Equestrian Coaching

  Hilary French on Elvis

The inter-relationship of the scales of training -Schwung

The ultimate aim of the training of any horse is one that moves with rhythmic paces, relaxation, straight and in self-carriage and the over-riding impression should be that the horse is moving with Schwung. This means that the horse is transmitting energetic impulsion which has been created by the hind legs in a forwards movement of the entire horse with an elastically swinging back. True collection produces more Schwung and cadence in the strides and not just a shortening of the steps.

If the elasticity and correct training is compromised then the straightness and quality of the paces will be lost, particularly in the lateral movements as this is when the hind legs are not always stepping forwards towards the centre of gravity on a narrow track. That is why the lateral movements (with the exception of leg-yield) are not taught until the horse is capable of consistently bending the hind limb joints evenly, carrying weight and having the hind stepping straight under his body (ie the horse must may able to show the requirements of Durchlassigkeit that will be a feature in the January update) .The highest movements (piaffe & passage) should never be attempted until Schwung has been developed in the trot and canter (walk does not have Schwung as it does not have impulsion but should always have relaxation and activity).

Sometimes in the tempi changes, the horse can become used to the movement and start to perform it in a robotic slightly automatic way so loses Schwung (and consequently will lose engagement and the changes will not gain enough ground) and this is often the difference between a 6 & 7 or 7 & 8 for two correctly counted and secure lines of changes. By putting variety into training programmes, so that the horse is genuinely on the change aids and not over-anticipating the exercise. Similarly it is easy for the horse to lose Schwung in the pirouettes if they are not fully established so the rider must always prioritise re-establishing the Schwung in the canter immediately they have ended the pirouette. In training if the horse increases the weight on the inside shoulder in the pirouette then the rider should always ride out of the pirouette and work on the Schwung again.

True collection can only be developed through correct training and as a rider it is always your responsibility to make sure that Schwung is maintained throughout your work. If it is not then you need to review your training as there will be a flawed step somewhere.

Kim On Late O'Leary - Winter Championships  

Understanding the movements-rein back 

In many countries the words for travers and half pass are the same so the rider should be thinking of them as the same movement, although the travers is generally ridden along the wall and the half pass ridden across the arena. The benefit of the travers is the increased engagement of the inside leg which has to bend more and carry more weight which is more important than the crossing over of the outside hind leg.

In the travers the horse’s quarters are brought in off the track by the rider’s outside leg and rein so that the inside hind leg moves a little inside the tracks of the inside foreleg. The horse moves in the direction of the flexion and bend with the outside legs crossing over in front of the inside ones. In addition the hind legs move closely together towards the centre of gravity with the inside hind leg carrying more weight and has more bend in the joints because the horse’s weight is moved sideways across it.

In order to ride the travers it is helpful if the horse and rider understands the aids for the shoulder in as the rider needs to ensure that they can have the horse bent with even suppleness around the inside leg as the inside leg will need to be the way to activate the all-important inside hind leg. The inside rein works with the inside leg to create and maintain lateral bend , whilst the outside rein controlling the degree of bend (to ensure that the base of the neck does not overbend) and supports the outside leg. The outside leg is positioned slightly back behind the girth to encourage the sideways movement. There is often confusion from the horse, if the rider uses the outside driving aid behind the girth to create the canter as the leg aids are similar. However the rider should maintain the position of the seat and weight slightly down and forwards to the inside in the travers aid rather than up and forwards from the inside seat bone as in the canter transition. It is the rider’s inside leg that develops the lateral bend and collection which is why it is important to develop a clear understanding of this inside leg acceptance in the shoulder in before starting the travers.

It is useful to start the travers work in walk so that the rider gains a clear understanding of the aids and the co-ordination required, the travers in the trot is designed to increase the suppleness. The travers is not ridden in canter as many horse want to become crooked with the quarters to the inside in the canter due to loss of balance and the movement of the hind legs in the canter mean that the horse is not able to cross the outside hind leg in front of the inside hind leg so we will consider the use of quarters in whilst in canter in the next article on half pass. In classical training, the travers is finished by bringing the forehand into the inner track to bring it into alignment with the quarters and then the inside leg takes the horse sideways in a leg yield to return to the track. For this reason it is often beneficial to train the horse to do this movement on a large circle rather than on the long side as the rider can then continue the movement for a larger number of steps rather than having to keep making the adjustment to negotiate the corners of the school. In a test situation it is more usual to allow the horse to take the quarters back to the track for the last step before going through the corner.

By riding from shoulder in to travers and back again, the horse becomes more” through “, improves the lateral suppleness and the obedience to the aids. For this reason it is very important to make sure that the movement is ridden correctly without excessive bend in either the neck or by moving the quarters in too much as this will make the inside hind leg step too much away from the centre of gravity (and to the outside) so that the collection is not developed. It is also important that the trot or walk remains in a clear rhythm and any such fault should be corrected by straightening the horse and riding forwards with energy,

(by kind permission of Ian Barr Images- see links)


Developing peripheral vision

Many riders go around staring at their horse’s head and neck position whilst others steadfastly look at where they are going and others seem to look so sharply to the side or at the floor that they have no idea of where they are! . None of these are particularly helpful as each rider is missing an opportunity and can easily find themselves having to make abrupt changes to avoid others or will be unaware that their horse is tilting or in a poor frame or showing signs of tension. The optimum method is to develop the widest field of peripheral vision so that you are aware of your surroundings, where you are going, how close other riders are, whilst being clearly aware of the horse in front of you, by using peripheral vision.

This technique is easy and can be varied in any way that is convenient or challenging. To begin, choose an object or spot directly in front of you for a reference point. Bring your arms straight out to your sides (so your body would form a ‘T’ shape), and begin wiggling your fingers. Keep your vision focused on the chosen reference area in front of you, but direct your attention to finding your fingers. Slowly bring your arms in toward the middle (still outstretched and with wiggling fingers) until you can see both hands. Then do the reverse by slowly moving the hands away and keep practising until your field of view becomes wider.

Use a candle flame for your focal object. Practice keeping your awareness on your wiggling fingers, while maintaining a fixed gaze on the flame. Notice how the candle flame moves and changes, take in the movements and “feeling” without interpretation. After you get the hang of attuning your peripheral vision, you can use this exercise as a meditation tool, without having to outstretch your arms. Simply engage your peripheral vision. Ask a friend stand in your peripheral vision and hold up different objects or fingers so that you can practise discerning the objects or the number of fingers. Peripheral vision can be developed with just a little practice.

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Rona Willicott of Sound Schooling with Flynn

Goal of the Month: Dealing with a horse that leans on the bit

 The horse will lean on the bit when it is not engaging his hindlegs enough to maintain his balance. If this is an occasional problem then it is a normal part of the horse’s development as he is asked to progress more rapidly than his strength is building, If the horse does not lean on the bit occasionally it is often a sign that they are not being sufficiently challenged in their development. If the horse is consistently leaning on the rider’s hands then he does not learn how to engage himself and carry his own weight.

There are a number of areas to consider and address in order to deal with the issue. Firstly the rider needs to ensure that they have a strong independent (not easily disturbed) seat to make sure that the leaning is not mutual with the rider needing support from the reins. Many riders benefit from lunge lessons either on their own horse or on a school horse. Another area of improvement is the development of the core strength through Pilates or similar exercise regime. The professional rider who rides 5 horses a day and is part of an International Performance Programme is often set an exercise programme outside their riding so the one horse rider riding 5-6 times a week will almost always need an additional exercise regime to improve their own balance and stability.

The second area to consider is the bit that the horse is being ridden in. the more the horse leans, the less the is being used, The family of bits that stay fixed in the mouth such as the eggbutt and fulmer may encourage the horse to stay solid on the hand but the upside of the eggbutt is that the rider’s aids are more direct than in a loose ring .A thinner bit may also encourage the horse to lean less and any combination of lozenge or roller may also help in this aspect. Asking a bitting expert for advice is as important as getting the saddle correctly fitted, The important thing is not to encourage the horse to go over the bit, this will create an bigger problem in the future, the horse should always confidently take the contact but in a forwards and positive way not leaning downwards. The aim should always be to correctly connect the horse from behind into the contact not to produce an outline in front. Finding an appropriate bit to achieve the correct training results may not always be a bit that you can use in competitions but as long as your seat is secure and you have the right aims in mind then an occasional change of bit can be beneficial. The rider should always avoid progressing to stronger bits just to achieve an outline.

Thirdly the rider needs to understand and consider the conformation of the horse and develop their training plan accordingly. The horse with weaker confirmation e.g. a long back or a poor shoulder will need longer to develop their strength. Putting in too much power behind before the strength has built will encourage the horse to run onto the forehand and lean on the bit. So the programme needs to be developed with plenty of balancing exercises, well ridden transitions, polework, gridwork, and work on circles, serpentines and starting shoulder in. The rider should accept that there will be moments when the horse takes his balance from the rider and at that moment turn the horse onto a smaller circle and undertake a give and retake of the rein. The use of the give and retake of the rein is a very valuable tool to check that both the horse and rider can maintain their own independent balance and that the contact is elastic and can be re-established easily and without resistance and should be used regularly within the training.