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The Issue No. 9

PERFECT

BUILDING

BETTER RIDERS

EQ

AND WHY ITS KEY TO EXCELLING

THE IMPORTANCE

IN THE SHOW RING

TODD OWENS PRESENTS

HINDQUARTER CONTROL WHAT EVERY RIDER NEEDS TO KNOW

A

OF A GOOD SEAT

.. D N

.

A LOOK INSIDE

PAN AM

2015

PLUS SIMPLE EXERCISES TO RE-INVIGORATE YOUR TRAINING ROUTINE


CONTENTS SPOTLIGHT

FEATURED

04 A Look Inside Pan Am 2015 Photographer Linda Todd

18 A Strong Foundation

shares some actions shots from Caledon Horse Park.

16 Hindquarter Control Todd Owens shares the

importance of having control of your horse’s hindquarters.

Plus simple exercises to help you build it.

23 Perfect EQ

Why equitation is key to excelling in the show ring, regardless of discipline.

THE ESSENTIALS 26 Building Better Riders A good seat is essential, and we’ve got tips for how to start building one.

30 Contact, the Right Way It won’t be easy, but it will be

worth it.

34 Re-Invigorate your Routine Simple exercises to spice things up.


Editor’s Desk While school may be out for a few precious more days, it’s never really out when it comes to horses. We may always be trying to teach them something, but often they are the ones that end up teaching us a thing or two. Whether it’s learning how to motivate the slow old schoolmaster, or teaching that spicy three year old that the saddle won’t eat them, the learning curve can sometimes be steep … even when we think we know the ropes. So to help you with teaching your horse a thing or two, we’ve got a jam-packed issue full of training tips for all riders, regardless of discipline and riding level. These foundational tools and strategies are here to give you something to think about next time you hop on your horse, or something to discuss with your coach that may address a problem area. If nothing else, within these pages you’ll find exercises and tricks to keep moving forward on that endless learning path, and maybe in trying something new your horse will teach you something new (hopefully it’s a good something, remember to stay safe!). You’ll find several common themes running through our articles this issue, as many of the different skills we are looking at in depth come together to build a more confident rider, and a more balanced and accessible horse.

Editor In Chief Krista Rivet

Social Media Allyson Lowe

Guest Writers & Contributors Todd Owens, Stephanie Jensen

General Inquiries info@theeloquentequine.com

Submissions theeloquentequine@gmail.com

So sit back, grab your tablet, and head out to a lawn chair for a good read and some summer sun!

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The Eloquent Equine is a quarterly publication, producing four full issues a year.

On the Cover: Captain Canada himself, Ian Millar aboard Dixson at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Ontario, Canada.

Reproduction of any material from this issue in whole or part without written permission is strictly prohibited.

Photo by Linda Todd

The Eloquent Equine • 3


PAN AM 2015 The 2015 Pan American games may be over, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy a look back at some of the thrilling moments from the events that occurred back in July. Competition was intense across the board, and Canada held its own and achieved some personal bests. When it came to the final rounds and podium placement it often became a tough battle between Canada and the United States for one of the coveted spots at the Olympics. Brazil, host of the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics, also proved their horsemanship skills with some tough competition across the events. ----

Right (Facing): Eduardo Menezes aboard Quintol (BRA) Left (bottom): Team Canada Wins Gold in the Show Jumping @ Pan Am 2015


The Eloquent Equine • 9


Left (facing): Edison Valeria Quintana aboard SVR Capoeira II (URU) Top: Carlos Narvaez aboard Que Loco (ECU) Right: Colleen Loach aboard Qorry Blue D’Argouges (CAN) Following page: Sabine Shut-Kery aboard Sanceo (USA) Previous page: Joao Victor Marcari Olivia aboard Xamã Dos Pinhais (BRA)

The Eloquent Equine • 11


The Eloquent Equine • 15


HINDQUARTER TODD OWENS

CONTROL T

he development of hindquarter control is important for every sport and equine endeavour. Whether it is in the dressage arena, on the cross country course, in the cutting pen, or on the recreational trail ride, having control over our horse’s hindquarters will develop our horses to be more athletic and responsive. Here is the test; while riding or on the ground, ask your horse to move his hindquarters without stepping forward. Pay attention to your horse’s response to your ‘ask’. Did your horse attempt to step off and walk forward but you held them up with the rein or lead line, did their head pop up, did they lean into your leg aid or hand that asked for the hindquarter movement? If your horse responded appropriately to your ‘ask’ this is a positive reflex, a very good thing. If your horse had a negative response, we can call this opposition reflex. When riding/leading your horse and everything is calm, everything is fine! However when a horse feels unconfident, or spooks, or wants their own way, having hindquarter control will keep you safe and help you to gather your horse’s emotions. For the past five winters I have spent December and January studying horsemanship with Pat Parelli in Florida. While preparing our cutting horses for competition the isolation of many of the manoeuvres was hindquarter control. While at the Dressage Summit held in Wellington FLA, in February 2014, I had the opportunity to observe Pat Parelli give a private lesson to a highly competitive Dressage rider.

Spotlight • Hindquarter Control


Pat delivered a phenomenal lesson; he isolated and separated the problem, or rather puzzle, the rider presented. The root problem was a lack of hindquarter control. The rider absolutely had the ability to influence the hindquarters of the horse, but the horse’s mind wasn’t on the task. This became evident to the rider when Pat asked for a pivot on the forehand, on a casual contact (no contact in the horse mouth). The horse’s first response to the aid was to walk forward and not to yield. The progress through the lesson was remarkable. At a recent clinic with Eddo Hoekstra, Walter Zettl’s top student, and classical dressage clinician in his own right, Eddo asked the rider to complete a pivot on the forehand and described it as “an excellent manoeuvre to supple the horses hindquarters and check for mental and emotional submission.” Understand there are three parts to your horse: the mental, emotional and physical. When the emotional horse surfaces, forget everything else and deal with it, hindquarter control will be paramount. Set yourself up for success and include hindquarter control exercises in your warm-up on the ground and in the saddle.

“...take care of your horse’s feelings whenever they emerge, no matter what. They are more important than your goal, and they are more important than someone else’s opinion. If you take care of your horse’s mind, emotions, and body, he’ll give you everything you want...willingly.” - Linda Parelli. In my studies with Walter Zettl, his observations of the activity of the hind leg will either lead to the success or failure of the manoeuver attempted. The goal is to have our horse as a willing partner that understands the ‘whispering aids’. One who can respond appropriately without having to be managed with catching aids because the ‘ask’ was at the wrong moment, or the horse hasn’t been taught the appropriate response to pressure. Horses don’t understand the difference between right and wrong, that is the human’s judgement.

Todd Owens is a licensed Parelli professional and dedicated horseman. A constant learner, Todd is always looking to expand his knowledge and work towards developing his skills as a Parelli professional who exemplifies excellence in horsemanship.

The Eloquent Equine • 17


A STRONG

FOUNDATION CORE SKILLS EVERY RIDER SHOULD MASTER

S

imple exercises may often seem just that, simple, but many exercises and gaits that seem easy can often be deceiving.

Circles are deceptively tricky to ride correctly, and even simple transitions, when ridden correctly, can be more challenging than they first appear. As riders we can sometimes take the simple things for granted and often don’t realize how foundational riding skills, the ones we thought we learned as a kid, are absolutely essential. Having a good foundation in the basic gaits and transitions not only helps to build a stronger rider and more balanced, supple horse, but also increases confidence and the strength of the horse-rider relationship. Not to mention, once you’ve really mastered the basics (properly), the more complex aspects of equestrian sport, from jumping to Dressage movements, suddenly become that much easier to master.

THE WALK Everything begins and ends at the walk. It’s likely the first gait you ever mastered in your formative years of riding, and it’s arguably one of the most important. If you can’t master a skill or movement at the walk, you and your horse aren’t ready to try it at a higher gait.

Featured • A Strong Foundation


A good walk is an even four beat gait where each footfall follows the other. The rhythm should be even as each foot lifts off the ground and lands. There are several variations of the walk (collected, medium, extended, and free), but the basics for all working walks are essentially the same. While working at the walk may not seem that exciting, it’s actually a great way to practice developing a proper seat and contact. The walk can be one of the most telling gaits, where horse and rider communication issues can be evident. The walk isn’t just a tool for warming up your horse or talking a break after a tough round of flat work or jumping, it’s a great training tool to work on straightness, balance, position, and precise aids. Even if you’re not a Dressage rider, you still want to have your skills solidified at the walk because it will pay dividends at the higher gaits and skills levels. Working at the walk is also a great way to teach young horses a new skill, and settle a tense or nervous horse. When working at the walk your contact shouldn’t be firm or static, but soft and elastic. It’s about give and take, being relaxed and moving with the horse. Working at the walk isn’t the same as wandering around the arena on a loose rein during warm up, a good working walk can actually be quite the exerting exercise!

TRY Struggling with Straightness?

TH

IS!

Work on riding straight lines at the walk. It sounds super easy, but you may quickly realize you’re not riding as straight as you think. Keep in mind: • Pick a focus point in front of you and look at it while riding, it will keep you straight. • Is the neck straight from poll to shoulder to hindquarters? • Are the hindquarters or shoulders drifting in or out? • Is the pressure on your reins even? • Are you sitting evenly and balanced in the saddle? Mastered the straight line at the walk? Try it at the trot and canter to see if you can maintain straightness at a higher speed..

TRY THIS! Having difficulty with straightness? Work on your lines at the walk. Like many figures, at first glance it seems really easy but can actually be really challenging. Start by simply walking along the rail, pay attention to your horse’s movement and how he feels, then assess his alignment.

Are the hindquarters drifting in or out? Is his head and neck straight and level through the poll? Starting at the rail is easiest because horse and rider usually align themselves parallel to the boards, so if you horse is straight and balanced, it’s time to up your challenge level. Pick a quarter or centre line in your arena. If you have letters in your arena, use them as a focus point, if you have end mirrors

The Eloquent Equine • 19


even better – stare at yourself and your horse as you move down the line. If you have neither, just pick a focus point on the wall ahead of you. Now focus on riding a straight line. Keep your contact even on both reins with a slight inside bend, and keep the head, neck, and poll straight (bend should only be in the jaw). Keep your legs in close contact with the saddle, even pressure on both legs (at the girth) and your seat. Make sure the hind end is tracking up and under and isn’t drifting. If you have a mirror at the end you can look at while riding, watch the movement of your horse closely. Are his hindquarters drifting out to one side? Is his shoulder drifting? Are you sitting straight and balanced? For a horse that struggles with straightness you may have to work on this skill one piece at a time and build confidence (e.g. keeping head and neck straight while maintaining bend, then add in straight hindquarters) before trying everything at once. You’ll also be surprised how you, as a rider, can affect your horse even at the walk. If you are slightly unbalanced or apply slightly more pressure on one side than the other, you won’t be able to ride straight. This exercise is as much about keeping your horse straight as it is about being aware of your own body and aids. You need to be able to asses and feel, within yourself, the pressure you are

Featured • A Strong Foundation

exerting on the horse. Even the slightest imbalance will affect your ability to ride a straight line. It’s really helpful to try this exercise in freshly harrowed arena, because you’ll be able to check your lines by looking at your horse’s hoof prints in the dirt. Other exercises you can try at the walk to continue building your skills is circles and squares, transitions (up and down), and rein-backs (reverse, backing up). All of these exercises require a horse to be balanced and responsive to the aids to execute correctly.

RIDING GOOD TRANSITIONS Upward and downward transitions are a skill that is taught fairly early on in most riding careers, and they seem simple enough to master, but a true smooth and proper transition isn’t just about a moment in time in which you switch from one gait to another; it’s also an excellent training tool, because when ridden correctly, can improve balance, suppleness, collection, and responsiveness to aids. For upward transitions the rider must aid the horse from back to front. The hind end must collect up under the body to properly carry (and balance) the combined weight of horse and rider, and to push up into the higher speed. By working back to front the horse is forced to engage the hind end, therefore becoming more “light” on the forehand.

Your upward transitions should encourage your horse to move forward off the leg using his hindquarters, the movement should be “up the hill” (aka coach speak for you should feel like you’re riding up a hill, and not falling down it). Your downward transitions should feel the same way even though you are moving towards a slower gait. The horse needs to start the transition from the hindquarters and move forward. While it may seem counterintuitive, the best way to obtain a good downward transition is to push your horse forward into the bit before aiding with the reins. This push encourages the horse to engage the hind end and get lighter in the front as he steps under himself. Even downward transitions need to be “up the hill”. If your transitions feels like your horse just ran down a hill, the transition wasn’t properly balanced and your horse wasn’t using his hind end correctly. Transitions aren’t just about how the horse engages himself and stays balanced though, it’s also about how the rider uses their aids, the quality of the gait, and the rider’s use of their seat. The rider needs to stay balanced through the transition to help the horse stay balanced, and without the correct aids, the horse won’t understand that


he needs to step under and engage the hind end in the transition.

So how do you aid a horse through the transition correctly? With the use of your seat, legs, and hands. Here are some hints to help you get started: • Halt to Walk and Walk to Trot • Keep your legs at the girth with even pressure and your seat balanced evenly across both seat bones. Don’t clench on the reins, but keep an even and open contact to encourage your horse to move forward onto the bit • Trot to Canter • Keep you inside leg at the girth and your outside leg behind. Drop your weight into your inside seat bone, and encourage the transition with pressure from the outside leg (but don’t lose contact with your inside leg!). Keep pressure on the neck with your inside rein, with a slight bend, to keep your horse from drifting in. • Walk to Halt and Trot to Walk • Increase the weight of your seat bones in the tack and keep your legs in close contact with the saddle at the level of the girth. Hold pressure on the reins to keep your horse from surging forward as you encourage the hindquarters underneath, before adding rein pressure to encourage your horse to slow his gait. It sometimes helps to “think shoulder in” (turn your horse off the track just slightly) to maintain bend and balance through the transition. In downward transitions your seat should follow the movement you want to obtain (so think halt when halting, and think walk when working walk to trot) • Canter to Trot • Drop your weight evenly into the saddle, balanced on both seat bones. From there it’s a similar process as the other downward transitions.

Transitions take time to master as the rider figures out the correct aids and level of pressure, and the horse becomes more responsive to subtle shifts in the reins and seat. Dedicating time in your lesson to working on transitions, while it may seem dull, is actually a great (and surprisingly challenging) exercise that engages your horse’s mind and body, and will improve balance and suppleness going forward. Once you get the feel for good transitions, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them.

TRY THIS! A good exercise to start practicing transitions during your ride is transitions on the circle. Start by riding a 20 m circle at your desired gait. Once you’ve obtain and smooth and forward moving gait, ask for a transition (down or up depending on what transition you want to work on). Ride the new gait for a few strides and then transition again back to the speed you started. For example, if you wanted to work on your trot to walk transitions, start your 20 m circle at a trot. Once you have a smooth and even trot, as your horse to walk. Walk for 3-4 strides and ask for a walk to trot transition. Trot for 3-4 strides, then ask for the walk. Repeat until you’ve gone all the way around the circle at least once, then give your horse a break, try a different exercise, and come back to this again.

--The Eloquent Equine • 21


Having a good foundation in the basic skills of riding is often overlooked, and often takes a lot of practice to achieve. Most riders learn very quickly how to ride the walk and transition, moving quickly on to more advanced skills thinking they’ve mastered the basic. Though the foundations are not a skill you should neglect, as a well-educated rider is not only more confident in the tack, but more supportive of the horse, which builds a better horse-rider relationship. Having a strong foundation will make you stronger rider, regardless of whether you are looking to regularly compete or simply ride for fun. It will make you feel more secure in the tack, and better able to handle those little moments of excitement and crazy we equestrians sometimes encounter when riding an animal with a mind of its own.

Featured • A Strong Foundation


PERFECT EQ WHY EQUITATION IS AN ESSENTIAL SKILL FOR ALL RIDERS

W

hen people think equitation, they often think of flat work. The dictionary defines equitation as the study and practice of riding and horsemanship or the art of riding, but what does that really mean? In a way all equestrians are students of equitation because we study riding, but at the same time not everyone has (or knows) good equitation.

So what is equitation in practice? Equitation has a range of definitions and is used in a range of contexts. It’s used to define specific show classes or disciplines such as Hunt Seat or Saddle Seat Equitation, but is also more loosely used to define the very art of riding a horse. The focus of equitation classes and clinics is usually on the skills and position of the rider, and less on the horse. While many riders start their careers in equitation, to build a good foundation, other sometimes find themselves drawn back to the skill later on in their career. If nothing else, equitation is about the rider, including how they are positioned, how they use aids, and how they connect with their horse. Good equitation riders have a strong relationship with their horse and know how to work as a team. Equitation riders are confident in the tack, and know how to anticipate the needs of their horses and correct as (or before) required. Regardless of your riding level or discipline of choice, good equitation will keep you shining in the saddle, both in and out of the show ring.

POSITION, POSITION, POSITION When it comes to equitation, position is everything. Your position in the saddle plays a major role in the amount of access you have to your horse, and the connection you can achieve. A good position helps you to gain ownership of your horse’s body, and activate it as you need to during a ride. A good position makes you a more effective rider. Bad position unbalances your horse, affects your ability to relay clear and correct aids, and affects rhythm and movement of the gaits. Ideally a rider should be positioned at the horse’s centre of gravity. While the exact location varies by horse depending on conformation, the centre of gravity is usually located a few inches behind the front should and around a third of the distance up from the base of the barrel. It will generally fall in the spot that your girth sits. Sitting positioned at the center of gravity isn’t just good for your horse, but you as well. It will help keep you balanced and better aligned with your horse’s movement. When sitting at the center of gravity your body, as a rider, should be in alignment from shoulder to hip to heel. When riding Dressage or on the flat (Hunters, Jumpers, Eventers),


your elbows should also fall into this invisible line that runs from your shoulder to your heel. When jumping this position will naturally need to shift to make room for your horse’s movement. Your shoulders, hips, and heels should remain in alignment, but your elbows will move forward through the movement of the jump. When in contact with the saddle on the flat, your weight should be balanced evenly across both of your seat bones. Part of position isn’t just how you’re seated in the saddle though, but how you position your horse as you ride. In order to be successful in developing good equitation, your horse needs to remain aligned and properly framed. A horse that is in frame and aligned will be properly engaging his back and stomach muscles. Proper position of the horse ensures that he is able to flawlessly execute whatever you ask of him, and that he stays sound in the process. The most important part of position is balance and alignment. Riding unbalanced or out of alignment can have detrimental effects on your horse long term. Unequal pressure on the horse’s back, due to lack of rider balance, riding unaligned, or an illfitting saddle, can cause muscle and joint issues, back issues, and even lameness. So always pay close attention to how your tack fits and how you sit and move in the saddle while riding.

THE SQUARE AND RIDING INSIDE THE BOX While circles have their benefits in training, when it comes to equitation, squares are the thing. When working on circles, it’s all about maintaining consistent bend, when working on squares it’s all about straightness. Riding squares helps the rider to become more aware of the outside side of your horse. To ride a square properly you need to maintain contact on the bit, especially with the outside rein. Outside rein contact is the key tool to keeping your horse balanced as you make the turn. Your horse needs to be on “four wheels” through the turn, not two. It’s about being balanced, and not feeling like your horse is racing around the corner about to topple over at any instant.

The Essentials • Perfect Eq

To ride a square corner your horse needs to keep his body much straighter than when on the curve of a circle, and alignment becomes even more essential. Your horse needs to keep his neck in front of him, the hips must move to the outside and the front end must come “around the back end” through the corner.

The key to a good square, much like any other training exercise, is maintaining control over your horse’s body at all times. You need to be able to ask for the movement, maintain balance and straightness, and keep your horse supple and moving forward. While practicing your squares (and your equitation), forget thinking outside the box, think in it – at all times. Keeping your horse “in the box” is essential to perfecting your equitation. So what does “in the box” really mean? A horse that is inside the box is balanced and aligned (always “on four wheels”). It takes time to learn how to put your horse “in the box” properly, and it’s a skill you’ll only master after mastering position, contact, and balance.


THE OUTSIDE REIN While you’re thinking inside the box and executing some excellent squares, you can’t forget about your outside rein. The outside rein is often one of the most under used and easily forgotten aids, but one of the most essential to equitation, and good riding in general. Many riders suffer from outside rein amnesia, they forget it’s there and rely on the inside rein for steering and other directional ques. Yes the horse will turn with just the inside rein, but it won’t be a properly balanced turn. Turns using only the inside rein are generally turns taken on “two wheels”, good turns engage your whole horse and keep him on “all four wheels”. Maintaining contact on the outside rein is not just about directional steering though, it’s about balance, suppleness, and straightness – key tenants of good equitation (sensing a theme?). The outside rein serves a range of functions depending on the situation, it can “block” a horse from moving too far sideways, it can keep your horse straight on the rail and through turns, and it is essential to maintain good collection and frame.

• Lateral Flexion – slight bend to the left or

right, in the pole, while the neck and body remain straight • Longitudinal Flexion – when the poll softens, allowing the nose to come closer to the vertical (in a straight line); encouraging and developing roundness in the horse through the topline

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER Like many things, perfect equitation won’t happen instantaneously. It’ll take time and practice to pull the pieces together, and we’ve thrown a lot of information your way. In the end, to achieve good equitation you need to consider a number of factors that affect your riding: • position, • alignment, and • rein use. All of it goes hand in hand to enhance your riding, it just takes time, practice, and a good coach to help you understand how to achieve it, and how to apply that knowledge to your horse and riding.

---

KNOW YOUR STUFF

Stephanie Jensen is an EC Level 2 certified coach and Grand Prix Dressage rider. She specializes in teaching Hunter riders how to enhance their equitation skills.

Just what is your coach shouting at you? So you’re starting to understand the basics of good equitation, excellent! There are some key terms and concepts you should understand. Here’s some essential equine equitation terminology:

• Diagonal Pairs – otherwise known as

diagonally paired aids. Commonly heard in riding as “inside leg to outside rein” or “outside rein to inside leg”. • Half Halt – an aid that both drives the horse forward while restraining him back, it balances the horse back on the hindquarters while in movement. It is a split second movement that encourages the horse to bring the hindquarters under the body • Straightness – how straight your horse is during riding

*

While we focused on equitation for the rider in this article, stay tuned for part two in our next issue where we focus on how the rider applies equitation theory the performance of the horse. Over the span of our new equitation series we’ll be looking at equitation skills for the horse and rider, including how disciplines are coming together to emphasize the importance of equitation and teaching riders to achieve that perfect eq.

The Eloquent Equine • 25


BUILDING BETTER RIDERS THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD SEAT & THE ESSENTIALS TO OBTAIN IT

E

questrian sports, are by nature, very hands on. As riders we often rely, sometimes too heavily, on the use of our hands to steer and guide the horse, and even sometimes to balance ourselves (though that’s a bad habit to get into). Rein aids in partnership with leg aids are the two most common aids used in the saddle, and the ones you likely learned the most about throughout your equestrian education. There is no discounting the need, and benefit of, rein and leg aids, but your seat is just as important – if not more so. Learning how to properly use your seat is not easy, but when done correctly opens up a whole new realm of possibility. Many Dressage riders are familiar with riding with their seat, and the “feel” your seat can develop, but you don’t need to be a Dressage rider to reap the benefits of a good seat.

This isn’t a lesson you are going to pick up in one go, it’s a long term commitment, but one that will improve your riding, and your horse’s performance. A good seat makes you a more balanced rider, but also enhances your horse’s movement. Your seat controls your transitions, the movement of your horse’s back, your directions, your leads, your half halts, and so much more. When you develop a good seat, you’ll suddenly find that you (and your horse) rely on the reins much less.


THE ESSENTIALS OF A GOOD SEAT BALANCE To be balanced correctly in the saddle takes a few things: • Your seat bones are connected to … • Your seat bones need to be connected with the saddle, you must be sitting in the centre and not be too tense (don’t clench those muscles so tight you feel like your hanging on for dear life, just sit relaxed and comfortable – your horse will thank you for it) • Be aware of your back. • Riders are often taught to sit straight and tall, and it’s important, but don’t lock up your back. • You need to remain supple through your own body, and be able to move with the horse’s movement. Avoid hollowing your back. • Think of your connection. • Most riders know what two point is, especially in any discipline requiring jumping. • When building good balance, think three point and not two point. You should have three points of contact with the seat of your saddle; your weight should be evenly distributed across your two seat bones and pubic bone.

RELAXATION It’s one thing to be comfortable in the saddle, another to be relaxed. We’re not talking slouched on the couch relaxed either. As you are always working to build awareness in your horse of his muscles and movement, you also need to be aware of your own body. You need to control your muscles and your movement. Good relaxation and control in the saddle actually requires a lot of work and exercise to obtain, you need to be aware of yourself but

also be strong enough to maintain individual muscle movement where necessary. It’s why many riders recommend out of saddle activities like yoga, Pilates, and regular stretching. These activities go a long way to helping build body awareness, muscle strength, and flexibility. They also help to relieve muscle tension and tightness, things you need to avoid in the saddle. As many riders know, horses can feel the slightest touch of a fly on their skin, so they can feel your tension in the saddle, despite the giant leather saddle between you and their back.

FEEL AND MOVEMENT Once you’ve got balance and relaxation down pat, it’s time to conquer the last major hurdle to obtaining a good seat. Learning to move with your horse. Like many things, its sounds simple, but isn’t always as easy in practice. Step one is simply learning how to move your body (and seat, always think about your seat!) with the horse’s movement. If you are walking, let the horse’s natural gait move your hips and legs, and be aware of how that feels. Do the same for the trot and canter. Memorize this feel, learn it well, because it’s the key to using your seat effectively. When you have a good feel for your horse’s movement, and are relaxed and balanced in the saddle, you can start to modify your seat to cue your horse to react just as if you had aided with a rein or leg.


Want a downward transition? Slow your seat by tightening your muscles and modify your seat to move at the speed of the gait you are trying to obtain (e.g., think and ride walk when transitioning from trot to walk). Want to move more forward in the canter? Drive your seat forward and push the movement through the hindquarters to the front.

So how do you start developing a good seat? Here’s a few things to think about. A good seat takes strength and balance which you may need to develop over time. Want to test how good your core is at holding you in the saddle, try the tennis ball exercise.

TRY THIS! TENNIS BALL EXERCISE Engaging the core and not your shoulders and neck Try this. Take two tennis balls and place them under your armpits while riding. Seems simple enough right? Now keep them there during the walk, trot, and canter. If you are used to riding with your seat and core, this exercise should be relatively easy, but for most riders it will pose a challenge. What the tennis balls force you to do is ride with your core and seat, and rely less on your upper arms and neck. It’s a lot easier to brace

The Essentials • Developing a Good Seat

through the neck and upper back than it is to sit tall and solid in the saddle. But this exercise isn’t just about engaging your core, but how you sit and move in the saddle. You need to be sitting balanced and aligned (shoulder – hip – heel) to be able to ride while keeping the tennis balls in place under your arms.

IN THE SADDLE Changing the way you ride by thinking about how you use your seat is the first step in the journey. Start your ride as you normally would, and pay special attention to how you use your legs, hand, and seat while you are riding. Do you aid only with your legs and hands? Do you rely heavily on your reins to change direction and aid your horse? If so, you’re not using your seat effectively. Consider a transition. The general reaction to a downward transition is to sit up and pull back on the reins, you are using your seat but relying mostly on the reins to convey to your horse you want to slow down.

Try this. Take two tennis balls and place them under your armpits. Now keep them there while riding. Seems simple enough right? If you dropped the reins right now, would you be able to make your horse stop or slow without contact on the bit? With a good seat you can. Instead of going instinctively reaching for the reins to ask for a downward transition, aid with your seat first. Think about what gait you want, and make your body the centre of the transition.


If you are trotting and want to walk, use your seat and core to mimic the movement of the walk and your horse should respond. If he doesn’t then go to the hand and leg aids. The same is true for upward transitions.

IT’S ABOUT GIVE AND TAKE A good seat isn’t just about how your seat bones come in contact with the tack, or your overall body position in the saddle, it’s about balance, relaxation, movement, and most of all … feel. It takes lots of practice and plenty of hours of saddle time to develop a good feel in the saddle, but it starts with an awareness of your body. Sometimes some out of saddle muscle training and stretching can make a big difference next time you’re in the tack. A good seat isn’t easy to learn, but it’s a skill you’ll never regret adding to your repertoire. It’s not just for Dressage riders either, a good seat makes you a better (and stronger) rider, and gives you more control in the saddle, it makes your horse more responsive to the aids you make off your body, and it makes you far less reliant on your hands and the bit. Which can be especially handy if you happen to lose your reins. A good seat also helps you stick in the saddle better, which is great when riding a particularly spirited horse who may be determined to teach you how to fly.

CONNECT! EQUINE FACILITATED { ANWELLNESS PROGRAM } Equestrians have long promoted the idea that their equine partners serve as great teachers, providing skills that can be beneficial to all aspects of life, from general wellness to surviving in high-stress work environments. The Horse Professionals’ CONNECT! program is a unique, hands-on, experiential learning program providing you with tools to re-center and reduce the stress that comes with busy lives. Building off supported theories of equine facilitated learning, we aim to provide a unique opportunity for individuals and groups to reconnect with themselves through ground work with our horses.

| PROGRAM LAUNCHING SOON |

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The Eloquent Equine • 29


BUILDING CONTACT

THE RIGHT WAY IT WON’T BE EASY, BUT ITS WORTH IT

O

ne of the more advanced skills an educated rider can master, it’s also a skill that all riders must understand to communicate effectively with your horse. Dressage riders consider it an art form, but it’s essential to any sport where the rider needs to communicate effectively and ride a balanced horse. So just what is this complex but necessary skill? Its contact. Technically, contact is connection. It’s the pressure you feel in your hands when the horse is on the bit. Contact isn’t as easily quantified as it may first appear though, in many ways it is much more about feeling and mutual communication than it is pressure and control. It’s a subtle art that some spend their lifetime trying to master, and can make a huge difference in the quality of your ride, whether you are learning new skills at the walk, or galloping towards a massive vertical. It something that must be soft and elastic, but also firm and stable, all at the same time. Contact is fluid, it’s adaptable, and needs to be constantly monitored and maintained throughout your ride. Regardless of how difficult it may be to achieve, it’s an essential skill for all riders.

The Essentials • Building Contact the Right Way


SO WHAT IS CONTACT REALLY? A horse that is “on the bit” or working with contact should be relaxed through the poll and stretching forward into the bit. Correct contact is a tool that allows you access to your horse. When you have good contact your horse should be balanced, accessible, and moving off your aids. When you ask for contact by adding pressure (i.e. shortening the reins) your horse should move forward into the pressure, into the contact. Encourage that movement by using pressure (more contact!) with your leg and seat. Drive the energy forward from the hind end to the front. If you’ve got proper contact, the horse should become more “round”, essentially engaging the hindquarters and lifting the back as he propels himself forward into the rein pressure. This is also where the balancing act comes in for the rider, you need to balance the pressure to keep contact, but you also need to leave room for your horse to come up to meet you in that contact. If you’re holding too much pressure or hauling back on the reins, your horse doesn’t have room to move forward. Alternatively, if you have too little pressure or too long of reins, your horse has no stopping point and too much room to move forward. It’s a delicate balance. Here are some things you should keep in mind when working on contact: • You set the level of pressure and tension, not your horse. • If there is resistance from your horse, don’t make it a tug of war, because the horse will win. • Release the pressure, allow your horse to relax, then try again – with less pressure this time. Build up you level of contact with your horse’s skill and comfort level. • No loopy reins, but no super short ones either. • You should have short enough reins that you can feel the pressure of the bit in the

horse’s mouth, but they shouldn’t be so short you feel like you are pulling back on the mouth. • Its hard work. • Maintaining even contact means maintaining pressure, which takes some significant core and arm strength if you need to hold it for a period of time. • The same goes for your horse, if you horse hasn’t got the right muscle condition, maintaining contact can be hard. So be sure to take some breaks, especially when you are both learning. • Contact should never be initiated the moment you hop on your horse’s back. • A horse needs time to relax and stretch before (and after) working on the bit (think “long and low”, let your horse’s head drop down and out, stretching the neck). • Start your warm up on a loose rein, and once your horse is relaxed and loose, then take up more pressure on the reins. • Good contact shouldn’t be a crutch for your horse. • Your horse needs to learn to carry himself through and into the contact, and not rely on you for support and balance. A horse that is pulling hard or leaning on you isn’t responding to contact properly. • Position is important during contact, watch where your horse’s poll and head are sitting. • There should be no bend through the neck (bend must always be in the jaw), the poll should be level and relaxed, and the horse should be on the vertical, and not behind it. • Think straight. • The line between the bit, your hand and your elbow needs to be straight to effectively channel the energy from your arms into the bit and back through your horse’s neck and spine.

The Eloquent Equine • 31


SO WHY IS CONTACT IMPORTANT? It’s about access and responsiveness. Having proper contact helps keep your horse balanced and ready for the next “ask” from you. Looking to collect your horse for the next movement in Dressage? Or shorten the stride through a combination? Good contact will help with that. A horse that is “on the bit” (responding to contact) is in a balanced position with his whole body engaged, making him “lighter” and making it easier to change direction, change gait, or change the quality or speed of a gait. It’s also about communication. If you keep an even and light contact you are always communicating with your horse. If you ride without contact you are always pulling on the bit and the mouth, which is uncomfortable (and can be startling) to a horse. With constant contact your horse can always feel your hands, and is in a more balanced position, prepared for your next aid. But it’s not one sided, contact works best when it is mutual communication between horse and rider. The rider may need to initiate it, but your horse must come up to meet you, to create the ideal state of balance and coordination. A horse that is engaged with contact (“on the bit”) is completely in tune with you mentally, he’s ready to work and has his head in the game.

LEARNING CONTACT Contact is as much about feel as it is about technical skill. If you and your horse are new to proper contact, try to find a lesson horse with more experience. Having a few lessons on a schoolmaster who knows his stuff when it comes to contact will make your learning curve less steep. It’s easier to learn the skill when you can get the right feel on a horse who knows how it should be done, it’ll make it easier for you when you go back to teach your own horse. Use your warm up. Once your horse is stretched out and relaxed, work on establishing a good quality of

The Essentials • Building Contact the Right Way

gait where your horse is moving forward, straight, and rhythmic. It’s easier to get good contact when your horse is moving, and thinking, forward. When asking for contact keep that momentum, remember, contact adds pressure but it’s not about pulling back and slowing down, it’s about support and communication. Your horse needs to move forward into the pressure. For most horses, think about holding a half pound to a full pound of pressure in your hands. For stronger or more problematic horses you may need to take up more pressure from time to time to counteract, but never consistently hold more than half to a pound of pressure on the bit. Your pressure needs to be elastic, it has to adapt to every moment in time, every stride. It also needs to be even. To test your connection, softly open your fingers and drop some pressure from your reins. Does your horse immediately fall “down the hill”? If so, he’s not carrying himself and meeting you in the contact. Does he stretch forward and down, taking the reins and chewing on the bit? If so, you were successful and your connection was met (good job!). If there is some stretch, but not all the way forward and down, you’ve achieved some connection, but it hasn’t gone all the way yet, but you’re getting close.

COMMON ISSUES Even the most skilled riders can struggle with contact sometimes, and here are some common issues you may encounter as you’re learning: • Your horse stops or slows as you start to take up pressure for the contact. • This isn’t uncommon, especially in horse’s that aren’t used to contact. • Most horses know that pressure from the leg means go, and pressure on the rein means stop. You need to teach your horse that the pressure for “woah” is different from the pressure of contact, and that he can move even if you are aiding with the leg and hand at the same time. • Release some of the pressure (but not all of it) and try to encourage him forward,


through the “wall” of pressure and into the bit. Once he realizes he can go forward with pressure, build until you’ve reached that good level of contact (about half a pound of pressure) • Sawing the reins • We’ve all done it at some point, or at least seen it done. It’s the alternating pressure of pulling on the left rein and then the right (a sawing motion). It’s really not an effective way to get your horse to bring his neck down and take up the bit. • If the head is up when you start to ask for contact, use a soft pulsing of your outside rein to drop the head and neck (it’s a really subtle pulse, think opening and closing your hand on the rein). Think down and out, never pull back to encourage contact. • The gait changes speed or rhythm (gets faster, becomes inconsistent) • Your aids are likely inconsistent. Your leg aids (driving the horse forward, encouraging impulsion) need to be balanced with the pressure on your reins. • Driving your horse forward into excessive pressure is going to cause him to slow down. Alternately, driving your horse into loose pressure is going to cause him to speed up and fall “down the hill”.

--While all disciplines will require a different level of contact, there will always be some minimum standard that must be maintained. Building on that standard will help you build a better relationship with your horse, and make you better prepared for whatever tests, obstacles, and training exercises come your way. You’ll quickly find, once you’ve learned the skill correctly, that riding with proper contact makes both you and your horse happier, and makes your horse that much better to ride!

The Eloquent Equine • 33


REINVIGORATE YOUR ROUTINE SIMPLE EXERCISES TO SPICE THINGS UP!

L

ooking for a way to build your skills on the flat, but think that riding endless circles is a mind numbing exercise? Well look no further, we’ve got a set of great exercises to spice up your riding routine. Combining a range of regular figures into some challenging patterns, these exercises put all your riding skills to the test. From working on your horse’s straightness and balance, to your ability to execute precise aids, we’ve got you covered. Within each exercise you’ll find in the following pages, you’ll see which gaits work best for a specific pattern, what skills the exercise is best for, and a range of variations to make the pattern easier or more complicated.


1 #

LINES & CIRCLES

This exercise can be used to work on balance, bend, straightness and suppleness.

WALK, TROT, OR CANTER

A

OPTION 1: STRAIGHT & CIRCULAR

Volte (8m)

F

K

Start in the bottom corner of your arena. Ride a volte (8 m circle), then ride straight out of the circle to the centre of the ring. Ride another volte at B (half way up the long side of the arena). Then ride straight again. Finish with another volte at the far end of the arena.

OPTION 2: GETTING CURVIER Start in the bottom corner of your arena. Ride a volte (8 m circle), then ride shoulder in to the centre of the ring. Ride another volte at B (half way up the long side of the arena). Then ride shoulder in again. Finish with another volte at the far end of the arena.

B

X

Volte (8m)

E

Note: Start thinking about asking for shoulder in as you come out of the final bend of the cirlce before reaching the rail.

OPTION 3: CIRCLES & SPEED CONTROL Start in the bottom corner of your arena. Ride a volte (8 m circle). Keep your volte collected. Ride out of the volte straight, and encourage your horse forward into a working or extended gait. Collect your horse as you approach B and ride another volte. Ride straight out again and ask for a more forward pace. Finish with another collected volte at the far end.

M

H Volte (8m)

C The Eloquent Equine • 35


2 #

FULL OF FIGURES

WALK, TROT, OR CANTER

A

This exercise can be used to work on balance, bend, straightness, position, and alignment.

20 m Circle

F

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A CHALLENGE ...

Start between B and M. Ride down the arena and perform a 8-10 m circle in the corner. Go around the cirlce 1.5 times. When at the quarter line the second time, ride straight up the quarter line to R (half way between M &B). Now ride a square between the two quarter lines.

K Square (between the quarter lines)

Then this exercise is for you. Combining circles, squares, and lines all in quick succession, this exercise is sure to keep you on your toes. How to ride it:

END

Straight Line

B

X

Volte (8m)

Volte (8m)

E

Half Circle (10 m)

Straight Line Straight Line

START

Square (between the quarter lines)

M

As you ride back up the first quarterline of your square, ride a straign diagonal line from the quarter line (at M) to B. At B, ride another circle (volte - 10 m). When you reach B again, ride a diagonal line to the quarter line. Ride another square between the quarter lines. Upon returning back to the first quarter line of your square, ride out to the rail towards A. Now ride a 20 m circle in this end of the arean (A K - X - F).

The Essentials • Reinvigorate your Training Routine

H

Volte (8m)

C Crossing A again, ride half a 20 m circle to the center line at X. Perform a half circle (10 m) in the opposite direction. When you cross X again (the center line), ride straight to the rail. At E ride another small circle (volte - 10 m). Finish the exercise by riding straight out of the circle to K.

Want to make this exercise even more challenging? Throw some transitions in at various points throughout the pattern to add an extra level of excitement.


! T U O T I K

C E H C

BIT BASICS Everything you could ever want to know about the most commonly used bit, all in one easy to use infographic. [HFN Infographics] Bit Basics - The Snaffle Bit Basics - Leverage Bits

HOOFNOTES HoofNotes are your on-the-go downloadable training tip sheets and infographics. Find them at [theeloquentequine.com]

The Eloquent Equine • 37


3 #

THINK FAST!

This canter exercise can be a real challenge for horse and rider but helps to work on straightness, quick aids, and bend.

BEFORE YOU KNOW IT...

CANTER

A 10 m Circle

F

K

You’re going to have to make a change. This exercise is built to keep you on your toes with tight turns and short diagonals. It will make you and your horse more responsive and attentive. How to Ride it:

X

B

10 m Circle

E

Ride a 10 m circle at M. As you come back around towards C (following one full revolution of the circle), ride diagonally towards E. At E, ride another 10 m circle. Coming out of the circle at E ride diagonally line towards the space between the wall and A. When you cross the quarter line, ride another circle.

M

WANT AN ADDED CHALLENGE? Remove the cirlce at E and ride a tight turn (think turn on the haunches) into your next diagonal.

The Essentials • Reinvigorate your Training Routine

H 10 m Circle

C


4 #

CH - CH - CHANGES

WALK, TROT, OR CANTER

START

1

2 Change

END

Change

4

3 Change

This exercise can be used to work on balance, bend, straightness, and changes (change of direction or flying change, depending on gait)

OPTION 1: SLOW & STEADY Ride at a walk or trot. Start by riding one circle (10 - 15 m, clockwise), ride out of the circle on a diagonal. Complete another circle in the opposite direction (counter clockwise). Come out of the second circle and ride another (straight) digonal. Make another circle (clock wise). Ride out of this circle and repeat the pattern the same way you did coming out of the first circle. You can either ride a straight line back to circle # 2 and repeat the exercise for circles 2 through 3 (riding out of the pattern on circle 3 instead of on to circle 4) or ride simply end by riding straight out of circle 4.

OPTION 2: CANTER ON Ride at a canter. This pattern is identical to the one a trot or walk (Option 1), only you will need to add in flying changes along the lines between each circle. When riding out of circle one, change before enterning circle 2. Change your lead again when coming out of circle 2, before entering circle 3. Change once more between circle 3 and 4. To make this exercise more challenging, modify the size of the circles you are using. You can either make all of them smaller, or alternate the sizes between each. For example, ride circles 1 and 4 as 10 m circles, and ride circles 2 and 3 as voltes (8 m).

The Eloquent Equine • 39


Digital Equestrian Magazine THANKS FOR READING!

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Profile for The Eloquent Equine

The Eloquent Equine | No. 9 - Training  

Don't let the end of summer get you down, we're back with a brand new issue that focuses on foundational training exercises for all horses a...

The Eloquent Equine | No. 9 - Training  

Don't let the end of summer get you down, we're back with a brand new issue that focuses on foundational training exercises for all horses a...

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