs and engage his back – all good things for suppling and engaging ‘schwung’. An instructional video for dressage training with cavaletti:


See ya,


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