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20 Jun 20. Straightness

The training tree or training scale for horses which seeks to explain the basic training of a horse for any discipline, including the Olympic disciplines of dressage, show jumping and eventing, was first set out in the German Equestrian Federation Official Training Manual (Heeresdienstvorschrift), published in 1912. It took a few decades, however, for the process to be condensed to the six components that are widely recognised today: rhythm, relaxation, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection. This time, we look at straightness which, in the equestrian world, denotes the positioning of the horse’s body such that its hind feet track into the hoof prints of its front feet. It also requires the horse to be even on both reins and able to bend equally to the left and to the right. This is more challenging than it might sound as, just as with humans, horses are naturally crooked, so helping them develop...

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29 Mar 19. Improving canter transitions

Last time we discussed the key elements in achieving smooth and effortless upward and downward transitions between the various paces. This time we will focus on canter transitions as many riders find these the hardest to perform well. As we have discussed before, every horse is different, as is every horse/rider combination, but there are a number of key pitfalls that we should all seek to avoid, with lack of preparation being a very common one. As with all changes of pace, when you are asking for an upwards transition to canter, you must first to ensure that you have a good quality trot or walk, with forward energy, remembering that energy and speed are not synonymous. Trying to get a smooth canter transition from a runny trot is impossible as you need your horse to be engaging its back end. As we explained last time, you start with an active trot...

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17 Feb 18. Transitions

As another year gets underway, many of us will be assessing how much progress we are making towards previously set goals and horse riders are no exception. In the last few Articles of 2017, we discussed various lateral movements, but are now returning to more elementary but still critical exercises and taking a look at transitions – after all, what could be more basic than starting and stopping? Although the concept of transitions is straightforward – a change in pace (upwards or downwards, progressive/simple or direct) or a variation in the pace (collected, working, medium, extended) – they can be surprisingly difficult to ride smoothly and correctly. Yet the ability to ride transitions properly is key to improving a horse’s balance, suppleness, obedience to the aids and collection, so it is certainly worth spending some time considering the subject. Here we focus on transitions that involve a change of pace. A...

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21 Nov 17. Travers

In earlier articles, we have discussed several lateral movements (leg yield, shoulder in and turn on/about the forehand, Articles 13, 14 and 15 respectively), all of which help to promote a horse’s suppleness, loosen its muscles and improve its balance. Travers, or haunches in, is another lateral exercise with similar benefits but one that is typically more challenging to achieve correctly as it requires the rider to use both legs to ensure the bend, the sideways movement and the impulsion. Perhaps we should revisit the purpose of teaching our horses lateral movements such as shoulder in and haunches in. Like most people, horses are naturally one-sided, while they carry most of their weight on their forehand. However, if they are to carry a rider comfortably, they must have a strong back and learn to carry more weight on their hind quarters, while also becoming equally supple on both sides. Lateral movements,...

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21 Oct 16. Rein back

We have already discussed several lateral movements – leg yield, shoulder in and turn on/about the forehand (in Articles no 13, 14 and 15 respectively) – and we will address others in the future. These are all exercises that help promote a horse’s suppleness, loosen its muscles and improve its balance and may also serve as good preparation for collection. This time, we consider rein back, a two-beat movement in which the horse moves backwards in a straight line, moving its legs in diagonal pairs. This is most definitely a useful tool for collection – it really engages the hindquarters – as well as helping to lighten the forehand and focus the horse. One of the most important things to bear in mind when attempting rein back is the need to keep all your aids light and subtle which will encourage your horse to remain soft and supple – achieving a well-executed...

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12 Oct 15. Turn on/about the forehand

We have already discussed leg yield and shoulder in (Articles 13 and 14 respectively), but turn on the forehand is another sideways exercise that helps to introduce a horse (and rider) to lateral movements. Turn on the forehand requires the horse to move its hindquarters around its front legs as it executes a 180-degree turn, starting and ending in halt. As turn on the forehand requires the horse to cross and uncross its hind legs, it helps increase the suppleness in the hindquarters by stretching and flexing all the relevant muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. It is therefore a useful strengthening exercise for the hindquarters and good preparation for future lateral and collection work. According to Advanced Techniques of Riding (The Official Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation), the turn on the forehand was developed by the Duke of Newcastle in the 17th century, and was described as (among...

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08 Jul 14. Shoulder in

Last time, we discussed the reasons for teaching a horse to leg yield (to promote suppleness, loosen its muscles and improve its balance) and how to achieve it. Now we will consider shoulder in, which is typically the next lateral movement taught to a horse, providing similar physical benefits but also requiring the development of stronger muscles to engage the hindquarters – the inside hind leg must stretch and reach under the body – so good preparation for collection exercises. But first, what is shoulder in? Unlike leg yielding, which requires your horse to move forwards and sideways at the same time with its spine parallel to the track, shoulder in requires it to bend through its ribcage while moving on a straight line. It is a lateral movement in which the horse moves on three tracks, with its shoulders in from the track. Observed head on, you would see the...

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23 Jun 13. Learning to leg yield

In our previous articles, we have considered various aspects of riding where improvements can help you to become the best rider you can be. Now, starting with leg yield, we are going to look at some lateral movements that you should be able to achieve once you have strengthened your core muscles, enabling you to develop the all-important independent seat and the ability to retain a balanced position in all paces. We will also assume an understanding of weight aids and how they help you to communicate clearly with your horse (see Article no 8, Learning weight aids). Whether or not you are interested in dressage and more advanced lateral movements, teaching your horse to leg yield will help to promote its suppleness, loosen its muscles and improve its balance. Leg yielding is typically one of the first lateral movements taught to young horses as it also encourages them to respond...

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27 May 11. Following your horse’s movement

In our last two articles, we have talked about the importance of relaxation and balance if you are to achieve an independent seat, the prerequisite for becoming the best rider you can be (Articles no 9, Relaxation and no 10, Balance revisited). The next aspect to consider is ensuring that you follow your horse’s movement in all paces, essential if you are to be able to ride in rhythm and harmony with your horse. As we have discussed before, an independent seat requires strong core muscles and loose, flexible hip joints which will allow you to be in harmony with your horse as both of your rhythms will be aligned. It is important to recognise that following your horse’s movement does not mean being a passenger or just sitting passively and, as with everything associated with riding, the ability to do so will take time to achieve as you gradually strengthen...

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06 May 10. Improving your balance

We have talked about the importance of balance before, but it is worth considering some exercises that can help you to achieve a secure and balanced seat (which can be practised both on a real horse and on an equine simulator) and we also take a look at how lungeing can help. We have discussed how the ability to be both relaxed and balanced requires strong core muscles and flexible hip joints, allowing you to move in harmony with your horse as you follow its movement. And we know that you will prevent your horse from performing to its best ability if you are unbalanced, as horses typically try to compensate for a rider who is sitting crookedly. You can work on strengthening your core muscles in the gym, by taking yoga, Pilates or other classes, by doing exercises at home or by practising on an equine simulator, while lungeing...

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