Stepping outside the box

It is very easy to simply do the same thing that we have always done. Whether it be the same exercises in the school or following the same route out hacking. It is all too easy to become entrenched in our habits. Stepping outside the box can give you fresh insight and a different perspective into your riding and your relationship with your horse.

Do you always work your horse in the school through the same set of exercises and through the same paces in the same order? For examples, lots of us begin in walk before progressing through trot work, and then finally to canter. Why not try working the canter before the trot? It can have the effect of opening the trot up and can be beneficial.

Or if you find that your horse seems a little stale, try going around the block in the opposite direction that you usually go. Suddenly, it will seem like a whole fresh new hack. Or you could try leading your horse around your usual walk. Both of you will gain a new perspective from doing that, and work in hand will always help your ridden relationship.

It is so easy to do the same things over and over, but sometimes it is good to set yourself a challenge and step outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be a competition or a huge challenge, it could be taking your horse to a different venue to school him or meeting up with a friend to go for a hack. Or going for an all-day hack (check your weather forecast first!) Whatever you choose to do that is different from your everyday routine will give you a new experience.

Every time we try something new, we learn something. It may simply be that we learn not to do that again! But trying out new things is good for us and our horses. Experiences can always be put towards learning, so that our knowledge and understanding increases.

Back to basics…

Starting again, often means going back to basics. You might groan internally at the thought of going back to simply practicing walk to trot transitions, but those basics are the building blocks for everything that follows after. If you can’t ride a nice, smooth, responsive walk to trot transition how will you be able to ride a good trot to canter transition? If you can’t ride a good square halt, will you be able to independently move your horses’ legs in lateral work?

If you have started your horse again, you might feel as though you have slithered all the way down the snakes to the very beginning of the game, but those basics are imperative. Time spent on the basics, make the advanced work so much easier. Anything we build up from houses to horses rely on good foundations.

This time we have all experienced, this period of retreat has enabled many of us to go back to basics. It has allowed us the time to start over, to remember things we had forgotten about. Though it may have been uncomfortable, and unpleasant for some people, for others it has given them the time to reconnect, to go back to basics.

Sometimes we over-complicate our lives by forgetting about the basics, and we can do the same with our horses. For both of us, the basics are important. After all there is no use learning Mandarin, if you have forgotten how to kind. It is fantastic is your horse can do a flying change, but it is really of no use, if you can’t do a good canter transition in the first place.

Tricks are impressive, we all get blown away by a flashy trot or a person who can speak 10 languages. But in reality the transition that gets one into the flashy trot is more important than the flashiness. And speaking 10 languages is of no use if you can’t be kind in any of them…

The best book you can buy…

“Activate Your Horse’s Core” by Dr Hilary Clayton and Dr Narelle Stubbs is one of our best-selling books. It is written by two leading lights in the equestrian world and provides a brilliant set of exercises that does exactly what it says on the tin!

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Narelle Stubbs is the official Australian Equestrian Team Physiotherapist, treating both horse and rider in many forms of equitation at the World Equestrian Games (1998, 2002, 2006) and the Olympics (2000,2004 and 2008). Narelle regularly lectures internationally at Veterinary and Physiotherapy conferences and special teaching engagements. Narelle’s research interests include: biomechanics of locomotion, back and neck dysfunction, rehabilitation techniques, and the horse / rider unit and athletic performance.

This book and DVD provide a series of exercises which have been shown in field trials to increase the cross-sectional area of the multifidus muscle, i.e. to improve core muscle strength. The exercises are broken down into three areas; dynamic mobilisation exercises (i.e. baited stretches), core strengthening exercises and balancing exercises.

The better chance we give our horses to perform to their optimum, the more enjoyable our experience with them will be, and theirs with us. Regardless of whether you are competing professionally, or enjoying a sunny hack, these exercises will help your horse to build and maintain a healthy core, meaning he finds his work easier.  Increased levels of comfort lead to less ‘bad’ behaviour as well as improved performance.  Take the time it takes, put the effort into helping your horse to physically be his best, and both you and he will reap the rewards.

 

Naughty or struggling? Can you tell the difference?

Our horses rarely wake up in the morning, and think “today I will be really naughty…today I will only canter on the left lead not the right lead.” This is a common issue that many of us face, and our perception of the problem is one of the key factors in helping to solve this issue.

When we train horses, we train them to accept and understand the aids that move us from trot into canter. When they are learning this can be difficult for them, as they have to work out the connection between our aids and our desired outcome. It is our job to give these aids clearly and consistently, with much praise for the correct response, so that our horses learn what we are asking for. Without praise, they won’t understand that they have done as we have asked. Praise can be verbal, or can be through the release of the aid.

When faced with a horse which will canter on the left, but not the right lead, we become frustrated. To us, in our logical human brains, we feel that the horse must be being “naughty” as we know full well that he understands and can carry out the action from trot to canter. However, it only takes some weakness, or stiffness in his body, to cause him to struggle with the transition on this rein. This imbalance in the body can be harder to pinpoint than a more obvious lameness, but it is up to us to work it out.

Horses can only communicate their pain, or distress through their actions, they have no other language. In general, they are incredibly stoic creatures who will try their very best despite the limitations of their bodies, or our, sometimes vague, aids. If your horse cannot do something that you ask of him, it is not a personal insult! He is simply trying to communicate with you, in the only manner that he knows how, and it is up to us to listen.

There are many exercises that you can do on the ground before you get anywhere near riding that will help you to listen to what he is trying to say to you. Can he bend his neck equally to both sides? There are many excellent resources available showing you how to do simple carrot stretches (beware of your fingers!). When turned in a tight circle do his hind legs step under to the same degree on both reins? Does he track up evenly when walked and trotted in-hand? Any difference on the left and right side in-hand will be likely to provide you with the key to why he is struggling with ridden work.

So, the next time you are feeling frustrated by apparent naughtiness in your horse’s behaviour, take a moment to stop. Take a moment to listen to your horse, and think about what he is trying to say. Our horses are always talking to us, when we take the time to listen, we might hear what they are trying to say.

Getting ready…

We are getting ready, dusting off our saddles, squishing our winter flabby legs into our long boots, checking that our show jacket will still do up. We are brushing the winter mud out of our horse’s tail, we are booking lessons with our trainer, we are googling “shows in March.”

It can be difficult getting started again after the winter. Our bodies feel more creaky, our motivation can still be having a nap. But its not long now, only a handful of weeks and the shows will kick of in earnest, so never mind you, is your horse ready?

We know how difficult it is to get your horse fit again, unless you are blessed with a floodlit school or indoor arena, but there are things that help. Remember how much that yoga session helped your fitness? By increasing the flexibility and balance in your body, your body can work effectively so you can generate a greater effect for the same amount of effort, well the same applies to your horse.

Activate Your Horse’s Core provides a great selection of exercises to do exactly what it says on the tin! These will help your horse to work correctly through his back, making sure that as you work him back to fitness, you are working the right muscles not the wrong ones!

The exercises are easy to follow, and you can do them in your stable, which is ideal for those still dark nights. Using the exercises with a short time riding as the nights draw out will make the most of the time you have with your horse and give him the best chance of using his body effectively.

Getting ready for the season is vitally important as you don’t want an early injury putting paid to your plans. Get fit, get prepared, and get out there! But most importantly, enjoy it!

My horse won’t canter on the left lead…

Your horse can only communicate his distress or discomfort to you via his behaviour. It is very unlikely that he is being “naughty” by not cantering on the left lead when he will do so on the right lead. Horses, in general, do not wake up in the morning thinking of ways to wind you up.

If your horse cannot canter on either leg, then he is most likely confused about the canter aid, and will need more training in order to help him to understand. But if he can canter on one leg but not the other, the problem is most likely to be physical.

Our horses, like us, can be stronger on one side than the other, so it is easier to pick up one canter than the other. Or there could be weakness or pain that is preventing him from picking up the correct lead.

Equally, it is worth checking with yourself that you are asking for the canter aid in the correct way on both reins and are not inadvertently confusing him.

Start by watching your horse walk and trot away and towards you in hand, and see if you can see any difference in movement between the right and the left side. Carrot stretches to both the left and right are a good way to see any imbalance between the two sides, making sure you stay safe while performing them. It can be advisable to seek professional advice, either a physiotherapist or similar, will be able to assess and treat your horse. They should be able to offer exercises to help you and your horse.

Once you are confidence that your horse is physically able to carry out what you are asking, you should find that he is happy to canter on both leads. There may be some initial reluctance as your horse may remember that it used to be uncomfortable, but this should soon pass, as he realises that he is now capable of cantering on the left and the right.

Simply the best!

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Narelle Stubbs is the official Australian Equestrian Team Physiotherapist, treating both horse and rider in many forms of equitation at the World Equestrian Games (1998, 2002, 2006) and the Olympics (2000,2004 and 2008). Narelle regularly lectures internationally at Veterinary and Physiotherapy conferences and special teaching engagements. Narelle’s research interests include: biomechanics of locomotion, back and neck dysfunction, rehabilitation techniques, and the horse / rider unit and athletic performance.

 

Ethical Horse Products is delighted to be able to offer the DVD and laminated handbook ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’ by Dr Hilary Clayton and Dr Narelle Stubbs. This book and DVD provide a series of exercises which have been shown in field trials to increase the cross-sectional area of the multifidus muscle, i.e. to improve core muscle strength. The exercises are broken down into three areas; dynamic mobilisation exercises (i.e. baited stretches), core strengthening exercises and balancing exercises.

The effects of the dynamic mobilisation exercises have been studied and the results have been evaluated. The results show that the size of the deep spinal stabilising muscles increases after sustained use of the dynamic stabilisation exercises taught and clearly demonstrated in ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’. The muscle size was measured using ultrasonography in three separate studies, across three countries, with the duration and frequency of the exercises being different in each study.

The deep spinal stabilising muscles are responsible for the stability of the back and neck during locomotion. These muscles can become weakened through injury and can benefit from targeted exercises to strengthen them. Your horse will benefit from increased mobility and stability in his back and neck, no matter what his age or condition. These exercises can be used as part as rehabilitation (please check with your professional if you have any concerns whether they are appropriate for your horse) or simply as part of your daily warm-up routine.

The better chance we give our horses to perform to their optimum, the more enjoyable our experience with them will be, and theirs with us. Regardless of whether you are competing professionally, or enjoying a sunny hack, these exercises will help your horse to build and maintain a healthy core, meaning he finds his work easier.  Increased levels of comfort lead to less ‘bad’ behaviour as well as improved performance.  Take the time it takes, put the effort into helping your horse to physically be his best, and both you and he will reap the rewards.

To help your horse today, buy “Activate Your Horse’s Core

 

Learning to be an Equestrian, not just a dressage rider…

Guest blog by Jane Broomfield of Silverdale Horses

When talking to various people in the horse world, I get a little concerned when they describe a person that has just started their journey with horses as competitor in a specific discipline, for example, a hunter jumper rider, a barrel racer, or a dressage rider.

Take a moment to work out what that means…. from the first time they sit on a horse, they have already been put into a “class”….

The job of that first coach is to teach a new rider how to begin their journey as an equestrian.

New riders need to be taught a basic understanding of the seat, the connection between the arms, hands and bit, basic good position, and how to ride a horse that may not do exactly as you would expect.

Like horses, riders need to be treated as individuals… Not a one size fits all approach

I spend as much time as it takes with each client to get them secure in their seat. They need to understand the correct position of their bodies, use each aid independently and have an idea how to react when things don’t go quite to plan. This takes time and patience from all parties.  I explain that this is what is going to happen and it will take time.

Riders should not be rushed, you would not expect a runner to run a marathon after 5 training sessions!

Fix your position, before trying to ‘fix’ your horse

Like our horses, we also have a correct way of going, regardless of the discipline.  Even experienced riders need to check them from time to time, it is scary how quickly we can fall into bad habits.

Holding your arms and hands correctly is not just for dressage, its for jumping and all other forms of riding too!

A rider with straight arms,  hands below the horses neck and open hands means they have no real control, and a horse that lives on the forehand. Relaxed shoulders, elastic elbows, thumbs up and carry your own hands.

Shoulder, hip, heel line is for all!

Imagine if your horse magically disappears, would you fall on your arse?  Then, you will fall on your arse when you horse does in fact disappear! Because at some point they will!!

Practice your 2-point

Everyone  should be able to ride in 2-Point or  jumping position, you never know when you will need it!

Independent leg aids

The ability to use your legs independently and move your horse away from the leg is necessary for both the dressage and jumper ring, even out on the trails…. How else are you going to get close enough to the gate to open it without having to dismount!

And keep a open mind

We can all learn from each other and we should all learn how to ride a dressage test, navigate a round of jumps or ride gymkhana games, you might just learn something new!!

With thanks to Jane Broomfield

The Importance of Praise

I read this great story the other day about a teacher. The teacher wrote 20 sums on the board in front of a classroom full of teenagers. One of them was wrong. The teenagers started laughing. The teacher asked them why they were laughing, and the teenagers said “because you made a mistake.” The teacher said, “You laughed at me for the one sum that I got wrong, but you didn’t praise me for the 19 sums that I got right.” The teacher continued, “this is what will happen to you all during your working life, you won’t get praised when you do well, only criticised when you do badly.”

Firstly, he was quite right! The importance of praise in the workplace seems to be a foreign concept to many employers or managers, yet people will work so much harder for you if they feel appreciated. It’s not simply a question of being paid, people want to feel valued. Great employers have the ability to make everyone from the floor workers, to the managers, feel appreciated, it is one of the hallmarks of a good business.

Exactly the same thing applies to our horses. The good riders make their horses want to give that extra bit. Like the good employers whose staff will stay late to help, the horses of good riders will make that extra effort. If you praise your horse for all the things he gets right, he too will feel valued, and will understand what you want him to do. We forget to praise, we remember to criticise.

How often do you tie your horse up, groom your horse, tack-up and then your horse starts to fidget and you tell him off? But did you praise him for standing still all that time? Probably not! Exactly the same happens in our ridden work, we criticise our horses when they make a mistake (despite the fact we were probably responsible for it!) and forget to praise.

Interestingly the ratio between praise and criticism was subjected to academic research and reported in the Harvard Business Review. The ideal ratio is 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment. So the next time that you ride, or even handle your horse, try this. Make sure you have praised 6 times, before you criticise, and see what effect it has on your horse (and yourself!)

Off horse exercises!

By Amy Craske

A good part of the work I do is as a riding instructor, both at a local riding school and freelancing with people’s own horses. I’m training with Mary Wanless and Ride With Your Mind to become a rider biomechanics coach, so I do focus a fair bit on people’s position and how the horse is responding to it. If you ever get a chance to have a that kind of lesson, I highly recommend it. If you have, I’m sure you will have been surprised at the huge difference making small changes to your position can make to your horse’s way of going. The thing is, often riding in a more balanced and effective position is hard work – it requires you to use muscles that just don’t get used very much on a daily basis! Sitting in an office chair, or whatever your daily job entails, rarely requires you to keep your balance on a moving object! And this is without even thinking about undoing any bad riding habits your body may have gotten into.

 

Adding to the problem of fitness is the fact that many of us are slightly divorced from what is going on with our bodies; our proprioception is not very good. If you haven’t heard the term before, lift your hand up and touch your ear. Did you need to be able to see your ear to be able to touch it accurately? That’s because you are using your proprioception. Unfortunately, most people have more difficulty working out what their lower leg is doing than finding their ear! Given all this, I’m often asked what people can do out of lessons to keep the good work going. Obviously the ideal would be to ride lots more! But with how busy most of us are this is difficult, and if you are going to a riding school may require remortgaging!! Lots of different riding methods have their own exercises to help with specific issues, I know RWYM. But for a general work out which will TONE your muscles, give you greater control and proprioception I personally think Pilates, Yoga or Feldenkrais are brilliant. They both, with a good instructor, also have an element of helping you control your breathing, practice mindfulness and get better at centring yourself, all of which are enormously useful skills around horses. So, do you have any other recommendations?