Working with horses on flexibility
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 01:14 PM
For this blog I assume you read the previous one - flexibility for horses. I assume you are familiar with the concept and exercises I described earlier. If you haven't read the "Flexibility workshop. Part II. Horses" I strongly recommend reading it before you continue.
Santo is very familiar with flexions. I introduced them to him from the ground and at halt. I did some lateral flexions with him during walk. He knows leg-yield, shoulder-in, turns on the forehand and on the haunches, not from the halt though. I never halt for these turns. In short, Santo is quite mobile and supple already. However, after coming back from the workshop I realized I can bring all this work to a different level. After seeing Alixa work I understood much better how to properly do lateral flexions during movement. Before I used outside rein differently not high enough and I blocked my horse in some ways. Lifting both hands up allows easier control of the head position, the outside side of the neck and shoulder without holding and pulling. Santo can turn his head 90 degrees with the neck somewhat lifted and keep walking straight, on a circle, in shoulder-in position and in counter-flexion. Now I introduced this work into our trot warm-up and he is already quite good at it. If you check my Photo Gallery page at the bottom there is a picture of Santo trotting and looking left straight into camera. His head is turned but not tilted and neck is lifted. I didn't ask for that. His position is correct. This is what you are looking for if you are asking for lateral flexions. However, more turn will be better.
My warm-up in walk is much more interesting now. I realized I didn't have enough variety. I would get stuck in one exercise for too long. Now I change things more and move from one exercise to another keeping his attention sharp. If I feel he is stiff doing one particular exercise I will change and do something else and them come back to the difficult movement. I will ask him stretch down on regular basis and after working on so much flexions he is very happy to drop his head all the way to the ground. In trot warm-up lateral flexions help me to get Santo round and stretching into contact much faster than simply waiting for him to start stretching on his own or pulling him into any kind of frame.
Every horse that I rode since the workshop benefited from my new perspective. Many horses I get on are not light enough, not mobile enough. They are behind the leg, want to pull or curl behind the bit, their shoulders are stiff and heavy and attention is scattered. Working on the flexibility exercises really helps to address these issues. Horses are usually surprised by the level of lightness and focus I require of them when I do this work. The interesting note though, things start to improve minute by minute. Changing bend, direction, moving shoulders, moving haunches - horses start to really pay attention to my requests. Even young or very green horses respond very well to these exercises. This work makes a rider dance with a horse - total focus, total connection, moving from one exercise to another in a steady rhythm, like a dance routine. A break after such concentration is well deserved by the horse and rider alike. It is very hard for a horse to be bored, he has to think a lot and be very engaged mentally. Funny, how all I just said would be true even before the workshop in regards to my approach to riding. However, since then, my level of understanding concepts such as lightness or mobility rose to a new hight.
The flexibility exercises will help you to find out a lot about your horse. Some horses are very comfortable flexing with the neck up and it is hard for them to stretch down and flex. Others are opposite. There are horses that stretch down by completely collapsing into their shoulders or one shoulder. Other tendencies are to be stiff turning the shoulders in certain postures like counter flexion or certain directions. All these can give the rider a good idea what to work on, how to combine exercises to create the best benefit for your horse. Develop a habit to observe your horse in these exercises instead of getting upset if your horse does not do something well. They are flesh and blood like us. They have habitual ways of doing things and their bodies are not perfect. Have the same level of sympathy toward your horse's challenges as you have toward yourself when you are learning something new. Plus, remember, your horse didn't ask for it, he does not care about his flexibility issues. Always have a very positive attitude toward your horse's creative thinking even if this creativity is to find a way to escape the challenge :)
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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