I haven’t had an unsound horse for a long time – until recently. Now I have two on the injured reserve stall rest list. Charlie and Sammy. The prognosis is good for both of them. We’ve now done the first 10 days of strict stall rest, the week of stall rest plus 10 minutes of hand-walking per day and now we are on to stall rest with 15 minutes of walking, this time mounted. I’ll admit, I had some trepidation about getting on Charlie, a thoroughbred who, a few years ago, had a habit of bucking and now had a few weeks of stall rest under his girth.
But he was an angel. Never set a foot wrong. Of course, the horse that I thought would be easy peasy, Sammy, started with a humped-up back and had a few moments of corkscrew ears and some mumbling about how he could buck and he was a wild, wild horse. Yeah. Wild Sammy. You can stop that now.
He didn’t buck, by the way. Contrary to his wonted bad boy image, he’s a good man. Sammy at an eventer derby
Anyway, now I am walking the two goofballs around the indoor for 15 minutes per horse every day. It just so happens that these days I am also reading Charles De Kunffy’s book Training Strategies for Dressage Riders (on my rockin’ Kindle Fire, that thing is just stupid cool). So I’ve got 30 minutes of walk to do and I start fooling around with CDK’s comments on use of the rider’s legs. He says the inside leg is the driving leg and the outside leg is the guarding leg when asking for a bend.
So I walk and walk around the arena on a loose rein thinking about this. Of course, the first time I put my leg on to play with it, each fresh horsie decides this is an invitation to trot. Hmmm. No, not the right button. So then I make sure not to drop my leg back even an inch, but use it more straight toward the girth, leading with my ankle bone. That got me leg yield. Hmmmm, right idea, but not quite. So I walked around a little more and thought about it. Maybe if I… What about if…
So I got to thinking about using my whole inside leg, from the hip down. This would have to be without pinching with the knee. With my long-legged conformation it is not possible to use my lower calf/ankle, while keeping my knee against the saddle, so I keep my calf on and allow the knee to come off the saddle if necessary, but usually it is just a softening of its contact with the saddle.
After performing this thought experiment, I gave it a try. What I noticed was that when I used my whole leg, my seat bones were more precisely placed and probably clearer to the horse. I got really cool results. The first night, after a few wobbles and comedies of errors, I could do a large figure 8 in my arena using only seat aids. It was terrific! The second night, not really believing this was possible – maybe the horses were so smart they were memorizing the pattern – I threw in a random circle. Sure enough it worked. Then I started playing with different-sized circles. Some learning curve there, and after what has now been an hour of walking around, I am getting a handle on that.
But back to CDK’s idea of the inside leg being the driving aid. Turns out that when I use that leg in a more energetic manner (still quiet and rhythmic, but a bit more emphatically) I get a tighter turn that remains in balance. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense. Look at the reach from the inside hind on this horse learning canter pirouette.
There’s a lot to be learned, by both horse and rider at walk; so minutes and hours in walk therapy can be invaluable opportunities to get in touch with ourselves and let our horses get in touch with us.
For some riders, the most productive use of this time is to teach (or improve) lateral work at walk….without stirrups. Doing this consistently will refine the leg and seat influences and the horse’s response to them, and reduce the rider’s reliance on hands. By finishing the walk session with stirrups in a big free long strided long and low circuit, you’ll feel that the horses ligaments and joints are, ride after ride, increasingly loosened, such that when you are able to trot and canter, the horse’s gaits will be amplified beyond what they had been prior to the therapy. Riding those last couple of minutes will also “release the horse’s back, in case the rider had become heavy or deep in the saddle without stirrups, which happens too easily because it is hard to keep thinking “light seat, stretch upward” continuously while walking sideways. Another learning opportunity to exploit!
This response to your journal came to my mind because, last month,
I had a snag in the progress of an advancing medium horse with canter half-pass. Scratching my head, it dawned on me to question myself…my self as perceived by a horse is, of course, my position in the saddle. SO next ride, I dropped stirrups for canter work, shaped the horse by my position, and voila…the movement unfolded!
I must rememebr to write about this for the readers of http://DressageUnderground.wordpress.com
Great response Christopher. Thanks for reading!
NOt a very thoughtful response on your part. So I will block you from my future reading.
Actually, Chris, I gave my response a lot of thought. For instance, your first line was a pretty big red flag to me. You said that the time walking with a horse gives opportunity to “get in touch with ourselves and let our horses get in touch with us.” The real gift is riders getting in touch with OUR HORSES. This might be a subtle difference to you. Read several times if needed.
In the second paragraph you proceed to document how it took you a whole day, at least, to figure out that it was your position that was the problem in your failed canter half pass. Here I thought, “Wish he had better instructors who could have told him to always look to his own position first when horses do not understand and therefore do not perform as we hope. Even if he didn’t have great instruction as he was beginning to understand the Equitation and Training Pyramids, one would have thought empathy would have helped him understand his positional role in what he, at first, perceived as the horse’s failure.”
In the third paragraph, your thinly-veiled promotion of your own blog on this blog confirmed my growing suspicion of your well-developed narcissism. I am always grateful to those people who frankly show me who they are, in some cases, so that I can remember to cross the street when I see them coming.
So, after all that thought, I responded with “Great response Christopher. Thanks for reading!”. Since you are, apparently, in the habit of staring at your own navel for days on end, I will highlight for you that this is the Midwest equivalent of the lovely Southern, “Why bless your heart!” which can be translated in many, many ways; very few of them literal.
Have a nice day. (By the way, that’s another one.)