The video below shows Solly and I having a very subtle conversation about body dynamics, energy, core strength, foot falls and flexion.
If you look closely you can see how all I do affects all Solly does. It’s a close, almost invisible dance of finding our inner most riding connection. Slowly, using this more, we will flow and dance more. We find our balance together and then we find our go and whoa buttons to make sure they’re working through my breathing. Soon we are finding our hips and shoulder connection and then my hands to his nose. Being able to talk to every part of his body allows me to find the softness within the strength of muscles in places I have in my thoughts. Being able to read his muscles too allows me to hear what he is saying back to me so that our dance gets more and more harmonious.
It takes a TON of focus from me so if I’m tired then I am pretty sure Solly is. We dance for short periods but as often as possible. Soon we will weave the dance tapestry to more harmony and fluidity.
Working on the concept that our ‘inner energy’ can connect with our horse, then testing it can be interesting.
To be able to use our inner energy to create movement but to then be able to take that away and only have our ‘outer energy’ or movement working and not have movement…how is this possible?
For the most part, if the ‘inner and outer energy’ isn’t separated and the horse/human connection isn’t refined and trusting enough, movement of anything to a horse can mean ‘go’. This is because firstly our horses work on learned behaviours and a predator with energy usually means go AND we also haven’t learned to go inside ourselves and learn how to separate our inner intent/focus/energy from our body movements. This can take time but horses understand it very well once they trust that we, as predators, can do it.
Being able to switch our ‘inner’ core energy on/off is so integral to being connected to our horse, when on the ground and more importantly when riding.
No matter what our body is doing can we ‘switch’ our energy off to create a halt and then bring it back on to create movement?
Hope you find this video intersting….can you see how much focus Stormy has on me? he’s watching my ‘inner focus energy’ to see when it comes and goes even though my body is moving the whole time!!
HorseSavvy Teaching Cues are:
1) First teach (slow and steady to allow the horse to ‘get’ what you’re asking.
2) Reinforcing (not force BUT trying to attain lightness and politeness)
3) Refining (invisibility of cues…soft, light and connected)
By continually striving for Refinement of all we teach and learn we will end up with a soft, harmonious connection on the ground and ridden
Here Solly and I get better at refining a disengagment of the hindquarters into a turn on the forehand.
Not able to ride?…..Ground work is a invaluable as a training place and can be a lot of fun.
It can help with finding your horse/heart connection, communication refinement, starting lateral work, Smooth transitions from body and voice cues and much much more. If you can get the conversation going well on the ground with cues that will work when in the saddle then riding work is half done already
Here, Solly and I, work on some ‘spook busting’ with a ball. You’d not believe how scared he used to be of this but how far he’s come from persistent consistency with it.
Flight Checks are what I do after playing with my horse and before I ride off from the mounting block. I make sure I have brakes and can move all four feet in all four directions (forward, back, left and right). It also lets me assess whether I have a good Connection and to help the horse get balanced and flexible before riding off. If anything needs working on I will either stay with it until softer and lighter or I’ll get off and work on it from the ground.
Here is a short film of the Flight Checks I do and how they can progress. I hope it helps to remind you to offer and find the ‘light feel’ on the reins, where our weight should be and to use our focus, seat and leg aids before using the reins.
Once you and your horse can do these with lightness and no brace you will find you will need them less and less. I use them before riding off and practice them now and then but because our ‘muscle memories’ in our bodies and brains have the techniques and actions stored we can use them when necessary (ie. an emergency halt w/relaxation) but can now refine them so that my breathing out and a lift of the rein is suffice to halt. I want the muscle memories there for if and when I need them…this one rein halt will not work well if the memories aren’t there, we would both be so far removed from relaxation that it would actually cause more tension and braciness….if we can avoid that and teach ourselves and our horses to have a ‘trigger’ of relaxation when the rein is lifted then we will all be safer in an emergency situation that hopefully never happens.
What is cross training I hear you say? Well it’s really just working your horse for just one discipline (ie. jumping, dressage, cross country etc) and can help to keep your horse happy mentally, emotionally and physically. SO if you are into jumping then by working on some dressage moves you can find you create better flexibility, moves and transitions for your jumping, by having fun out hacking you can find more fun and impulsion for dressage and maybe doing some agility or Trec you can find you have better focus for something like vaulting. Whatever you do you will find the more that you cross train the happier, centred and more rounded your horse can be.
Here is just something I’ve been working on with my boy Solly…..canter leads, from using them in dressage patterns we can transfer that knowledge to being able to do a good jumping course in canter.
Video 1: SLC’s through a serpentine pattern…
First I was just asking for canter, anywhere, then making it more specific for circles and in dressage tests. Here we are working on Simple Lead Changes (SLC) where we canter an arc then come down to walk or trot, get straight and then re-ask for canter on the other lead. I am trying to see how little walk or trot we can do before getting a new lead.
To be able to get the SLC’s we need Relaxation in canter, flexiblity and straightness on straight lines and curves, willingness and light cues and for Solly it’s been hard work as he didn’t understand canter cues when I got him so have been working on treat training, voice cues and lots of ground work.
More to come soon…..
(Video 2 = counting strides / Video 3 = using poles for accuracy / Video 4 = jumping)
Another show of my ‘approach/retreat’ method of familiarising your horse to something that may worry him. The sound of the massager I use is very similar to battery operated clippers although the wind blowing in the clip doesn’t allow you to hear it well. With all familiarisation tasks take the time your horse needs, reward and release for any relaxation (turn off machine, turn away or even reward with treats if you’re working on treat training) and build the amount of time you work slowly. You’re looking for your horse to change from being ‘worried’ to ‘positive tolerance’ and then to ‘acceptance’ if possible.
As with everything I do with horses the main criteria I’m looking for is RELAXATION with this technique. If we can set the horse up with relaxation before the vet comes then their neck muscles can be relaxed and the needle will go in without pain. Relaxed for this means low head and even just a wee bit towards you in an arc. Practising this regularly so that the horse will learn to it on command will help the horse, and vet, have an easier time with it all.
I’ve been asked a few times to show what I would do to help a horse relax and get ready for a dentist so here is a short ‘how to’ video on what I would do. If I had to do this for the dentist I would start months before they came making sure each day was better than the last. Most of the ‘unfamiliar’ things we do with horses can all be helped out with two techniques…’Approach & Retreat’ and a ton of ‘Familiarisation’. But remember that your horse may be less relaxed with someone they don’t know doing this invasive procedure so make sure you are there for your horse when the dentist comes to help the process go a bit more smoothly.
Also remember that these things do not happen over night, preparation is the key and taking the time to get out there and practice until you horse is more and more relaxed (low headed, no movement in feet and tongue), responding not reacting and happy with the procedure. If you really have trouble then take it very very slowly and if you need to sedate your horse then that might be the best solution until you can get better around his mouth.