Posts from the ‘horsemanship’ Category


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Whether we ride to hounds, are advancing through the levels of dressage, practice the multiple disciplines of combined training, participate in jumping tournaments, or simply enjoy luxuriant commune with nature and a horse on varied trails, the training foundation for every equestrian discipline is stabilization.  Because for all of these pursuits it is most desirable that the horse be calm, forward, and straight, we must first “stabilize” it. And once we have achieved the condition of stabilization, we are wise to frequently reinforce it, by spending a portion of all of our mounted time riding on loose reins, day after day… jubilantly … year after year.

Webster defines “stabilize” as “make stable or firm,” “to keep from changing or fluctuating.” It does not define stabilize, as a student once quipped, to mean “put the horse in a stable.” Webster defines “stable” as, among other things “firm in character, purpose, or resolution; steadfast” and “capable of returning to equilibrium or position after having been displaced.”

Webster, I can’t resist, also defines “stabilizer”: “a substance added to an explosive to prevent it from exploding spontaneously,” as for example, a rider astride a horse awakening to the first fresh air of a balmy spring day.

V.S. Littauer, in his (1956) Schooling Your Horse, -to fox hunt, or show it as a hunter or jumper, or enjoy it as a country hack- provides the most eloquent discussion of the concept of stabilization that I have found in my reading of equestrian authorities:

(page 21)”Calmness combined with cooperation leads to the very valuable “stabilization” of the horse. A stabilized horse will maintain by himself, on loose reins, any pace at ordinary speed after it has been indicated by the rider. A stabilized horse can, on many occasions, be pleasantly ridden with complete nonchalance, and when at times the rider wishes to halt his horse or change the pace it can be done with the voice alone.

Riding on loose reins is very important in teaching jumping because the jumping exercises are conducted on the basis of the principle that the horse must learn to make all the calculations of the approach (gait, speed, line of take-off) by himself.”

The concept of stabilization is not peculiar to Littauer, who I think provides the simplest instructions for achieving the condition, but is also described by German Olympic Dressage rider Waldemar Seunig in his (1956) Horsemanship as the condition of “unconstraint”:

(page 114)”Unconstraint is the psychological and physical state of the horse in which it flexes its muscles elastically only as much as is required for uniform locomotion under its own weight increased by that of the rider, thus avoiding all unnecessary expenditure of energy….Unconstraint is attained when the horse allows the rider to take his place in the saddle without tightening its back and begins its natural, well-timed trot without any action of the reins. The correct (i.e., springy, although still not pronounced enough) oscillation of all its body muscles is also apparent to the observer in the relaxed, satisfied expression on the horse’s face, its ears half erect, attentive only to the path and the rider, and the natural carriage of the tail, which swings from base to tip in time with the hind leg that happens to be grounded.

As unconstrained and well-timed ground-covering strides are the basis of all equestrian work, it is obvious that these two interdependent prerequisites must exist before further gymnastic training can be undertaken.

Even during subsequent training the rider must always be able to return to this, one might say, primitive, original form of striding in time at the unconstrained, natural trot whenever difficulties arise-the trot that is the foundation for the dressage of the tournament jumper as well as for the haute ecole.”

So how does one arrive at this blessed state of calm, even, rhythmic, regularity in all gaits, riding nonchalantly on loose reins, changing gaits with voice commands?

Partly because my own riding, schooling and teaching methods have been most strongly influenced by Littauer since childhood, partly because I am less willing to absorb the playful antics of young horses and the leg and rein evasions of incorrectly started mature horses than when I was younger, and certainly because I find the greatest satisfaction in harmony with the horse throughout all aspects of interaction with it, I believe that the easiest way to stabilize a horse is to use Littauer’s method:

“Schooling begins by teaching the colt voice commands and stabilization; these are the first lessons in cooperation. On this basis the further schooling program is being built up. In reclaiming upset horses (where there is a chance) stabilization works wonders.

You will find schooling along these lines constructive, simple enough not to be discouraging, and if you follow them closely you need not worry about doing mental or physical damage to your horse.”

My preferred method of longeing, like Littauer’s, is very simple. I use a longeing cavesson, adjusted so that it lies above the most sensitive cartilage of the horse’s nose, not on it, making sure that the jowl strap acts as just that, not a throat latch, in order to prevent the cheek pieces from sliding or being pulled into the area of the horse’s eye. Attach to the center ring of the cavesson a longe tape of thirty feet in length or longer. I use a longe whip equal in length to my height, with a lash equal to that additional length. As with shoes, the fit of the equipment is everything!


For those who fancy themselves riders, not horse trainers, let me reassure you that teaching a horse to longe on voice commands is easy, and rewarding. Not only will it soon increase the pleasure you derive from riding, or accelerate your progress toward your goals, if that is your perspective, but longeing will let you see the horse in motion a constant thirty feet away from you, providing a feast for the eyes (as “The outside of the horse is good for the inside of the man”) and a learning experience.

The aids for longeing can be compared to those for riding. Position yourself with your shoulders parallel to the horse’s length, longe in the hand toward horse’s head, whip in hand toward tail; this position is your “seat.” The whip is your “leg,” pointing to the ground when the horse is at halt, and to its hock when it is moving at any gait. Wave the stock of the whip as you would squeeze with your calf to ask the horse to move forward, wave the lash to urge more strongly, and crack the lash when you would apply spurs, very seldom if at all, and only if the horse did not respond adequately to successively stronger urgings. The tape is sometimes called a longe “rein” (not to be confused with “long” rein), and the cavesson is equivalent to the bit.

Your good hands will maintain a straight line from elbow to “bit”. Gently shaking the tape is the mildest admonishment to the horse–”Are you listening? Get ready” or “steady”. A somewhat more vigorous shake of the tape is all you need to signal the horse to come back from walk to halt-”whoa.”  As compared to the rein in hand transmitting a message through a bit to the horse’s mouth, it takes longer for the message to get from the riders hand to the horse’s nose when transmitted through the thirty foot length of longe tape and cavesson. Be patient, it is acceptable for the horse to respond slowly.  Flipping the tape so that the cavesson comes down hard on the bridge of the horse’s nose is a severe punishment, equivalent to a jab in the mouth with the bit, reserved for interrupting a high spirited bucking spree, for example.

Using these “aids,” or “influences,” teach the horse voice commands. Take advantage of the corner of a paddock, ring or indoor hall to define the working area for the initial lessons to the horse.  Say “walk,” then urge only as strongly with the whip as necessary to elicit the desired response. When the horse walks, reward with your voice-”good boy.” Let the horse walk long enough to reassure him that he is doing as you wish, then ask the horse to halt by saying “whoa,” followed by shaking the tape.  With some horses, you may need to walk toward the horse’s head, to get it to halt, and “good boy.” In the first lessons you may play the tape out to only fifteen feet, but walk with the horse, inscribing with your own feet a circle of thirty feet or more, so that the horse is inscribing a circle of sixty feet or more. And circle both directions, i.e. to left and to  right. After a couple of lessons of “walk” and “whoa,” when you need no longer signal with whip or tape to get the desired response, add trot, playing the tape out further so that the diameter of the circle will not stress as yet undeveloped tendons, ligaments, and joints. This is done without drama, the horse appears to be, and is continuously comfortable. And although the footman may perspire, the horse should not sweat.

Several lessons from now, add canter.

Important is that no matter how you pronounce the word you choose for each command, that the intonation of “trot” be the same each time you ask for trot, and the intonation of “caaan-te” be the same each time you ask for canter. Ditto for “whoa” and “walk.”  And equally important is that the intonation of each command be distinctly different from each other command.

As soon as you can “walk” and “whoa” on voice commands on the longe, and being certain that your horse’s high spirits and excess energies were expelled in the pasture or paddock beforehand, you can mount and walk and whoa on voice commands, with loose reins and passive legs. When “trot” is solidly built into the horse’s vocabulary, you can ask it to trot from the saddle, with firm resolve to use neither hand nor leg. It may take a month or so, but eventually you will canter the same way, and ride everywhere, nonchalantly, on loose reins.

You will be pleased to realize that riding on loose reins builds your confidence in your horse, the horse’s confidence in you, the horse’s confidence in himself, and your confidence in your own riding ability. Knowing that you can rely on the horse to respond to your voice will improve your tact in applying hand and leg influences.

What is Contact?

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One cannot envision contact; so there are no images accompanying this post. One can, however, conceptualize contact. To get the concept, enlist someone else to read these words while you sit on a saddled horse, without stirrups, eyes closed.  Then pick up your stirrups, and listen again, eyes closed. 

Obtaining and maintaining soft contact- that is contact with the leg, seat and reins is a  complex, and, I dare say, crucial concept of equitation. Contact entails, on the part of the rider, an awareness of his calves and –through his boot and saddle flap– a “feel” of the side of the horse. Simultaneously, the rider must be aware of the inside of his thigh, his seat bones, and lower back, and– through the saddle flap, the seat of the saddle, and the pad underneath it– “feel” the horse’s back. Also simultaneously, the rider must be aware of his own shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers, and –through his gloves, reins, and bit– the horse’s neck and head to “feel” of the horse’s mouth. It is all to be connected.

Actually, it is more complicated than that, or vastly simpler, once you understand that what we really want to do is feel, in order to control, the horse’s individual hind legs, prerequisite to controlling the horse’s  back and shoulders. Which is why it is more apt to say that we “put the horse in front of the rider’s leg” than to say that we “put the horse on the bit” as an indication of a more intense, more energized degree of “riding on contact”.

Now, if all of this is complicated for a rider, who is, after all, a human being possessed of intelligence superior to the horse which, partner though it may be, or is becoming, is still an animal, then learning to go “on contact” is immensely more difficult for a horse. The horse must have that identical set of awarenesses, albeit in reverse, and must submit its animal will to its “feel” of, i.e. awareness of stimulation by, a rider. So be sympathetic, and question yourself, first,  if things are not going well.

More specifically, recheck the correctness of your overall position, and your position’s ability to fluidly follow and absorb the motion of the horse, without, in any way, interfering with the balancing gestures of an equine athlete at any stage of development. To do this, it is wise for riders, whether novice or vastly experienced, to develop or refurbish their own seats and “feel” for contact by riding schooled horses alternately with green prospects.

Whether riding a green or schooled horse, the mechanics of putting the horse “on contact” are the same. And perfecting the process of obtaining and maintaining contact with a horse is a lifetime quest…more on this later.

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

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When the sun rose over my toes Sunday morning, I threw open the shutters and windows to be serenaded  by a marching band, heralding the course of the GO! St. Louis Marathon. I like brass bellowing through my neighborhood, I thought, especially if this happens only one, not every, Spring dawn. Stirred, I took breakfast to the deck, and was disheartened that the strains of the brass band were soon followed by sirens of emergency vehicles, lots of sirens. With 19,000 registered participants, certainly some bodies were going to be over-stressed, I thought, sadly.

Breakfast downed, news read, breeches donned, and tack packed, I motored cautiously around, over, and under the securely cordoned Marathon route…to ‘da barn. Through open windows, the air was heavy with humidity and the trar thermometer read 75F still before 9am. Only two weeks earlier, we were slogging through afternoon snows! The weather has changed…too fast.

Sunday was a riding, rather than teaching, day.  The footing of the outdoor court was perfect…moisture content just right. The first horse loosened easily, and confidently bent and stretched into even contact all around. But after a mere 20 minutes of his usual warm-up, this horse was wringing wet, head to tail. Not lathered, not panting, not the least distressed, but wringing, soaking wet, all over, for the first time in maybe 6 months. And so was I.

During what was intended as a walk interlude preceding “the work” we caught our breaths easily enough, but only got wetter. It occurred to me that maybe the warm-up was all this horse needed to help him become acclimated to summer!  So out we went for 20 minutes of trail walk. Untacking, I noted that the saddle pads were soaked through and that his bandages were sopping wet. This horse had sweat profusely, from unusually light exercise. So he was sipped out, showered, hosed, and set fair.

I myself drank quite a lot of water, and ate a sandwich, en route the next rides.

Only for the next horse to become totally drenched in about 15 minutes of exercise. And so the next. These guys got only their warm ups, and long walk-downs, showers and rubs. The barn thermometer registered 90F in the shade.

Back in town that evening, I read that the Marathon had been curtailed by prudent organizers. Due to heat and humidity, at 9:15 am, only runners who had passed the 9 mile marker were permitted to complete the full Marathon course; all others were diverted to a Half-Marathon course at the very spot where I had heard the marching band.  Many participants had been taken to hospital for emergency treatment, many dropped out, and many more were observed and treated at the finish line.  Nobody died.  A runner commented, “We trained in snow, but competed in a sauna.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” I consoled myself.

Today, Tuesday, back in the saddle, the air was WILD! dry, and crisp, if pollen-laden.  The warm-ups were solid. The focus of the lesson for one was canter-walk-canter transitions, preparatory to improving flying changes. For another, the work was trot shoulder-in to trot half pass to trot shoulder-in, encouraging the horse to respond to a mere change of the position of this rider’s seat bones. And for the third, the accent in the walk interlude was maintaining rhythm and activity into and out of, first, one, and then two walk pirouette steps toward achieving, on coming days, an excellent walk half-pirouette. His ‘work’ was longitudinal contracting and stretching, working trot to collected trot to working trot to medium trot  and repeat after change of direction. And the correlative exercise at canter.  I am pleased that they are all getting stronger.

And so we proceed, one day at a time.

Surf’s Up!

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Waiting for the sun to rise, I surfed into this sumptuous promo. Thinking past the medium as message, the horsemanship is magnificent.

ThunderSnow and Dressage Priorities: Conservation First!

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It’s the end of March, and here, near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Mother Nature is playing one of her seldom seen, much less heard, compositions: thunder-snow pelting flowering trees and blooming spring perennials. The horses have already shed much of their winter coats, so they are snugged into insulated rugs, windows open, and resigned to indoor games. We’ve had only two days of agreeable outdoor footing all month, which we celebrated, modestly. But today, as big dry flakes rapidly changed to heavy wet glop, accompanied by drum rolls, I thought better of trekking, tacked, from stable block to the disquiet indoor gym. Instead, I gave each of the boys a twenty minute hand walk straightway the 50 meter asphalt paved stable aisle, with  half-pirouettes at each end, and a few halt/step-back/walk exercises at about the 15 minute marker. Followed by grooming and strategic massages, before re-rugging.

Boring though this could be for me, the horses swing into it and lull themselves into stretching forward and down on a long cotton lead, encouraged by my voice. Therapized by the half-pirouettes, they voluntarily lengthen their walks into straight balanced over-strides, and seem to listen to the rhythms of their hoofbeats on the pavement.

To break the monotony for myself, I sing songs that synch with the rhythms of the hoofbeats, and let the horses play games with me. Today, the clown I fondly call “The Jack Russel Terrier model of the American Thoroughbred” nipped at me between songs, and also when my footfalls were out of synch with his front feet. And he nips like he means it, so I have to be fairly alert.

Walking, my mind wandered to the book with which I slept last night. I truly admire Charles deKunffy’s 1992 The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse, Manege Patterns, refer to it often, and re-read it cyclically. I had reached for it to review deKunffy’s suggestions for canter development patterns, but decided to read again his first chapters, which so succinctly crystallize the essence of classical horsemanship.The first sentence of the first chapter is “Dressage goals, simply stated, include all training activities that prolong the working life and serviceability of the majority of horses”.

 Soon enough he states “…the logical goal of all classical equitation: to explore and unfold the nature-given potentialities of each horse to its fullest….our ideals are not fully attainable, only approachable. Horsemanship is not an art for those who wish to ‘arrive.’ It is rather an art in which the process of creating is fulfilling….one merely strives, never arrives.”

Every horse with whom I have had the long-term relationship has validated deK’s points, and such horses, my schoolmasters, heighten my awareness that for each horse, with whom I have a short-term relationship, I can only facilitate progress, rather than to achieve “the goal.”

Walking, currying, and massaging the ‘boys’ as the snow fell, I continued to reflect on dressage ethics.  I recalled that in one of deKunffy’s books he states that the priorities of dressage are rehabilitation, therapy and training.  In Athletic Development, deK  implies that the priorities of dressage are conservation of  natural abilities resulting from hereditary conformation and temperament,  rehabilitation of abilities and temperament when they have been compromised by injury or environment, therapy including exercises that promote ‘ambidexterity’ and ‘straightness’  and athletic training for the amplification of authentically natural equine motion.

So, I consoled myself, while hand walking and massaging the day away did not make progress, it did conserve the horses’ health and temperaments, and did promote their soundness (walking on pavement strengthens their tendons and ligaments, we know).

All things considered, I’d have rather gone for trail rides. Those days will come, and we will be ready to enjoy them. Meanwhile, during the puddlewonderful days of April, I’ll read deKunffy again, and resist practicing those oh-so sophisticated amplification exercises until the rehab and therapy processes are complete.


Well…Some of Them Do Talk

Several years ago, I began handling and then stabilizing a former flat racer for I knew not then what other sports.  I noticed the very first day I put my hands on The Saint that he reacted to many of my motions, and often to my voice, with a snort. These snorts were not the snorts of a horse startled from grazing by a child passing in the lane on a bicycle, or the defiant snorts of a herd leader to the newcomer, or the snort of a fit horse who, upon being turned out on a chipper morning, throws up his head and exclaims before moving off to inspect the far of the field. These were low, soft, kindly snorts.

At the time I thought that the horse was telling me of his curiosity, surprise, bemusement, or disdain. But then horses don’t talk to people, only to each other, right? As his new surroundings, my motions, his tack, and clothing became familiar and then routine, the snorts subsided, and I forgot them.

As he progressed to lungeing on voice commands in the indoor hall, and I realized that, as he would go to the limits of the line to loosen up before I attached long reins, he was snorting again.  These were not look over the shoulder, snort, buckup and snort sort of snorts that celebrated a modicum of freedom, or the kick out and snort sort of snorts of a prankster. This horse would walk calmly away from the chambriere, increase the diameter of his path, bend his neck inward, make eye contact with me, and snort a few or several times while remaining entirely calm at walk and trot.

With the indoor hall otherwise silent, I would hear him snorting while he watched me prepare a grid for free jumping.  Of course I thought he was just blowing dust out his nasal passages, or that he had a minor allergy to winter mold.  Or… was this horse saying “Ah, time to get on with playing our games, eh?”  It did seem so, but then horses only talk to each other, not to people, right?

Soon I noticed that upon my first carrying tack to his stall front racks, but before I opened his stall door, The Saint would leave his hay, turn about his hindquarters toward me, lower his head, and snort.  sometimes he did this before I said anything to him, and sometimes soon after I greeted him with, “Hi, Snort!”

So, I was in my library one evening, ruminating about all this snorting. I was fascinated. Knowing that they would at least not laugh (out loud) at me if this was beyond the cutting edge, I considered faxing Equus to ask whether they knew of research on horses trying to talk to people (without being prompted by a pin prick.)

But I became distracted by the need to complete an assignment. So I looked over drawings on the drafting table, and then reached for A.L. d’Endrody’s Give Your Horse A Chance to verify the formula for the distance between two elements with ditches in a combination on a cross-country course to be ridden at preliminary speed. Opening to the index to find that table, my eyes became riveted upon “Snorting…147”.   SNORTING!  What was  d’ Endrody’s concern with snorting? Could I resist?

Actually beginning on page 146. I read:

“Creating of suppleness in the horses behaviour

The secret or producing suppleness is to obtain the horse’s understanding and willingness to obey, since the state of its body depends mainly upon the quality of its mental apprehensions.  The more successfully the suppleness of the animal’s mentality is attained, the more readily does it offer the suppleness of its body.

There is an interesting and convincing proof offered by the horse itself of the validity of this statement.  Horses often give an audible sign when they are changing from opposition into submission by starting to snort kindly.  The rider can best recognize this phenomenon during loosening exercises or regulating procedures at the moment when the change in the horse’s general behaviour [sic] sets in.  It is evident that this ‘talking’ is the expression of a mental function, thus the relaxation of the body, which the rider can perceive simultaneously with the snorting, must also be a direct result of the animal’s mental function.”

Of course I read further and with heightened respect for this authority who wrote about horses ‘talking’ in 1959.

Next day, I arrived at The Saint’s stall as he was sipping his water bucket.  Without waiting for him to finish his drink, I greeted him with “Hi, Snort!”  Then before my very eyes, he raised his chin from the lip of the goblet, stepped (or maybe only leaned) back, flexed his poll, and snorted. Upon my saying softly to him “Well aren’t you somebody?” he resumed drinking.  He snorted to me a few more times while we prepared to go to the indoor to play our games.

I don’t know whether this horse was really talking to me, d’Endrody wrote that some of them do. But I’m sure going to keep talking to horses… and listening.

Another ride, another game

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It’s way too sloppy out doors to trail ride, darnit. So, again in the big gym, today’s work, with the same advancing medium horse, was quite different.

Using a similarly styled warm-up as previously, it took a little longer to make even contact, and really swing into trot. But when he did, it was big and loose. Canter was immediately wonderfully active, at once buoyant, and uphill.
To take advantage of this, I inscribed many changes of direction using long and short diagonals, serpentines, half circles and half circles in reverse carefully planning them such that, although I did frequent changes of lead, I did them at points along the figure that the horse did not anticipate, and I focused myself on influencing him to be straight and uphill in strides before, during and after the changes. Today, I did not ask for any lateral canter work. We did only canter figures for four or five minutes, during which he maintained his buoyancy.

Then, without a walk interlude, we began trot work that included a very forward, rhythmic, up-tempo shoulder in, which I let collect itself through half-pass, (but never felt to cadence into passage) then long straight lines transitioning from medium to collected and repeat, focusing on the quality of the transitions.

Then a walk interlude with a pair of pirouettes, and a schakule of 3-5-7-9 as described before, followed by a spectrum of walks through which I was conscious of the rhythm but focused on the transitions between the walks and the horse’s taking the reins forward and down smoothly and raising his forehand supply in response to my shortening the reins. This needs more practice…I’ll include more of it in this horse’s work over the next few weeks.

Already partially warmed down by the walk work, but still quite interested in continuing, I resumed trot without stirrups and did the SI-circle-HP down the long walls in the style of Prix St George Test. But felt that the horse had become so buoyant that my sitting without stirrups was more impeding than facilitating his balance. Fact is, I could barely get back to the saddle during HP right. So I picked up the stirrups and repeated in both directions, with improvement.

Pressing on, I again asked for the medium to collected to medium to collected, but added a few steps of piaffe, then medium to collected, to a few more steps of piaffe, the forward into large circled of forward and down trot rising, then walk. Soon dismounting, responding to the head butting and foam flipping by rubbing his head and praising him. Although he was not steamy of breathing hads, I leading the horse about the room for several minutes before returning to the stable.

I am fortunate that all my rides this winter are boxed, traced, and rugged. Tomorrow, I am going on a muscle spasm hunt while giving this horse a thorough massage.

Rainy day games in the indoor court

Cold rain, forecast to change to sleet and snow overnight. So, I bandaged and booted and tacked and rain cloaked both man and horse and sang through the rain to the big gym. Although I could have used the RomperRoom adjoining the stable block, the horses have been confined to bending and stretching and balancing in that limited space, so many days this icy winter, that I take advantage of every opportunity to use the full-sized gym floor.

This day, my partner expressed gratitude for the larger space. While I did my own bending and stretching and limbering exercises from the saddle, the horse inspected the margins at loose rein free walk, perambulating the perimeter, literally nosing into the very corners of the room, both directions.

Then I picked up my stirrups, and developed contact at medium walk, carefully regarding the symmetry of my own position. I have found that with this horse, at this stage of his development, leg yield is the direct route to even contact. I don’t use LY, or any lateral work at walk, much, with most horses. But this individual has such a good, confirmed walk, that I do to worry about mucking it up. At this stage, his walk half pass is becoming delightfully  adjustable with respect to angle and length of stride. So much of the bending and stretching and loosening is accomplished before we strike off into an energetic working trot, rising. A few circuits of the perimeter, changes of hand, big looped serpentines, smaller looped serpentines, and bigger looped serpentines with LY outward, and shoulder-in preceding and following a change of direction promote and confirm evenness of contact, and build impulsion. 

Then an interlude of walk work. For this horse I am confirming, through focused practice, the difference between turn about the hind quarters at medium walk, and half-pirouette at collected walk.  Progress in this endeavor seems to depend upon my own concentration, I reflect.

Then we struck off at canter. This day it took only a few strides to establish distinctly three beat activity. So our exercises soon included SI canter, counter canter, changes of lead through trot and changes of lead through walk, and a single change each direction, just to check signals. Then another walk interlude that included medium, collected, and lengthened segments. Then struck off again at canter. A serpentine on each lead, including counter canter loops as they came up, maintaining an uphill attitude. Transition to a long, energetic, forward and down trot, rising, inscribing a big figure eight,  to stretch his topline.

Then to working trot, sitting, and dropped my stirrups, and proceeded to lateral trot work. Riding without stirrups refines the application of my influences, making it easier to maintain rhythm and tempo, and promote throughness. This horse knows the language of the aids well, it is up to me to not interfere with his balance as he gets stronger and is able to execute an increasing number of high quality strides of the movements. It is good policy to straighten and ride forward at the first perception of loss of any quality in a lateral movement.  But this horse also counts, as in “I have done three strides of half-pass left.”  So I have to be judicious with the application of the policy, sometimes requiring another stride before straightening as a reward, in the spirit of a game rather than a repetitious drill. Often I do a true canter or counter canter loop just to refresh.

Taking advantage of the canter refreshment, I include flying changes at varying intervals of 15, 10, 12, and 7 strides, at “odd” locations on the floor, to prevent this smart horse’s anticipation. And SI and HP canter interspersed among the changes. Then regain my stirrups and transition to forward and down trot, rising. Then to working trot sitting, and a few more lateral exercises, significantly improved. Much praise!

Then to walk….and warm down. For this horse, warm down now includes schakule, or see-saw, if you will. Establish medium walk, three strides of rein-back, five strides of medium walk, five strides of R-B, seven strides of medium walk, seven strides of R-B, medium walk to collected walk, to medium walk to permitting him to take the reins forward and down into a free walk and praise. The inclusion of collected walk is important here in order to remind this horse that a half-halt is only a half halt because the schakule causes him to anticipate halt and rein-back – he has taught me.

After a few circuits of the court in free walk, realizing that his breathing is quite lovely and he is barely damp, I dismount, loosen the girth, release the flash, and rub his head, which he obviously loves. So much so, that it becomes his game to poke me with his muzzle and flip foam at me, to elicit my massaging response. So we play for a bit, then I lead him about a few minutes before donning the rain cloaks and returning, singing in the rain to the barn, to towel off and set fair.

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