Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lengthening or Extending the Trot

Lengthening or extending the trot is not just about sending your horse forward and hoping for the best. It is a combination of two things. The abitilty of the horse to hold his longitudinal balance and lengthen his strides at the same time. To start teaching your horse to lengthen his trot start by assigning a number to his prefered trot. For example, you could assign it a 5 and say o.k. this is his normal trot. Then work to create transitions within the trot. Try to ask with a half halt (downward transition that is not completed - but functions to improve the longitudinal balance) to have a slower more elevated trot. Then allow him to return to his prefered trot (number 5). You have already created a little range in his trot. The next step is to push him forward to lengthen his trot to a number 6 trot. This number 6 trot is a little longer without getting quicker. As a rider be very careful not to allow the tempo speed to increase. If the speed of the steps increase, then the lengthen is decreased. When the horse speeds up his trot he is dropping his energy lower to the ground in front and cannot lengthen. The 1/2 halt is what keeps the horse balanced in his back longitudinally. So in a nutshell, a lengthening is a blend between a down transition and an up transition. When you are posting slow down your posting and add leg at the same time. The slower posting helps the longitudinal balance and the extra leg asks for the lengthening. If your horse rushes and gets quick you need less leg and more emphasis on the slow posting. If you get no forward response you have to increase your leg. Remember at the beginning we are trying to create range 4 to 6. Later for an advanced horse he will Piaff at number 1 and be in full blown extension at number 10. When sitting the trot and asking for a lengthening you add leg and increase your stomach and lower back resistance. Blend these aids so you get longer strides without getting quicker strides. Spend the first week just working towards 4 to 6 and then try to take your horse to 3 - 7 the next week. By the time you have a range of 3 to 7 you will have some lengthening and some collection. You will be surprised. Also, if your horse has a vacation, gradually go back into the lengthenings to allow him to regain his strength and flexibility. Lengthening is a combination of strength and flexibility. He needs to be strong enough in his back and torso to hold his longitudinal balance while being flexible enough to lengthen his strides. Have a great ride every day! Karen

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Clarity in riding sounds simple but can really be a hard to achieve. Many people believe that they should use only one aid at a time. For example, just a rein aid or just a leg or just some support in the riders body. The truth is that most of the time riders blend their aids and are then way more clear to their horse.

This is a big deal in young horses or a horse that is confused for any reason. In a young horse the rider may ask the horse to move sideways off their leg and as a result the horse looses longitudinal balance and then rushes an gets on the forhand. The young horse scared him or herself. The horse then thinks that moving off the leg laterally is difficult and will be resistant to doing that movement. If your young horse has a tendency to rush when asked to move sideways, the best thing you can do to help him or her is to blend your aids.

A horse that rushes when moving sideways benefits if the rider uses his or her body to post slower than the horse wants to travel to help the horse maintain longitudinal balance while moving sideways. Longitudinal balance really does help the horse stay quiet and focused on his or her job. I am not suggesting that the rider always hold the horse up. I am suggesting the rider show the horse where to go and then move out of the way. The horse learns from the softness after the balance correction, not during the correction.

The other aid to blend while traveling sideways is the rein aid. If the rein restricts the shoulder too much the haunches of the horse will lead the sideways movement which will disturb the lateral balance. If the rider leads too much with the reins the horse will lead with his shoulders and not really engage in any sideways movement. The reins really have to be blended well with the legs to keep the horse aligned and evenly bent for basic lateral movement. Again the horse learns during the release of the aid that he or she did the right thing.

The combination of a supporting rider torso and rein aids help show the horse how to balance longitudinally. The combination of the leg and rein aids keep your horse evenly bent and aligned. Alignment and longitudinal balance are critical to the horse if he or she is going to develop confidence in their work. Take care of them both and your horse will relax into the work happily.

Blend your aids for clairity. Show your horse what you want and thank him or her often by softening your aids.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Riding Inside the Muscle

Riding inside the muscle of the horse is a concept that is very hard to explain but very worth taking the time to learn how to do. When you ride if your lower body from your hips down is a part of the horse's barrel - a continuation really, then you are in a position to ride inside the horse's muscle.

It takes much more than a quiet seat, it takes blending of the aids to ride inside the horse. The first part of my journey to ride inside of the muscle started at Charles deKunfy clinics. In those clinics we were riding advanced movements , extensions, flying changes, canter pirouettes, and passage with no stirrups. This made me really good at feeling the muscle of the horse and predicting movement as a result of what I was feeling. I will always be grateful for this information. The other thing that was talked about rather at length was isometric stiffness. What that means is controlling the upper body enough that as a rider your upper body was quiet.

Now years later I think I have a better understanding of riding inside the muscle. I think it includes the blending of the lower body being so close to the horse you can feel the muscles changing. The rider must be willing to use the legs to affect lateral balance and understand how to blend the leg aids with torso control and the rein aids.

The key to riding with great feel is to know how to blend the above and what combinations of blending are required to solve what is going on underneath the rider. I wish someone could have explained that to me as a younger rider but I am also thankful for the people who have been giving that information to me over the years in pieces.

Lunge line lessons are a great help and can move that process along faster. Slow down folks and invest in some lunge line lessons. Riding inside the muscle is hard. Performing the advanced dressage movements is way easier. If you want to do it with elegance, work on yourself. Your horse will thank you and ultimately progress faster.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Goodbye Can Be a Great New Beginning

Today I sold a horse called Shrek but I think he is going to get a new name "Snickers". He is a 10 year old gelding that is a great guy that knows basic dressage. He is super honest and loves attention. His new owner "Sarah" is so excited and I am excited for her. I think they are going to have a great time growing together.

Congrats Sarah and Snickers, best wishes for a great 2011!