Flexibility workshop. Part II. Horses.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, February 23, 2012 09:28 AM
The second blog on the workshop flexibility will be about horses and how to make them more supple and happier in their work. In my first blog I forgot to give a link to Alixa's website. Now I am going to correct this mistake. Here it is Alixa's Sutton website. Before I start talking about particular exercises for horses I will lay down the principles behind this work that Alixa explained to us. These principles will not be simple repetition of what Alixa said but more of my understanding of them. If you later buy her book you will find more detailed explanation of everything.
  • A supple horse should be able to carry his head and neck up, down and anywhere in between. Easily!
  • It should be able to turn his head left/right almost to 90 degrees angle when head in any of these positions - up, down, in-between at walk, trot and even canter (flexions are popular means of suppling a horse in France, Spain, etc, Western riders use them all the time, however, more in halt then in movement)
  • A horse should turn his shoulders very easily right or left in straight, bent or counterbent positions
  • A horse is suppled first in the mouth, then neck, then poll, then shoulders and then haunches (this is a centuries old knowledge sadly forgotten today by many)
  • All suppling exercises are done during movement. Walk is the most suitable gait for this work. When the horse progresses they can be done in trot and canter
  • Lateral work in walk is a foundation for suppling your horse (again centuries old knowledge rarely seen practiced today)
  • Rider does not hold the horse in any of these positions. Rider only requests, guides and corrects. There should not be a hold or steady pull on the reins. Only light strokes, repeated as often as necessary. Contact is very light throughout
  • Lifting of the head up or flexions right/left are asked with upward strokes. The bit works on the corners of the mouth, there is no pressure on horse's sensitive bars. There is no downward pull on the reins
  • Rider's seat and legs are very important in this work. They give the horse a clear guideness where and how to move
  • No nosebands, martingales, draw-reins or spurs. Just loose-ring snaffle bit, long reins and a dressage whip
Exercises. Walk:
1. Lifting the head up -Lift horse's head up with light upward strokes of the reins. Release, if horse drops his head ask again, release. With a difficult horse who is heavy on the shoulders and drops the head down all the time ask the head up and turn the shoulders at the same time, no bend, both reins turning. Do not hold! Horse holds the head up himself, neck straight, horse starts to release its mouth and chew on the bit.
2. Lateral flexion - Using both reins lift horse's head up and turn his nose to the side. Use your hands very delicately, inside rein is up, vibrate reins. Use legs to tell your horse where to go, do not let him fall on outside shoulder. Do not get stuck in your horse's mouth. Horse will learn to carry his head up to 90 degrees to the side. This will stretch the muscles on the sides of the neck. This is very good exercise for horses with U-necks.
3. Stretching down - Most horses will happily stretch down after above exercises. If your horse is reluctant to stretch do not start pulling him down. Keep your hands low and wide and ask one rein at a time. Ask lightly, no pull, look for a softening. Release generously both reins. Ask with other rein. Release. Do not seesaw. Horse will start dropping his head down. Do not be greedy. Praise for even small reaction. Ride 10 m in low position, spiral in, spiral out. Lift the head, ask for flexion.
4. Circles, spirals, figures 8 - Ride these figures with horse's head up or down, straight, with flexion, and/or counter-flexion, change flexions. Keep the same flexion while changing direction, etc. Use your imagination to create different patterns and their combinations. You are looking for lightness in contact, lightness in shoulders while turning, mobility in haunches. Nothing is heavy, nothing feels stuck. Use whip to mobilize your horse, or help him get off a heavy shoulder
5. Shoulder-in on a circle - Lift and ask for shoulder-in for a few steps, straighten out, lift and ask for counter shoulder-in for a few steps, straighten out. Ask for shoulder-in and then ask for lateral flexion in shoulder-in position. Do not hold your horse in this position. It is not an easy exercise and your horse will get tired quickly. If you are holding you will miss the signs of fatigue. After that exercise even most upside-down horse will stretch down on his own.
There are of course more exercises to play with. Unfortunately, Alixa had barely scratched the surface of what can be done. Most of the riders needed a lot of practice to grasp the concept in easier exercises. It was hard for them not to pull or hold their horses in certain position. Horses, too, were reluctant to let go of the way they set their necks and hold their heads. However, by the second day the change was amazing. Upside down necks lowered down and necks broken at the third vertebra opened up and stretched out. Horses were more willing to flex and bend and turn and riders were more willing to release. What a difference!
Another cool thing was that Alixa rode almost all horses at least for a minute and showed a particular flexion or exercise. And watching her work a horse was absolutely invaluable experience!
In the next blog I will share with you my own experience with this work through my horse, my students and their horses and my observations and thoughts on the subject.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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