Dressage Just Got Real Part 2


So if you’ve read part one (Check it out HERE if you haven’t) have I blown your mind yet?Well let me show you why lifting the head was essential and how it really helps this second part.

So your horse now understands that when given upward pressure on the bit he has to hold his head up. Remember when I said Carol put her finger in the snaffle ring and gently lifted up and Cash turned his head???  Now you see where we are going.

So once your horses head is up, stand in front (or slightly to the side for safety) and gently lift one side of the bit up and do a little vibration/wiggle by lifting up and down a few centimeters. The horse should turn it’s head. If not Ask, wait a moment, praise or ask again.

Now as they turn their head watch their front legs. Most horses will lean the majority of their weight towards the direction their head is going. They may also have a preferred side that they tend to keep weight on. For instance if the horse is turning its head left they pop their right shoulder out and lean to the right instead of following the head to the left. (IE. Cash popping his shoulder out  and going right to go see the horses BUT I had him turned and bent to go left).

So as you observe them do they transfer their weight left and right to follow their head? or do they move their head but keep most of their weight on one side?

If you have a horse that leans all its weight on one leg, say the right front leg, that’s great for the left leg because it frees of weight and can move any way it needs to.  However, the moment you ask them to move the right leg they literally can not move that leg because there is too much weight on it.

posted leg free legIt’s like leaning against the wall using your right arm to hold your weight.  Your left arm is free to do what ever you want but you can’t move your right arm for fear of loosing your balance and falling.

Now to understand why they do this, a horses head weighs approximately 50 pounds! So when they are moving forward and they’re looking forward it’s easy for them to move that direction but if they swing their head one way or another they compensate with their “strong” side to keep in balance.  Horses have a preferred side just like we do so that it’ s typically the side that takes the majority of the weight when they more their heads left to right.  Some horses will shift their weight to both sides easily but the majority of horses will pick one side over the other.

This brings us to the next exercise:

You’re going to need your reins and a training whip long enough to reach their butts.

Take the reins and put them over the horses head like you normally would to mount. Then grab the outside rein and ensure you have a nice light contact with the bit but are not pulling on it. It’s there to keep the bit steady. You will put the outside rein in your hand closest to the butt,with your training whip also in that hand, and position your hand on the meaty part of the shoulder.

You can see how i'm holding the bit and the reins here.
You can see how I’m holding the bit and the reins here and where I’m holding my hand on the shoulder. Sorry about the sun glare!

The best way to grip the bit  is going to be gripping the top part of the snaffle ring ensuring you only pull up not back and/or down. You can hold it any way thats comfortable but this ensures you are only pulling up.  Don’t be afraid to use the noseband to help make sure you don’t pull down on the bit until you get the feel for it.
holding bit
So once you’re all situated you are going to ask for walk.

Ask, wait for response.  Praise if they did it right. If they didn’t move  ask again while simultaneously using the whip to tap at their side to get them to move forward  and cease all aids as soon as they do and praise.

Then ask for whoa by pulling up slightly with both reins and releasing the upward movement. The release is MANDATORY!  This is your wait for their response moment. If you continue to hold the horse will resist. Give them the opportunity to respond! Then either ask again or praise depending on the response (seeing a theme here?)

When you’re sure you have go and whoa you can move on to the next step. 

Ask the horse to move forward. Now just like when the horse was standing and you asked him to turn his head,  wiggle the inside ring up and down several centimeters. Once you have the bend in his neck praise!  As you move forward walk on a large 20 to 40 meter circle. If needed walk down the rail but it is usually easier to do on a circle. As you do this a lot of horses will fall in with the shoulder. Don’t worry we will fix that next.

Take your hand holding the whip and outside rein and watch the inside leg. As the inside leg ( or the shoulder you’re standing next to) begins to raise off the ground. Push on their shoulder and then release the pressure before it strikes the ground.

Crossing front legThis should cause the horse to step across their outside leg and move their shoulders away from you.  This does take a bit of timing practice and you MUST release. If you do not it causes what is known as opposition reflex. This means the horse will lean into your pressure instead of away. It’s a natural response. Even you will do it if someone pushes steadily against your shoulder.

Make sure to praise praise praise when they gets it right.  Don’t reprimand if they do it wrong or don’t do anything.  Let them stumble on to the right answer. If timed right they understand what your asking very quickly. Don’t over do it. Once they have done it several times repeat the steps on the other side.

You are teaching your horse that they are mobile in the shoulders as well as  how to shift their weight left and right evenly while maintaining bend. That is why having their head up in these beginning steps is really nessicary.  If they have all their weight on the forehand it is a lot harder for them to move their shoulders.

The Final Exercise: 

crossed hind legsNow once they have mastered both the right and left shoulders moving away from the pressure, while still circling at a walk,  take the whip, hold it horizontally a crossed their body  and tap their haunches lightly as the rear inside leg (hind leg closest to you) is lifting off the ground.  This should cause them to step under and a-crossed moving their hind end to the outside. Ask with a tap or two, Wait for a response and ask again or praise. (The pic is a horse at a stand still but it gives you an idea of the moment you are looking for)

Now when asking for this exercise the first time horses will usually try to go faster instead of over. Cash tried to trot forward the first time he was asked.  Just hold them steady. If needed give that slight upwards pressure on both reins and ask for walk. Be patient. This can make some horses a bit nervous to start.  Once they even take a tiny step a crossed to the outside with the back leg praise, praise, praise!  It usually only takes a few tries and praises for them to understand it typically if you’re timing your aids right. I mean if Cash picked it up in about three tries I think a calmer horse would pick it up faster.

The hardest thing is ensuring you’re not pulling on the bit while asking for the aid and having the correct timing when giving the tap to the haunches to move.  This final exercise teaches a young or inexperienced horse that while they have more weight on the haunches then normal they are still able to move their legs laterally and it begins to teach the engagement of the hocks.

That’s it for my first lesson. A very simple and yet profound exercise. I do ask please keep the sessions short! Carol only worked with me and a Cash a grand total of 10 minuets out of the hour lesson. The rest of the hour was spent just talking and explaining. There is absolutely no reason you can’t stop after five minuets if your horse is understanding it. In fact it is much more beneficial to the to stop after a short but great session.

What blew away was the response in Cash at the end of the lesson. He started out nervously chomping the bit. By the end of the lesson he was still chomping but it was relaxed and much slower. He was calmly standing next to me. Which was AMAZING given the fact it was about 40 degrees with about a 15-20 mile an hour gusts of cold wind. At the beginning I couldn’t get him to stand still to save my life!

Repeat this exercise every day for 1 week or if you can’t do it ever day of week do it as many times as you can for two weeks. Don’t ride your horse at all until the end of the week and let me know how your horse responded. You do not need any arenas to do this exercise either! I do it in my pastures and front yard (yup hoof prints everywhere!)

HERE’S a great little video showing exactly what you need to do once your walking! The young lady is doing the work and Carol is talking to the girl as she’s doing it. I have tried taping my personal sessions since my lesson but my camera decided to hate me( I do think it’s my memory card…hopefully) , but I can’t seem to get the right angle to show you or longer then about 15 seconds to record. I need my own camera crew haha.

If you have any question let me know and I will get you the answers! I hope you’ve enjoyed this 😀

Until next time!

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