Rickie Swink is having a great ride on her happy horse, Wingz.
Cross-training which combines trail riding with dressage and arena work helps keep a horse from getting stuck in repetitive motion tension which creates stiffness. The uneven terrain of trail riding keeps the horse continually varying his/her tempo which requires the horse to focus even more than in arena work. This is why many horses become sour. They are bored by the reception of flat ground and sand. Trials offer fresh views, interesting distractions and always variety of footing. It’s fun and interesting for the horse. Just as walking on a gym treadmill isn’t the workout of hiking a mountain, the trail is a great conditioner for a dressage horse. Photos by Daniel Quat.
Photo shows the end of a Dressage Test, Rickie Swink riding Wingz.
Does the idea of riding a test bring panic? Relax. You don’t need to ever ride a dressage test unless you want to. There are many accomplished riders everywhere whose skill and seasoned horse offers an example of a savvy dance team. Look around your barn, in your farm area, at the local arena or horse clubs and you”ll see many accomplished riders who ride for their own pleasure and to enjoy their horses.
If a show or test isn’t fun, the choice is yours.
More on Centered Riding
Want to ride with comfort, vitality and precision? Centered Riding, developed by Sally Swift is the gift for you. Swift’s innovative riding philosophy focuses on body awareness, “soft eyes,” breathing, centering and balance. Centered Riding methods help horse and rider pairs achieve harmony – working together – without pain. There are no forced methods here causing stiff bodies and tense riders. Above, Margret Henkels rides Merlin at Southmowing Stables in a group lesson with Dorothy Crosby.
Centered Riding works for those with little experience all the way up to world class.
Back to the Basics
I don’t know about you, but riding this winter was consistently inconsistent at best….of course, those with indoors may not have had that extensive an issue, but the cold temps and icy conditions surely affected riding times, turnout, or other areas of horse and human play dates.
With the hope of some regularity in the riding schedule, many of my students are looking at ways to polish the tarnished skills and motivation they and their horses have experienced after so much time off.
We have begun tweaking some of the basics in communication, use of self, balance, sensitivity, and movement, to name a few. We are refining some in-hand skills, working on clear and precise communication to maximize understanding and teamwork. We are considering how we use our bodies both on and off the horse to convey instructions, teach new skills, and co-exist with mutual respect and cooperation. We are grooming like crazy to eliminate all that shedding hair, but also to assess the physical issues and their possible solutions, learning new massage or stretching techniques and seizing the opportunity to evaluate body score and condition. We are utilizing the concept of “less is more” so often emphasized by Sally Swift, to increase sensitivity and awareness on the part of both human and equine; how little can I do for you to understand and respond to what I am communicating? Learning new and reinforcing old methods of movement and use of the aids helps loosen bodies, engage brains, and create suppleness and flexibility for horse and rider.
Remember: gross motor skills must learn things first, regardless of your age or condition; any new thing does not defer to fine motor skills until muscle memory and practice make them easily accessible. While we have long operated on the premise that “practice makes perfect” we should be taking the time to practice quality, not quantity, because, in reality, practice makes permanent; we do not want to perfect that which is incorrect or detrimental to the goal! Taking the time to return to the basics occasionally for the rider’s and the horse’s sakes is time well spent; when the timing and movement of the aids is automatic and the mental effort easily directs the maneuver, then – and only then – do we have the ability to move forward and see real accomplishment.
As you begin those rides, give your horse the opportunity to really warm up those muscles. Walk out on a long loose rein allowing him set the pace for just a few minutes, noticing the movement itself; stiff, fluid, even? Allow your own body to flow; create a checklist to see where you are moving and where you are stuck: seat bones balanced underneath your shoulders and over your feet? Knees alternately dropping with the swing of the walk? Feet completely touching the sole of your boot and experiencing the feeling of walking? Shoulders swinging front to back, opposite from the direction of the seat bones, as the horse swings her head and neck? Elbows bent allowing them to open and close so the shoulders really swing and the hands move forward and back instead of bouncing up and down (which happens when elbows are straight)? Breathing and relaxed? This as an evaluation tool, not a test; make changes as needed, but move on from each spot to avoid being “stuck” there. Return your attention to your horse; you have assessed yourself and made adjustments, now notice whether this has affected your mount’s movement.
Once assessing how both of you feel, then require changes of stride – longer ones, shorter ones, those in between; vary the exercise to avoid maintaining any difficult part longer than a few seconds to help him learn he can move on and return there with little difficulty or stress. This will also increase both of your range of motion, creating flexibility and suppleness. Use your aids – your seat, legs, and hands – but use as little as it takes to get the changes.
Teach your horse to be more sensitive to those aids, and yourself to not overdo every movement; after all, a horse can only be as soft as the rider. We create horses ignoring our aids, or being lazy, or not following through the movement by demanding too much! (Do you like being yelled at to get a simple task accomplished, or is a quiet request more to your liking? I suspect after a while you might ignore the screamer – there she goes again! – and only listen when you think you need to or they do something drastic to get your attention).
Begin with some simple communication and transfer it to all the gaits and movements….you and your partner will reach a whole new level this season! Happy Riding!
Denny Emerson’s favorite quote: “On no given day , in no given training session, are we going to accomplish very much with a horse.”
“Think of yourself, if you went to work out at a gym with a professional trainer would you expect to be transformed after one session?”
From his book “Know Better To Do Better.”
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