Hill Exercise
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, December 6, 2014 07:31 PM
I have been working with Santo on improving his canter which has a tendency to become rather flat and quick when I try to collect it. And I found a great exercise! The exercise utilizes a rolling terrain, particularly riding up the hills. It is well known that hacking horses over hilly terrain is a great exercise to built stamina, surefootedness and strength. I also found it a great one to properly collect canter. I have done hills before. Even specifically exercised Santo over them. However, I allowed him to use himself as he pleased, stretching his neck out and speeding upwards to the point of a huge acceleration. It felt like he liked doing it. He blasted forward like a bullet :) This time I used a different approach.
What led me to this new idea was thinking how powerfully Santo pushes off the ground cantering uphill. I need that power for collection. Also, up the hill I have an easier way of controlling his tempo without losing this power. The problem with Santo's canter is slow tempo comes at a price of engagement unless we extend. So I decided to canter up the hill but keep the tempo very slow. Santo was ready for this exercise because he was responsive to the forward driving aids and half-halts. In collected canter, Santo fails to continue jump under himself with power. During cantering up the hill Santo couldn't flatten out because the hill forced him to push off the ground. However, if he wanted to speed up I could easily half-halt him and keep tempo slow.
At first he kept trying to speed up and it required lots of half-halts to "convince" him to stay slow. Now he knows and I can even drive his haunches more under without him trying to speed up. This feels fantastic! When I started the exercise I was hoping for improvement. However, I didn't expect it to work that well. It literally showed Santo how to correctly use himself without me pocking at him here and there trying to put it all together. He simply got it and I can collect him on the flat now and feel the engagement and roundness. I can extend and bring him back and feel him come through and sit behind. And he is light, he carries himself so much better now.
I have been doing this exercise with Santo for 5 weeks, from the end of October through November. Twice a week I will canter three times up the hill on each leg with walk breaks in between. These walk breaks are not always just on a loose rein. I would do lateral exercises while going downhill. I have a field where I do not have to turn around. The perimeter of the field incorporates three hills of different length and grading from long and shallow to short and steep. This works really well.
At the end of November we got 30 cm of snow and this made the exercise extremely challenging for Santo. Plus our canter work expanded due to his new abilities and I decided to do the hill exercise only once a week making it more of a maintenance type.
Recently I was reading Nuno Oliveira's "Classical Principles..." and I was very excited to come across the following citation:
When the horse learns to leave from a walk to canter, no matter what leg and no matter in what place, from around the track in the manège, it is time to start the same departures on the diagonal and on the centre line and later in large circles at each end the manège, always remembering to maintain a line of equal curvature. The fairly frequent rewards of the walk on long reins in the middle of these requests for a canter depart, combined with lateral exercises of suppleness at the walk, plus reining back, will help the canter...
This suits my work so well. The collected canter up the hill combined with lateral exercises in walk in between is exactly how I felt gave me the best performance from Santo. Also, I am going to use his advice in more general terms of my canter work because I feel that right now Santo cannot sustain collected canter work for long and needs breaks. I was letting him extend and stretch in canter or have a walk break on a long rein. However, doing more lateral work in walk in between is a great option.
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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