Category Archives: Basic Paces

Pure Gaits

Pure GaitsMy very good friend’s horse is broken (her words).  It is an utter tragedy.  This horse is a lovely character, he is handsome and well bred (Rubinstein), a great mover who had fantastic potential; a real gem of a horse and very much loved.  Out of respect for my friend I will not go into detail but I tell you this because the irony is weighing heavy on me.

Looking out for another horse, insult is added to injury (no pun intended) due to how appallingly difficult it is to find a young warm blood here in the U.K. with pure gaits.  I am not suggesting it is easier on the continent either! Pure gaits are so important in dressage because they help create a supple, symmetric horse; developing a healthy muscle structure that supports the spine and the ribcage evenly through every expansion and contraction. Asymmetrical, short stepping horses develop muscular restriction with every step that impairs their health and thus training progress.

Now I do not want to open up a can of worms, because I have forming views that I do not like, have not completely and fully researched and as yet are unproven.  The fact is that we are seeing more and more horses coming to our small yard with asymmetry issues, so much so that in the past 6 months we have begun to specialise in post op, rehabilitation with at least 5 x spine surgeries, 2 x suspensory ops, 2 x dental ops, every single horse some level of remedial farriery – I could go on but it is waaaay too depressing.Pure Gaits

So, turning to the search for a backed four year old who is ready to start his/her career the focus is one the whole horse and pure even, active gaits.

What are PURE GAITS?

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Strength Training in Dressage

Recognising that your horse may not have the strength to perform the work you are asking for is key to ensuring he remains sound and willing throughout his Dressage career.

StrengthConsider this: If you embarked on a program of stretching, joined a yoga or pilates class or even joined a gym how would you feel after your first session?  Perhaps a little sore, perhaps a little tired.  How long could you do and how often would you need to go before it became easier and enjoyable?

What would happen if you jumped in at the deep end and did the ‘body blast’ class?  My guess is you would be laid up for a few days and probably wouldn’t want to go again.

Why Use Strength Training?

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Straightness

StraightnessThe Law of Straightness says that everything must be straight or else the world will explode!  Whilst this is little tongue in cheek, for me getting a little obsessive compulsive about straightness is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to your riding!

Every horse is naturally asymmetrical, just like every human they are left or right handed.  Every horse has a natural tendency to bend left or right, just like every human will favour leaning on one leg or another.

Every horse will naturally carry more weight on the front legs than on the hind legs, causing uneven distribution of the weight over the four legs.  It is down to you, the rider to recognize and correct these imbalances with the goal of developing the horse symmetrically because a crooked horse is an unbalanced horse and an unbalanced horse becomes tense and resistant.

When the horse feels discomfort or pain, automatically he develops compensation in order to avoid that problem and to maintain optimal performance.  Here is where you will begin to see short choppy strides, behaviour resistance, and disobedience in your horse.  Why? because it hurts.  The muscles become irritated and may spasm, losing the ability to function effectively over time.  Compensation occurs with the issue being passed to other muscle groups.   

It follows then that crookedness should be addressed so that each hind leg bears equal weight if we wish to avoid muscular compensation.  You cannot sit straight on a crooked horse, nor can a horse move straight under a crooked rider.

Without doubt, straightness is a quality that distinguishes the skilled rider from the average rider.   The good news is that analysing yourself for straightness and addressing it are relatively easy things to do.  You can observe the level of straightness in every rider you watch and in every horse you ride.  If the front of the horse (shoulders) or back of the horse (haunches) deviate from a true line your horse will lose impulsion, suppleness, lightness and flexion.  Straighten again and the purity of the gait will be restored.  Of course, this presupposes that you as a rider have the necessary skills to recognise the deviation and deal with these fluctuations whilst aboard your horse.  It can demand a strong seat and leg aids to prevent you simply being pushed out of the way by the horse.

Straightness is the perfect ideal.  So in order to ensure that you have straightness you must have control over the front and the back of the horse, however, if riding a horse straight created a straight horse it would all be very simple.  It is not.  The best way to ensure that your horse is flexible enough to move on a straight line with the hind Rider Asymmtreylegs following the forelegs, is to use lateral work in the form of shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, travers and renvers, thereby gaining the necessary skills to manoeuvre the shoulders and quarters of the horse and ‘place’ them where you need them to be in order to correct the horse should he veer off the straight and narrow!

Image reproduced by kind permission of Anne Bondi BHSI – www.saddleresearchtrust.com

Straightness Check List

This list can serve as a checklist in determining the horse’s natural crookedness, i.e. his hollow and stiff sides.

  1. Falling over the outside shoulder and going against the rider’s outside knee and thigh.
  2. Falling onto the inside shoulder.
  3. Over-bending laterally, creating a bulge at the shoulder
  4. Counter-bending on a circle, sometimes locking the jaw on the inside.
  5. Cutting corners.
  6. When you are on the center line or on the quarter line, he will tend to drift with his entire body.
  7. In transitions to the halt one hind leg will tend to be out behind.
  8. He will tend to show a faulty haunches-in, because his croup will tend to fall in against the riders’s inside calf.
  9. In the shoulder-in it may be difficult to get his shoulder to leave the wall.
  10. In the shoulder-in it is easy to get the correct angle, but it is more difficult to achieve the correct bend.
  11. Haunches-in and half passes appear to be easier on one rein than the other.
  12. In severe cases, the horse may not want to canter on one lead initially.
  13. When you lengthen the strides in the trot, the horse may frequently break into the canter.

Achieving straightness is one of the most fundamental demands in training horses, because a crooked horse will never be able to develop impulsion or self carriage.  But what may be worse is that a crooked horse will not remain sound in the long run, as any imbalance creates stiffness and bracing which translate into unnecessary wear and tear on joints, tendons, and ligaments.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

One Sided Riding

One Sided RidingAmbidextrous?

This article is the direct result of a question relating to one sided riding issues.

When asked the question my thoughts turned to whether it is possible to become ambidextrous and guess what?  Turns out IT IS!

As with everything it is your own level of dedication and work that will determine just how much you can even up your one sidedness but it is entirely do-able.

I am not addressing crookedness here, that is a whole other subject.   I’m talking about being weaker on one side of the body than the other, which yes, might result in crookedness but I’m specifically looking at strength today.  As humans we are mostly one side dominant but as you know, to be an effective rider we need to be as equal to both sides as it is possible to be.

Very few people are born naturally ambidextrous, but it does happen.  We all favour right or left, but it is sometimes a case that you may have been injured in the past leaving a weakness on one side.  I have this very problem with my left shoulder, having broken it many years ago, not only am I right handed but my left is also weak as a result of this injury, coupled with a broken pinky on the left hand that won’t close properly and my right-handed dominance is well and truly secured.

So how do you become more equal and ambidextrous?  Well, it’s really quite easy to do.  Essentially, you need to use the weak side in ways that are not natural to you.  Here are just a few suggestions for you to try during your everyday activities, using your weak side/hand:

Perform simple tasks with your non-dominant hand

  • Carry your shopping or buckets in the ‘weak’ hand
  • Carry your shoulder bag on the ‘weak’ shoulder
  • When mucking out, use the ‘weak’ hand
  • Practise writing your name or the alphabet with the ‘weak’ hand
  • Brush your teeth and hair with the ‘weak’ hand
  • Hold stuff with your ‘weak’ hand (car keys, phone, purse)

Image:5150 12.jpgThings like brushing your teeth, eating, or bouncing a ball with your dominant hand, try with your non-dominant hand.  There are hundreds of simple tasks that you perform every day, so getting good at doing those with your other hand will help you become more ambidextrous.

It will feel very strange when first tried but as with everything that we practise regularly after a while the unnatural feel will become just as normal as your ‘strong’ hand/side and you may be surprised at the results in your riding.

Patience is key

Give yourself the same patience you’d give a child learning how to open a can of soup, unlock the door, and so on. You are hard-wiring your brain to learn something unfamiliar, just like a child learning to do things for the first time, so don’t let initial frustration get to you.

Start writing or drawing with both hands

Pin down some paper and start drawing butterflies, vases, symmetrical objects, write words, letters, shapes, or whatnot. Although your writing will be awful at first, write a couple lines every day from the start.

  • Use your opposite hand to write “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The lazy dog decides to wake up and be non-lazy”, or similar for practice. (The sentence suggested is a good one for practice because it is a pangram, meaning that it’s a phrase that contains all of the letters of the English alphabet.)
  • Another way: Find a small paragraph and practice writing the paragraph over and over again. Also, look at the difference in the writings, and see which letter you have to get better at.

One Sided RidingProblem is that whilst riding instructors may be able to recognise one-sidedness, they rarely know how to deal effectively with it as they are not qualified body workers and don’t understand the root of the matter.  They deal with the symptoms instead.  If your one-sidedness is having an adverse affect on your riding you may need a qualified body worker; a Physiotherapist; Osteopath; Alexander Technique Teacher and the like to take a good look at you and your issues and give you appropriate exercises to rectify the issues.

Clearly if you suspect that your horse has one sided issues, having him treated in isolation from you is rarely successful.  Your horse’s crookedness is affected by your crookedness and visa versa.

If all else fails you can always learn to juggle!  Seriously, three and four balls is a great way to train your weaker arm.  If all you need is to strengthen your weak side, simply use it!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

Take a Deep Breath

Without question the most underestimated, undervalued, unappreciated, under-rated tool in the rider’s toolbox is breathing.  I should know I am guilty of not tapping into the power that correct breathing gives you.  I have been told to learn to breathe properly and virtually ignored the advice.  Really can’t tell you why, it seems that I know best and I consider being advised to breathe as no advice at all.

I’ve written some posts on how to breathe when riding, paying lip service to it really.  I’d be interested to know how many of you have thought “Wow, that’s a real corker, I’ll go an give that a go”- I’ll wager not many of you.  However, now that I understand clearly the benefits of ‘good’ breathing I have to say that I am more than a little miffed with myself that I didn’t take it more seriously much earlier in my training and have been looking around for someone to blame for not instilling in me just how significant it is.  On this basis I am not going to be the one who does not tell you!

Breathing has proven to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to foster relaxation, build confidence, and direct focus.  Breathing oxygenates every cell of your body, from your brain to your vital organs.  Without sufficient oxygen your body becomes more susceptible to health problems. In a study published in The Lancet, cardiac patients who took 12 to 14 shallow breaths per minute (six breaths per minute is considered optimal) were more likely to have low levels of blood oxygen, which “may impair skeletal, muscle and metabolic function, and lead to muscle atrophy and exercise intolerance.”

BreathSo you see, every time I struggled to keep going, through lack of oxygen to my muscles and my lungs and quickly became exhausted, every time my vast efforts sent me purple in the face, every time my muscles ached through sheer exertion, could have been avoided with a) a few basic exercises to improve the way I breathe and b) an awareness of how my breathing affects my ability to work with my horse.  Deep diaphragmatic breathing raises levels of blood oxygen thus improving physical fitness and mental performance.

If you are anything like me, you want me someone to give you that magical positional tweak that will revolutionise your riding and God knows I’ve given you enough of those in my blog posts over the past year or so, but as my training progresses and things click into place, we are looking at refining everything, relaxing everything, making it more subtle, stripping it back to its heart and as a result I have had to learn to control my breathing whilst in the saddle.  It seems that every breath I share with my horse is an authentic cue either to relax or not.

Breathing correctly means your chest will expand; your ribcage will lift; your vertebrae will re-align; your muscles will soften; your jaw will relax; your elbows will unlock and your legs will hang long and soft.

Breathing correctly means that the oxygen gets to your brain and you are able to think more clearly; communication is calm and responsive.

Breathing it seems is a bit of a lame suggestion in the face of all that you need to do to ride well, such an insignificant idea barely warrants a try doesn’t it? But in my opinion that does not make it any less of a phenomenon but more of one.  It is simple and as such should be embraced because ‘simplicity is the key to brilliance’.

“Relax!”, “Stop holding your breath!” Whilst these phrases are intended to be helpful, what affect do they really have?  When you hit difficulty the first thing to go is the quality of your breathing, perhaps you hold your breath or begin breathing in short, shallow breaths, irregularly, very different from your breathing when you are calm, confident, and in control when your breaths are smooth, deep and rhythmic.  Deep breath

Take a Deep Breath!

The bizarre truth is that learning to control your breathing is not some 10 week course in which you need to seek professional help, pay exorbitant fees and work hard to achieve.  All you need to do is take a deep breath.  Basically, the emphasis is on breathing from the diaphragm (or belly) instead of the chest, as this produces feelings of being calm and relaxed.

  1. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose – feel your chest expand top to bottom. Feel your belly push outward as if you were inflating a balloon.
  2. Hold for a moment before exhaling – concentrate on feeling calm and patient.
  3. Exhale gently through your mouth at a steady rate – be sure to exhale for a beat longer than you inhaled. Feel your belly flatten. Feel the muscles in your arms and shoulders relax while your body melts gently towards the ground. Let your muscles enjoy this moment of relaxation.

Drop your shoulders and let go. Breathe deep, expand your rib cage to give your heart room and exhale the calm. Inhale. Think of what you want to achieve in a positive light.  Exhale. Inhale. We will do a fabulously flowing shoulder-in today.  Exhale.  The deep breath is actually an act of self-confidence in itself.

Taking a deep breath can be used effectively in a lesson, before going into the arena at a show, during any breaks in your schooling or even during a hack It helps you maintain your composure, control your anxiety, keep your focus, and aids your body in getting the oxygen it needs to operate to its full capacity.

What could be more natural than an act that we do some 20,000 times each day?  So, do you know if you breathe correctly?  It is a fact that the majority of us take our breathing for granted.   Given that often the very act of taking a deep breath brings your focus to something that you have complete control over (your breathing) by utilising ‘taking a deep breath’ you have taken proactive steps and decided not to simply wait for things to happen.  Your breathing technique can create relaxation and rhythm.  Isn’t this the essence of all things Dressage?

Aaaaand, breeeeeeeeath!

DressagePatricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

Have you invested in The Crystal System Book yet?  Click on image to buy …

Finding The Dressage Tipster

Dressage TrainingLook what I found.  It seems the Sat-Nav can never find The Dressage Tipster as it always takes all my clients and visitors to next doors farm, either that or it tries to direct them left into a field straight off a main road!  So, I figure its time I got a really nice sign to let everyone know where we are and ordered from Sign-O-Matic.

A really efficient and cost effective way to sign up your yard, or maybe just a stable name plate for your beloved horse.   Whatever you are looking for Sign-O-Matic have a huge range of quality signs that can be custom designed and delivered to your door within just a few days.

And, they ship internationally so for all my U.K. friends AND those in far away places, take a visit to … www.signomatic.co.uk

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

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Dressage Training Penkridge

 

 

 

 

GET IN RHYTHM … STAY IN RHYTHM

Imagine your horse ambling along in walk, jogging instead of trotting, stumbling through a test constantly breaking the three beat canter.  Not often do you see all of these faults in one horse but sure as night follows day you will experience these faults, at least to some extent, if you have not focussed your training on rhythm.  Because in this small, rather oddly spelled word (should be ritham, right?) you have wrapped up a whole host of skills you and your horse must master; energy, even tempo, clear and regular paces, balance, rein contact … the list goes on!

RhythmIf you consider that impurities or irregularities in the rhythm, tempo and stride length are serious flaws in your horse’s ability to perform you can begin to appreciate that not only should you begin to focus on rhythm, but you should remain focussed on rhythm throughout your riding career.

The walk is the gait that is most prone to impurities.  You can have considerable influence on the way your horse walks which means that you can induce faults too.  So, if you over ride the walk and push your horse into a faster, bigger walk than he is capable of, he will fall onto the forehand and tighten his back.  Likewise if you attempt to collect more than your horse is capable of, his back will tighten and the walk will become irregular.

Consider your ‘free walk on a long rein’.  Your horse needs to show a clear, pure, four-beat walk and most likely is able to – as long as the rider is not touching reins.  Then immediately the rider picks up the reins, the horse responds with unequal strides. This happens as a result of the rider using too much rein; not enough leg support and usually too heavy a seat. Go figure!  Relaxing more and reducing the demands will in most cases restore the clear four beat rhythm.

The safest way out of jigging is to start the working trot afresh, if it is a walk push the horse up into a working trot, establish the rhythm and relaxation and when the hind legs have started thrusting and the back has started swinging again, the walk will most likely be improved as well.  The important point I would like to make here is, as with many, many other issues, you will not be able to regulate your horse’s paces without a good forward thrust, so first of all check that you have a forward thinking and willing horse, otherwise you will not have anything to work with.

The majority of young horses and horses that are being retrained need to be reminded periodically not to slack off the forward propulsion; left to their own devices they will gradually fade after a few strides with good effort and that means the power with which their hind legs propel decreases, the gait loses its intensity and becomes dull.  The result?  the horse’s back stops swinging and the trot deteriorates into a jog, loses its gymnastic value and the horse’s musculature development over his haunches, back and top line is hindered.

RhythmThis, coupled with the potential issue of losing forwardness on the corners if the horse is not strong enough or trying to avoid the flexing of his joints  (see Slowing Down and Speeding Up – Check the Flex) you may have to go back to basics and that means rhythm.

Most untrained horses assume that the leg aid means ‘speed up’, so they increase the tempo as soon as the rider asks, thus losing rhythm.  It is up to you to ‘clarify’ with your horse that the leg aid means ‘put more effort into your work, but keep your tempo’.  This is achieved using an effective half-halt. (see Heavy on the Forehand for more tips about the half halt).  So it is through systematic training that the horse should learn to adjust the tempo, adjust the stride length and adjust his energy levels independently of each other.

Loss of impulsion and slowing of the tempo often happens because keeping the impulsion and tempo requires more strength from the horse.  Pay really close attention to the regularity of the tempo, stride length and energy level throughout all exercises, patterns, and movements in order to develop the purity of the gaits to the highest level and to develop the horse’s strength and suppleness to its fullest potential in the process.

You have to be progressive in your training.  Your horse will respond with little and often.  It will take six weeks for him to build the muscle power and stamina required to be able to efficiently execute new and demanding exercises.  Too much too soon could result in injury.

Here’s some food for thought, like your heartbeat is the ‘rhythm of life’ so rhythm is to your horse’s gymnastic development.  Without it … not gonna happen!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

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IMBALANCE – Gosh, that many?

We hear a lot of talk about achieving balance for both horse and rider.  Clearly, perception of imbalance really depends on the discipline you choose.  We choose dressage, which means that certain behaviours and characteristics of how a horse moves in the field are not required  or desired under saddle.  That is not to say that there’s something wrong, just that we don’t want any imbalances in the arena.

Imbalance

Take a look at the list below to see if you can identify any issues that may indicate some type of imbalance that needs addressing in your training.

  • Ability to do something on one side but not the other
  • Turning like a boat instead of a train
  • Falling in on the inside shoulder on a circle and corners
  • Falling out over the outside shoulder on a circle
  • Hard in the mouth and or holding on to the bit  on one side
  • Heavy in the hand and leaning on the reins
  • ImbalanceUnable or unwilling to stretch the neck
  • Incorrect strike off in canter or going disunited in canter
  • Moving laterally when not asked
  • Unable to execute a square halt
  • Speeding up, jogging, shortened steps
  • Irregular rhythm or bridle lameness
  • Head tilting or shaking
  • Grinding teeth
  • Tongue hangs out of mouth
  • Swishing tail

Every horse bends more easily to one side than to the other, this is known as ‘lateral asymmetry’ but if your horse is excessively so you need to address the problem with exercises to help stretch out the contracted side and contract the strung out side.Imbalance

He may have a ‘horizontal imbalance’ (commonly known as on-the-forehand) or a ‘diagonal imbalance’ when the point of the horses weight is off-centre and he goes ‘out through the shoulder’.

Finally a ‘vertical imbalance’ is when the horse does not give an upright impression but one of leaning (especially in canter) – like a barrel racer.

Sometimes I feel a little ridiculous when I think of some of the things I say “oh, my horse’s tail is swishing, that must be an imbalance”!  Really????? Yes, really.  In the pursuit of perfection every detail counts and whilst I am happy for my horse to swish her tail, if she does it excessively she’s telling me she has a problem.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

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DEVELOPING LENGTHENED STRIDES

1To develop suppleness, engagement, balance and obedience; to help your horse achieve self-carriage try riding him ‘on and back’ by asking him for a few lengthened strides before asking him to come back to his working pace and repeating it several times in a session (transitions).

To set up the lengthened strides …

Continue reading DEVELOPING LENGTHENED STRIDES