JOINING THE MOVEMENTS TOGETHER – by Anne Wilson
When we have successfully introduced and confirmed all the lateral exercises previously covered in this series, it is time to incorporate and intertwine them within our normal training programme. This is a challenging and exciting time for both horse and rider. We now have a veritable armoury of movements to use in short bursts between our normal two-track riding; thus making boredom or repetition virtually impossible.
Even before reaching this advanced stage with so many exercises at our disposal, I find it extremely annoying when people say ‘my horse doesn’t like schooling; he finds it boring’. What they really mean is that they have no idea of the proper way to school a horse. Even in the early stages of training there are so many variations of movements and different ways of intertwining them, that boredom is impossible if you have any imagination and know what you are aiming for. But now, at this stage, it is a matter of what to leave out, rather than what exercises to practice today.
Trotting round in endless circles, or cantering many circuits of the school, hoping to improve the gait, of course is going to become not only boring, but tiring and unnecessarily wearing. As I have said before, it is generally the transitions which improve the gait, not continuing in a gait which is often going further and further downhill.
Never neglect the walk, trot, canter and transitions between the lateral work, as these are important for the forward impulsion of the horse (note: forward impulsion as in energy, not speed), but never overdo anything.
Take plenty of breaks, allowing the horse to stretch in walk on a long rein and re-assess your own position. Although you can relax during this time, don’t slouch, sit upright and think about the classical seat. Keep your torso upright with expanded chest; lift your shoulders up, back and relax them down, in order to release any tension which may have built up. Think about whether you have equal weight on each seat bone, with a little weight on your crutch area including the inner thighs. Relax your legs down, with your heel underneath your hip, but keep your legs gently draped around the horse and encourage him, if necessary, to step actively through with his hind legs, even in this period of relative relaxation. You can also use this time to prepare your thoughts for what exercises you think would benefit your horse on that particular day, and in which order you are going to practice them.
It is a mistake to concentrate all the time on lateral work, but a few steps in each session, even when you have decided to work on something else, is very beneficial to the horse.
Here are some suggestions:-
Exercises containing Shoulder-in, Travers, Renvers, leg-yield and Half-pass – can be ridden in walk or trot.
Starting off on the left rein at ‘A’ ride Shoulder-in between ‘F’ and ‘B’; change to Travers between ‘B’ and ‘M’, bring the quarters back to the track and ride around the corner, turn left down the centre line at ‘C’ and immediately leg-yield to your right reaching the track at around ‘E’. Carry on riding round the track until you reach ‘A’, then turn left down the centre line and Half-pass back to the track at ‘E’. You have now changed the rein and if you and your horse are not yet ready for a break; (I would recommend a break here if your horse is new to this), change to a right flexion and carry on round the track until you reach ‘M’, ride Shoulder-in from ‘M’ to ‘B’ where you change to Travers to ‘F’, straighten and ride around the track to ‘A’ turning down the centre line and leg-yield to your left towards ‘E’; ride straight round the track to ‘C’ where you turn right down the centre line and Half-pass back to the track at ‘E’. Change to a left bend and you are back on the same rein you started, having completed the same procedure on both reins. Then I’m sure you will both be ready for a break.
In the sequence above, the Travers can sometimes be substituted by the Renvers section, but of course this is much more difficult and you will need to bring the forehand back to the track and change the bend before reaching the corner.
Exercises incorporating canter work in between lateral steps
Starting on say the left rein at ‘A’ in trot, ride Shoulder-in from ‘F’ to ‘B’. At ‘B’ strike off into a left canter in a semi-circle until you reach ‘E’ on the opposite track; then return to trot. Ride in trot round the track until you reach ‘A’, and return to walk. Now you can either take a break (which I would suggest if your horse is new to this work) or change the rein using a demi-pirouette (turn on the haunches), then go back to trot and ride the same sequence on the other rein; congratulate the horse and take a break. This is an extremely exacting and quite strenuous exercise and should not be attempted until the horse is easily able to take weight on his haunches and preferably has already mastered canter to walk. Even though you are not asking him to walk from the canter in this sequence it will help if he is capable of it. He will have to have a good deal of collection for any of this to be possible.
Another variation to the above, which in some ways is even more exacting, after riding your trot Shoulder-in, then your canter semi-circle, is to return to trot Shoulder-in at the half way marker rather than continuing in a two track normal trot. In other words you are going directly from canter into a trot Shoulder-in. Many horses find this quite surprising, but when they are correctly and slowly prepared it is enthralling for both horse and rider. It is very demanding of the rider as well as the horse, as you have to be spot-on, accurate and quick with the change of aids, but at the same time being subtle and gentle.
Exercises on the circle
Moving in and out on the circle or ‘spiralling’
The first and easiest lateral exercise on the circle is the leg-yield, where you gradually decrease the circle, putting more weight into your inside stirrup/seatbone, requesting the horse to step to the inside with your outside leg. Your outside hand should gently but firmly support the horse on the outside, confirming the request to move sideways to the inside of the circle. Your inside hand confirms the inside flexion with gentle give and take or squeezing actions as and when necessary, and your inside leg is held supportively at the girth, underneath your inside hip which should be advanced.
When you have reached the required smaller circle, you then ask for a leg-yield gradually outwards. Return some weight to the outside stirrup/seatbone, keeping your legs and hips in the same position but changing the emphasis by gently pushing or nudging with your inside leg. Your outside leg prevents the quarters from swinging out. Your outside hand still supports the outside shoulder but allows the horse to move to the outside.
There are many more advanced lateral exercises which can be used on the circle. They are generally much more difficult when performed there because of the lack of support and point of reference, which is offered by the wall of the arena. However, correct performance on the circle is certain confirmation of the horse’s understanding, agility and obedience, and requires good, tactful, precise yet gentle aiding from the rider.
It is best to begin in walk. Try riding half a circle in Shoulder-in, then another half in Travers.
Shoulder-out can be incorporated as well. Shoulder-out is merely Shoulder-in ridden in a different place but can be quite difficult on the circle. You could ride Shoulder-out for say quarter of the circle; change to Shoulder-in for another quarter, then Travers for the next quarter, then (if you are really brave), take the quarters back to the line of the circle, take the forehand inwards, change the bend and ride Renvers for the remaining quarter circle – then your circle is complete.
Gradually Build up the Sequences
Gradually build up the sequences of all these exercises by just riding one part at first; say one trot Shoulder-in to canter, then rest. When that becomes easy, continue as described above. Obviously the trot Shoulder-in can be substituted by walk Shoulder-in which requires the horse to strike off directly into canter from the walk Shoulder-in. This often improves the quality and collection of the canter immensely, but make sure your horse is ready and strong enough for it.
As you can see the possible combinations of these exercises is almost endless. As always, when you have practiced something on one rein, it should be done on the other.
If your horse is finding one particular movement too difficult, then substitute it for one which he finds easier, and go back to practicing the difficult movement on the track, possibly at a later date.
Time and Patience is What is Needed Most of All
Most of the exercises described above are advanced ones, and to be able to perform them in quick succession in the way described takes years of preparation, so don’t be put off at how difficult it seems when you first begin. Just because your horse can perhaps perform a good trot Shoulder-in half way down the long side of the school, does not necessarily mean he will be able to strike off into canter immediately and he will find it even more difficult to come immediately from canter back to trot Shoulder-in. So BE PATIENT – never pull on the mouth nor use any sort of force. If you miss the marker, it doesn’t matter that much; what matters is a smooth transition if at all possible. Always look at your own position and aiding, which needs to be exemplary for this type of work. The horse will need all the help you can give with your body posture and correct use of aids.
One thing’s for sure – you and your horse will never, ever, be bored and you should both enjoy the challenge presented to you. Don’t try to do too much too soon; keep something in hand to practice the next day. Enjoy every little bit of improvement and view each setback (and there will be some) as a learning opportunity. Think about why it went wrong – is the horse ready for this? – were my aids/body position/weight aids correct? Always be pleased with your horse for trying and he will enjoy the work as much as you should.
Anne Wilson is a freelance classical riding trainer, based in Bedfordshire; trained with Sylvia Loch and holder of the Classical Riding Club Gold Award Certificate – Phone 01234 772401 or email:- firstname.lastname@example.org
See Anne’s book ‘Riding Revelations – Classical Training from the Beginning’ available from www.blacktent.co.uk