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)
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 about not 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.
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.