The gymnastics saga continues!

Posted on 17 April, 2017 at 12:53 Comments comments (254)
This marks the third post of jumping gymnastics. These are designed for a few scenarios:

1. Green horse new to jumping
2. Unconfident horse needing to gain muscle strength, coordination, and confidence over fences
3. Horses coming back to jumping work needing to build up strength
4. Horses who need to refine their skills and polish their jumping form (the first few lessons will be refreshers for this horse)

SO at this point your horse should be confident and comfortable over trot poles, canter poles, and a simple gymnastic of trot poles to a small cross rail. You should also know your horse's most comfortable tort distance (usually close to 4' for most horses) and their most comfortable distance for canter poles on the ground (usually close to 9-10'). 

Once you have mastered these basics, the options are endless. I will continue to post variations and complications to the task to improve you and your horse's ability, connection, relationship, balance, eye, coordination, the list of benefits goes on and on!!

I like the next step to be adding to the end of the gymnastic. Using the "trot in" aspect of 3 trot poles helps the horse to look at the obstacles and analyze what is coming, rather than just rushing to the base to try to get through it quickly. So lets set the symple gymnastic and add a canter pole on the backside. This is also known as a placing rail. A placing rail on the backside of any jump encourages the horse to land an appropriate distance after the jump, prevents her from running after the jump, and rebalances the horse back onto their haunches quickly after the jump, further increasing hind end strength. 

Heres what it looks like:

Remember as you are working through the gymnastic that the horse's job is to jump. Your job is to stay out of the way. Being careful about the measurements, making changes to the distance, THAT is what teaches the horse what to do. Let the equipment show the horse what to do. Most riders prefer to just hold a half seat or two-point position throughout this exercise. If you attempt to change from sitting to two point over each pole/jump, its very easy to get left behind. This could easily discourage your horse, as the discomfort from you wiggling around can be distracting and sometimes a little painful. 

The next step is to add some canter poles after the jump. This increases coordination for the horse and encourages an even stride after jumping. This should ONLY be done once your horse is comfortable with the single placing rail after the jump. Rushing into this can end up being dangerous to the horse, if they are not paying attention or not coordinated enough to canter over poles without a jump, they can easily trip and possibly injure themselves. 

Remember the important bits: rhythm, straightness, confidence, forward motion. Stay out of your horse's way, let the poles do their work. 

Step two gymnastics for the green/unconfident horse

Posted on 9 April, 2017 at 12:15 Comments comments (716)
If you haven't read my first gymnastics post, please head back and check it out! It goes over the basics needed before training your horse to jump. 

If you have read it, by this time your horse should be consistently and confidently working over trot poles and canter poles in various areas of your riding space. If you are unsure, spend a bit more time on those before moving on. You can also continue varying the trot and canter poles by raising alternating sides of the rails with a small riser. Jump Blocks work really well for these gymnastics -- Here is a link to a great set on amazon - 

At this point we are ready to introduce the first jumps for your horse! My favorite way to introduce a jump is through the most basic gymnastic - 3 trot poles to a small cross rail. You already did the work of finding your horse's most comfortable trot step in part 1. Now, multiply that by two (yes, I know, math!!! We never thought we would use 'solving for x' after school!) and place a small cross rail at that point. 

For most horses, This will be 4 feet between the trot poles, and 8 feet between the last trot pole and the cross rail. 

How it feels: The horse may trot the entire exercise at first. While that's not the eventual goal, its a great starting point. The jump should be low enough that she can easily walk over it to see the distances. Ideally, the horse trots the 3 trot poles, and sets her feet together before the cross rail so that as she is in the air over the cross rail she is already in rhythm for a canter. The cross rail should feel like one elevated canter stride, because that's exactly what it is! :)

I suggest using this exercise many, many times. I still revert back to a version of this on my mare who is consistently jumping 2'3 - 2'6". Once the horse is confident and comfortable with a small cross rail, raise it up a bit to look bigger. This would also be a good stage to start incorporating some filler (decoration) to the jump. Start small, with a few fake flowers from the dollar store. Place them at the edge of the jump and progressively move them closer and closer to center, as long as your horse is accepting them and is not terrified of the horse-eating nature items. 

This exercise can be adjusted to take up months of training. Lengthen the trot poles to get your horse to stretch a bit. See if you can really get your horse responsive to the jump! Remember, you are the confidence here. The rails themselves do the training to 'tell' your horse where to put her feet. Your job is to keep her straight and stay out of her way as she negotiates the challenge. There is no shame in grabbing mane, especially if it means avoiding yanking on her mouth in the air. 

Once this is accomplished, Try varying your exit strategy. Can you get a left lead canter on purpose? Try alternating which direction you go after the jump and see how well your horse responds. Bonus points to the horses who can halt in a straight line afterwords! Halting straight is a great way to build up some extra balance, co-ordination and glutes! 

Have fun, stay safe and jump on!

Gymnastics to increase your horse's confidence and co-ordination (or to teach him to jump from square one)

Posted on 5 April, 2017 at 9:32 Comments comments (206)

I wanted to start a mini-series on setting up gymnastics at home for your horse. 

Most of these upcoming exercises will be easy for a young, green horse. 

They are designed to be worked in order. Each task should be completed, and ridden until the horse is 100% reliable with the particular setup, before moving on. 

The first step to get your horse comfortable with Jumping Gymnastics is trotting poles. Depending on your individual horse, the measurement between poles will be 3-5'. For example, my 14.1hh pony can comfortably ride any distance. But when I first started working her, she couldn't do anything but about 3.75'. The easiest way to determine what is comfortable for the horse is to lunge them over poles. This ensures that when the horse takes a funny step trying to accommodate the new exercise, a rider's balance won't negatively impact their stride and impulsion. 
Of course this means your horse will need to be reliable on the lunge line. 

So, lunge your horse over poles, starting at 4'. If he takes 2 steps between sometimes, scoot them a few inches closer. If he skips a pole sometimes (taking two poles in one step), they need to be spread apart a bit more. If he attempts to canter, move the poles closer.  Keep working on adjusting these poles over a few different sessions to find his most comfortable stride. Later you can adjust the poles to achieve different training results. Ill talk on that later. 

Once you find your horse's most comfortable trot step, you can start adding in variety. I like to use the mantra "Do it until its boring". You are training your horse by using these tools. If you rush through, or skip sections, or don't thoroughly cover one piece, you may end up having to fix things later, or you may end up with a horse who is only comfortable and coordinated in certain circumstances. 

Remember to reward your horse. Each horse is an individual. You must learn to adapt to what your horse enjoys most as a reward. For most horses, simply coming down to a walk on a loose rein is a good reward in the early stages of training. Some horses pay enjoy a trot on a loose rein, and others may want to stand completely still to absorb the lesson. Bonus, if you haven't heard of clicker training yet, a clicker can be a great quick reward to let the horse know he has completed the exercise successfully.

The next step is Canter poles.

Make sure that your horse is confident and willing over trot poles before trying multiple canter rails in a row. If you need extra time on trot poles, but you are going stir crazy, try cantering just one single pole instead. 

Canter poles in general should be placed 9-11 feet apart. Depending on your horse and his ability and coordination. What you do NOT want is to have them at a full canter stride (12') as very easily this can turn into the horse getting strung out and reaching too far. 

Rinse and repeat until these exercises come naturally to the horse. The time this can take will vary greatly, depending on the horse and rider. Its best to set "check in" points, rather than an end date for each exercise. When you are ready to move the horse to the next level, he should be happy trotting a straight line through the poles, cantering over trot poles, in different areas of your riding arena. Move the poles to create variety and increase the horse's confidence. The secret is to keep 1 piece the same, and change others. For example, use the same trot poles, but move them to a different spot where there are different shadows. At this stage of his training, it would be unfair to expect the horse to accept all factors being changed every time. You have to learn how to listen to your horse and what he is telling you.  

Common problems: 

horse balks at the poles - If your horse stops forward motion, he may need a refresher of the basics. He needs to respond to leg, voice and weight cues, at least on a rudimentary level, to accomplish these tasks. If they are not solid, go back to the lunge line, and associate a word or noise with "go faster". This can be accomplished by saying the word (or clucking) at the same time as swinging the lunge whip towards him. Then under saddle, use that same word or phrase at the same time as a light tap of the riding crop behind your leg. If your horse doesn't respond, go back to basics. 

horse leaps over the poles - If your horse takes a superman leap over the poles, try to simplify the exercise until he learns how to "see" the poles. Remember they do not have the same depth perception as humans. For example, you could go down to 1 trot pole until she learns what it feels like to trot over the poles. 

horse veers/weaves/drunk drives over poles - If your horse trots/canters as though hes had too much to drink, its very similar to the last problem, he is not responsive to leg/rein cues and probably should go back to basics. Talk to your trainer about lateral cues and how to get the horse more responsive. 

1. Before starting, horse must know how to ride straight and forward, and lunge.
2. Lunge over poles if he has not been exposed to them before or has confidence issues.
3. Work the trot poles before moving to canter poles
4. Horse should be confident, reliable, and predictable before changing the exercise.

This is the foundation for all jump training. You are laying the foundation for a life skill for the horse. Do not rush through this. Just like building a house, the foundation is extremely important. 

One month with Mo

Posted on 8 April, 2016 at 12:09 Comments comments (102)
Last week marked the completion of one month's training with a beautiful Morgan named Mo. Mo came to me after a long break from working under saddle. His owner had worked with him before that break, but there were a few issues. She hired a few trainers in the mean time to try to iron out the kinks, but they did not work out for various reasons. 

Mo is a very sweet horse, who I would rate as being somewhat insensitive and a bit slow to respond to cues. I believe that he remembers what certain things mean, but only vaguely, and in addition to that, he wasn't sure how to make his body perform what I asked of him. 

My first few days with Mo were spent testing the waters. He is curious about everything, but not anxious or nervous. He performed well in the round pen, considering his break. He seemed at first like he was trying really hard to please, but wasn't exactly sure how I was going to treat him. 

He reacted well to each "new" task I gave him. I worked in the round pen several days to see how he moved, how he carried himself and how he reacted. He was very unbalanced laterally, and still some of that imbalance remains, as it can take months to years for a horse to truly be balanced. This was evidenced by not being able to easily pick up the right canter lead, and cantering around wildly, racing around the round pen and leaning into the middle, dropping his shoulder. 

Unbalanced horses are a safety risk for themselves and the rider. We can help them build balance by working over poles and small obstacles, and also teaching them lateral movements such as leg yields, turns on the forehand and haunches, and lots and lots of transition work, between gaits and within them as well.

When the day came to mount up, I was expecting a bit of a speed-racer, based on the work in the round pen. I was happy to learn that he was not as forward under saddle. However, this also has its drawbacks as he does take a little bit of pushing to get forward. This is truly apparent at the trot currently. He needs a lot of work polishing up and when he is fatigued, his trot will dissolve into a less true gait. This will also be remedied by lateral work, work on transitions and work over poles. In an ideal world, this type of problem can be helped tremendously by working a horse up and down hills. 

This picture is the first day I cantered with Mo. Not unlike most other horses with a similar past to Mo, he was not sure what I wanted. However, due to the work in the round pen, he had learned the voice cue to Canter, so he had an idea. It was more a matter of organizing his legs to perform the canter. 

Mo has also worked over a small gymnastic exercise, bounce canter rails and some small cross rails. He is sensible, not spooky, and has a good attitude when it comes to work. I look forward to what this month will bring! 

If he continues progressing at this rate, he will be attending a small local, casual schooling show on May 15th. 

Why do you keep saying "Right Rein" when I'm turning left???

Posted on 3 October, 2015 at 23:00 Comments comments (66)
We need to talk. 

Riding a horse involves coordination, balance, strength and patience. As you progress, you work towards higher goals and raise your expectations of you and your horse. suddenly, you can feel your horse making decisions, changing balance, speed and focus, and you never noticed these things before. One of the biggest transitional changes if the use of the outside rein. 

In beginning riding lessons, we learn to look left and open the left rein to turn left. Simple, right? As you progress, you work towards riding the horse underneath you instead of just pointing the horse's nose where they need to go. 

It's about the whole horse

One you have mastered cantering and some small jumps, its time to re-evaluate how the horse moves. In order to carry a rider, a horse needs to have balance. We can assist their balance by driving them into a turn rather than pulling them into a turn. We begin to learn to use the outside aids. First you apply an outside leg pressure, to encourage and push them, drive them, where you want to go. For some horses that is all that is needed. Most lesson horses, however, have learned to "tune out" some commands, in case it was a mistake on the novice rider's part. For horses that have "tuned out" the outside leg, they need an additional aid. We see these extra-wide turns and call this "bulging out"

A horse that bulges isn't naughty, simply unbalanced and not focused and directed

To prevent bulging out, use an outside, bearing rein. Often in a bulging horse, we see the rider's outside hand shift forward, similar to a small turn made while riding a bicycle. This really encourages bulging... when you release a rein aid, the energy and forward motion can only escape in that direction. We don't want the horse's energy to escape out towards their outside front leg. This would mean an imbalance. Instead we need to capture that energy. Sit up, drive the horse forward and collect the energy with an outside bearing rein, which is pressure straight back towards your outside hip. This creates a wall of pressure on the outside of their body, connecting the driving outside leg with a collecting outside hand, so that the horse engages that entire side of their body. 

Some thoughts on showing

Posted on 5 May, 2015 at 21:43 Comments comments (69)
Horse shows aren't for everyone. There is a lot of prep time, pressure, goals, and lets not forget they aren't free. 

But there are many benefits to showing. Even small local shows give riders the opportunity to work towards tangible goals, and to show off their skills and be proud of their achievements. There is also the added benefit of another professional horseperson watching your ride and objectively judging your skills. At local schooling shows, most judges are willing to talk to you after your ride to point out areas for improvement. You can then work with your trainer to improve, and sometimes hearing it come from someone else in the same or a different way, will help to solidify what your trainer has been teaching you. 

Preparing for a show is an extensive process. First of all, you have to make sure that your horse can handle the added commotion. This means you can work with your horse on being confident in crowds, with unfamiliar objects, and unfamiliar people. Sometimes just hauling to a trail ride with a group of horses can show you where your horse excels in groups, and where you may need to focus more effort and positive reinforcement. 

Once you are confident your horse can handle unusual circumstances, crowds, added noise, and hauling to a new place.... then you can focus on you. Talk to your trainer about what type of show you should try, what classes you should enter, and if he/she will come along to help it go smoothly. You shouldn't think of a show as competing at the highest level possible. A show should be easy, fun, and a manageable challenge. For example, for a novice rider, schooling jumps at home of around 2'6", your first show or first few shows should be at a level that is easy, and lower than what you practice at home. So you may consider showing at 2' or 2'3". Its very likely that you and your horse will be "amped up" the day of the show. You don't want to add the pressure of jumping at your maximum level. 

Judging shows is not a science. Each judge has the right to choose how important riding errors are in placing a class. You may find a judge who pins a rider last because she missed a lead, or was late changing her diagonal. Another judge may allow that rider to pin higher, over someone who has a floating leg. This is another reason talking to the judge after your class can be so beneficial. There is always something to learn at a show. 

Beyond all the training, horse spent in the saddle, a show also almost forces you to look at your horse, your tack, and your organization skills under a microscope. Your trainer can help organize all the items you need.... but a short list includes: water bucket, hay, haybag, bridle, saddle, show pad, girth, spare bridle, brushes, show sheen, fly spray, negative coggins test, boot polish, tall boots, show breeches, show coat, hairnets, helmet, treats, leg wraps or shipping boots, hoof polish.... the list can go on and on and on, depending what type of show you are going to. All of this has to be prepared and loaded into the trailer (Don't forget the horse!!), often with a departure time of 5-6 AM!!! Bring a mug of coffee, and don't forget to smile!!!

No stirrup November!

Posted on 26 November, 2014 at 14:24 Comments comments (85)

No stirrup November is coming to a close. It is a good time to focus on adding in extra challenges to your normal routine. Currently a video is being made with some fun clips.

If you haven't worked without stirrups yet, there are still a few days in November! and you don't have to limit your muscle-building fun to just one month! 

Start slow, just with walking... and hold your leg in the same position as if you had stirrups: knee on the knee roll, heel below your hip, and remember to sit up tall. allow your hips to stay close to the saddle and follow the motion. Once you are comfortable at the walk turning, stopping, changing speeds and bending, move up to a sitting trot. work your way up slowly, don't push yourself or your horse too hard or fast, and remember to have fun!!!

Raising the bar

Posted on 3 July, 2014 at 14:06 Comments comments (109)
It has been a while since I have written a blog entry. For up-to-date news and events, check out my Facebook page! 

I have been working with Epona on jumping. I believe that she enjoys it! Teaching a horse to jump is not as easy as you may think. First we build a foundation with trot poles, strengthening the horses back muscles. Then comes gymnastics work. Gymnastics are a very useful tool. Usually a gymnastic exercise (also referred to as a grid) includes a few different elements. When I set up a grid, I usually include trot poles at the beginning and at least two jumps. There are endless ways to vary a gymnastic exercise. 

Most beneficial is that you (at first) set the jumps so that they come naturally in the horse's comfortable stride. This lets the horse relax and not worry about *when* to takeoff. Also, generally speaking, this allows the rider to work on their position, or practice a better release... or even try riding with no hands! (please don't try this without a professional)

Well, because of the good "homework" I have done with Epona, she has a huge amount of confidence and has worked up to be able to jump consistently in the range of 3'3" jumps (including oxers)

Here is a little pic of us popping over a 3'3" oxer last night.  I had to improvise with equipment as we have surpassed the top hole on the front standards. 

Epona has come quite a long way from the ball of nerves who would flinch if you even looked at her in the paddock. She now trail rides, has been to schooling shows, trailers great, body clips, stands for the vet and farrier, and even has taken an amateur rider over jumps!

Stay tuned for more updates - our next schooling show is July 26th!

Epona Update

Posted on 4 November, 2013 at 18:27 Comments comments (63)
Well it has been a while since I wrote anything on here!!! I have 2 videos I have made of her progress, but even those are outdated! The first one is of the first two weeks, basically groundwork, some desensitizing to equipment and some exercising and free jumping.

At that point, I could tell she was sensitive, smart and curious. She was very wary of trusting humans. It took me several days to get her to let me catch her. She still does not come running to the gate to meet anyone, but at least she doesn't cringe when a human looks at her. She really enjoyed the free jumping sessions. It seemed to be a lesson that clicked quickly for her. 

The second video I made is a bit longer, because it includes some footage of the first few rides. She is still somewhat easily startled, but generally just green. She reacted to the velcro on my gloves the first few times, and various other strange things. Once she realizes she isn't going to get hurt, she really gets bold and confident. 

Since those videos, We have done a TON! I have jumped her in tiny gymnastics, gone over trot poles, worked on desensitization with different arena obstacles (see pic) and over an arena bridge as well. She has a lot of muscle and confidence to build but it is coming along wonderfully!!! I have ridden her down a small trail connected to our barn, and she was great! I only had to work with her on trailer loading once, and she has been fin ever since. Even her first bareback ride went well!!

Most recently, I took her out to a local trail park with about 10 miles of trails for horses. I was cautious and advised people that I may want to stick to a walk, since she can sometimes be more spooky than others. She wasn't though! She took off with a nice calm walk into the lead! Unfortunately, a horse we were with would get VERY nervous if not in the lead, so we had to forfeit that role. She was wonderful though, and we walked, and trotted, and cantered! She even was fine going into the water. She enjoyed that a lot, and stuck nearly her whole head in to splash around. 

Hopefully my next entry won't be so long overdue! Have a great week folks! 

New training horse!

Posted on 29 August, 2013 at 13:40 Comments comments (122)
Hi there!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of heading up north a little ways to pick up a lovely Grey Mare. She is a 4 year old Arabian, barely halter broke. She is still trying to help us figure out what her name is. :)

Right now she is probably out in her quarantine paddock, staring at her neighbor wondering what happened... A few days ago she was kept in a roundpen, possibly lonely, but the horse that got the short end of the stick due to lack of time to train. She is still very leery of humans and wonders if we are all out to trick her and scare her. She will be an absolute pleasure to work with, just have to get over the initial "TRUST ME" phase. 

Here she is at her old place, hanging out, just doin' horse stuff... :)

I would not consider her a "blank slate" per se, but a very nice project, right up my alley. She reminds me of a story I was told when I first started training horses. Imagine a horse's mind as a fishbowl, filled with marbles. Every time you work with a horse, the mindset you get is determined by reaching into the fishbowl and grabbing a marble. White marbles represent pure, trusting, happy thoughts, events and behaviors. Black marbles represent negative thoughts, events, and memories. While you work with the horse, no matter what you do, you have the opportunity to change the color of the marble for that day. When you put the horse away, you put that marble back and add a marble to the jar representing that days events, and it then affects the odds the next time you take a marble out. 

I believe this mare has mostly black marbles in her fishbowl, but not many marbles in total. I do not believe she has been worked with very much. So I am going to work on just putting in more white marbles. :)