Monday, January 9, 2012

Finding the Position of Comfort: Exercise One

In the last post, I talked about promoting a comfortable body position for my horse because he is happiest and can perform best when he is comfortable. But horses often don’t figure that out without a little help from the rider. Here is a non-stressful basic exercise that will encourage a horse to find the “comfort zone”:

The Exercise
I jog my horse in straight lines down the sides of the arena (but 15 feet from the walls because I rarely work a reining horse on the rail - reining patterns require rundowns to be off the fence) and around the ends. As he jogs, I half-pass him to the outside i.e. push his hindquarters to the outside with his nose to the outside. After a few steps, I release rein and leg aids, jog a few steps and repeat. Staying on a track in a straight line down one side, around the end, down the other side and around the end, I repeat this simple exercise several times.
Note: Make sure to completely release the rein and leg pressure after the half-pass. This is what encourages him to find the comfortable spot.

My horse’s neck will lower and his pace will slow until he carries himself in that position with even, cadenced steps. When I feel that, I lengthen reins even more. If he does not maintain the position, I gather up my reins and repeat the exercise until he does.

I am just starting to ask - hind quarters should move to outside when I apply right leg.
 I work the exercise at the jog until the horse relaxes and finds that comfort zone. Of course, the degree of finesse at which he performs is in relation to his level of training! At the beginning of the horse’s training, he cannot be expected to do as much.

My horse has now found the comfort zone.
 What can go wrong?
·   The horse resists the half-pass aids. If he reisists my leg and rein aids, he is not well enough schooled in the half-pass (See The Half-Pass)so I go back to that before I try this exercise again.
·   The horse speeds up when I release the half-pass aids. This mistake is just about learning. I just repeat the exercise until he stays in that frame when I release the aids.
·   The horse does not pay attention, looks up, etc. As above...
·   The horse “falls apart” and gets “heavy” on the front. I might ask for a little more refinement in the half-pass to encourage him to step under himself more, thereby transferring more of his weight to the rear.

Later, when he understands better, he will usually be happy to jog along, neck low and weight balanced at an even speed.

When I have worked one direction to my satisfaction, I change directions and repeat the exercise until he relaxes in his comfortable position again.

This exercise works because the half-pass is at the same time a softening exercise and a demanding exercise that asks him to step off the track. When the aids are released, the horse will instinctively align his body again - on the track with neck low and long. He finds the comfortable position. The exercise works very well too with a horse who is stiff in one or more parts of his body (shoulders, ribs, hips) because it softens the resistant part – then he is able to find alignment.

The next step is the same exercise at a lope. More about that next post…

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