Our horses and ourselves are all asymmetrical, this is quite normal, we all have one dominant hand and foot and horses have a dominant hoof/leg too, you can see it when you watch them graze and feel it when we ride as it’s always easier to do circles or turn one way than the other unless the horse and rider have done some symmetry training.
During the year I do quite a lot of symmetry training with my own horses and students but in the Winter I have less opportunity to work with them so I work on myself more and this is what I call my ‘Other Hand Exercises’ .
SO…what are OHE’s? They are simple things I do to help use my other hand, muscles and whole body to make me more symmetrical and this helps when I ride to keep me and my horses more symmetrical too. I am right handed so I work on my left hand, my husband is left handed so he works on his right hand although funnily enough most left handed people are more adept at this due to the nature of our ‘right handed world’ 😉
I work slowly and as consistently as I can, doing a few small tasks first and building up on it as and when I feel I can progress. I will be putting up tasks weekly and hope you join in with me to help your own symmetry. Remember to go slowly and not to over do it as you can strain muscles (just like your horse can), do what you normally do with your ‘normal’ hand and put in a wee bit of the OH when you can and remember to keep having fun with it.
WEEK 1 – Stirring with a spoon
Beginners: stir your tea/coffee. Medium: stir your tea/coffee and try your horses/dogs feed. Advanced: stir tea/coffee, horses feed, and also when you cook or bake.
NOTE: Today, whilst stirring the horses feed I realised that with my ‘normal’ hand I stand straight BUT when I work with my OH I lean a bit….having now realised this I am making sure I stand straighter when working with my OH. Amazing how, when you become aware of things, how much you notice and it reminded me of a saying I learned a long time ago…hope this one helps you too.
Lots of fun can be had doing Agility with your horse. I find it helps with communication spook busting, finding a smooth connection, transitions and having fun, which is the most important thing.
This month I put just a few simple things together for a 9 obstacle course and did it at liberty then with long reins and finally ridden, you can start this online if your starting out and there are many ways to keep these 9 obstacles interesting, here are some ideas:
~ Online ~ at Liberty ~ Long Rein ~ Ridden bitless ~ Ridden with neck rein/cordeo ~ done in walk, trot or canter ~ done in obstacle order or in reverse order ~ juggle the order about ~ Choose to do completely different things with each obstacle ~
How good is your Connection to your Horse? and do you test it?
Can you connect from the shoulder, to his front feet?
Can you connect from in front of your horse?
Can you connect from the hips, to his back feet?
Can you connect from behind?
AND can you connect to all these places in walk, trot and canter AND from both the left and right?
Can you also do that online AND at liberty?
And can you then take that connection into your riding?
Once you have a good connection with your horse can you try connecting in different ways?
Why not try sitting down the whole session or standing up on something (stay safe or at liberty for this one) or get longer and longer ropes for distance work. If you are only used to using a 12′ line then try a 22′ one and if you use a 22′ line then maybe try finding a longer one. I know that once my own connection got better on longer ropes my Liberty work was better too.
Testing things is a great way to bring in variety to your play sessions and a great imagination is good too.
“Consistency is a great teacher BUT Variety is the spice of life”
Solly in the pics is circling with jumps. When I stand still he can jump two jumps on that circle = Consistency.
When I start walking doing ‘moving circles’ we go to the next jump up = Variety.
We can stand still or move depending on whether I want to give him either consistency or variety…change his direction and we can get both of those on the other side too…great opportunity for fitness training too
My 4 HorseSavvy criteria basics are what I use for a good session with my horses whether it’s long or short. Finding each of these main 4 things in all that we do is important but the first one, relaxation, is the key to all the others being good.
Relaxation is needed in all things to help the horse learn, a worried horse cannot learn.
Cooperation is what is needed to have a partnership, a bond, a connection and our breathing/energy/body cues get more and more invisible for that connection to be great.
Impulsion is when your whoa equals your go, on a scale of 1-10 impulsion is a good 5, easy abd light to go, easy and light to halt.
Flexibility is where your horse is equal in muscles to his left and right, to have this symmetry is vital for straightness in all you do and allows you to not have to use your reins to keep your horse straight.
When riding or just playing these things are good to keep an eye on.
(Pic shows Solly doing a relaxed levade over a jump, cooperation with my ask to not jump it but to lift his front legs and gently pop them over the jump and halt…this shows his lightness to go and also to halt. His flexibility and straightness is shown by the ease he does this move and how well he sidepassed towards me to get the obstacle from under him)
There are many reasons you might want to walk your horse out instead of riding out. Your horse may need fittening up or he may be unrideable but okay to walk out so it could be great exercise physically and fun mentally for him. You may be working on getting a better relationship with your horse so walking out would really help you bond OR you may just enjoy walking your horse out.
Sometimes, when a horse is sceptical or worried about being out hacking it can help to walk out in-hand regularly to familiarise to different surroundings, sounds, sights and smells. Once you get used to things you can always decide to mount and ride a bit and if you are riding you can always decide to jump off and walk a bit too.
For Solly and me, walking out in-hand is really helping us to bond in an unfamiliar environment, it helps us look at things together face-to-face where I can read him better. I also have two ageing dogs and this helps give me my much needed exercise. I really enjoy walking out and it’s great to have my good friend Solly out with me.
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.