Hill work
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, January 18, 2016 09:43 AM
I have been doing hill work on regular basis throughout the years. December of 2014 I wrote a blog about what I did then. This time it is a modification and expansion of that work.Read the 2014 blog. I do not do hill work all the time but I do it on regular basis. By hill work I do not mean coming up occasional hill that I meet on my hack out in the fields. I live in the area full of rolling hills and I hack every week so I have plenty of occasional hills I do not even count them as work :) The hill work I do must be very structured and involve series of intense workouts with breaks in between. Below is the description of what I did this fall including December until it was time for Santo to go to a boarding facility for 3 months.
I needed to develop more strength in collected canter. Hills gave me a perfect opportunity. I created an exercise where I would canter very slowly keeping Santo very round and very light at the same time in a shoulder-fore position. I picked fairly steep hill about 100m in length including gradual leveling at the top. We would pick up canter from walk at the bottom of the hill and slowly with a lot of engagement canter up. Then we would walk around to get back down. Sometimes I would canter a portion of the back route, or trot, depending on how well he listened at the top. Later on I started doing flying changes at the top. At first only one and then two with several strides in between.
It had to be an intense workout so I did 5 repetitions on each leg, alternating legs. I would go left canter - walk back - right canter - walk back. And I repeat this 5 times. When we got enough snow that affected traction I did 4 sets. I did the work once a week and the whole workout took about 25-30 min. The warm up was not included in this time. The warm up was light and short simply to warm his muscles and make sure he feels supple and focused.
Doing two flying changes at the end of each canter piece making 16 flying changes during the workout helped my flying changes enormously. If you read my blogs on flying changes (Flying changes and Flying changes. Exercises) you know Santo just learned them last season and we still have lots to work on. Doing flying changes at the top of the hill helped him understand how to come through in the changes, stay straight and jump forward rather then sideways. He started to feel that flying changes are not something he has to try very hard to achieve. They became a part of our daily routine.
Here are the things to watch for during such work:
  • Walk-canter transitions must be calm, straight (from shoulder-fore) and very much engaged. Because they are at the bottom of the hill the horse knows what is coming and starts to anticipate. This can create transitions that feel like a rocket blast. It must be avoided with good preparation or corrections like halts and reinback
  • Must keep shoulder-fore all the way up, otherwise, the horse will push his haunches sideways to make it easier to climb the hill.
  • Watch tempo like a hawk. Acceleration of tempo is another way for the horse to avoid engagement.
  • Do not do the work for the horse. When it all goes well it feels effortless. The horse feels very powerful but slow and light, the control is there with minimum effort.
  • Pay attention that engagement stays all the way to the top. A touch of the leg or a tap of the whip will remind him to stay under himself.
  • Horses tend to get excited working hills, this is the stick of two ends. Excitement makes them naturally engaged but less in control. This work is suitable for mature well-trained horses. Half-halts must be in place and rider must be able to make the horse wait. This work improves half-halts and ability of the horse to come through. You must not let the horse run up the hill. It does not teach him good values only desire to bolt every time he sees a hill.
  • If there space to do something at the top on a level surface you can become creative and choose from a variety of movements/transitions depending what your horse needs most: extension, transition to walk, leg-yield, circle, half-pass, flying change, canter pirouette (I want to add this movement to our hill work next fall) etc.
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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