Monday, November 17, 2014

A Methodical Warm Up (is the name of the game)

This post is inspired by a conversation Aoife and I had in the comments of both her blog and mine where I got into a vein about encouraging engagement, bend and flexion... enjoy!

In May, I asked Nancy for an exercise I could use when Pig completely threw in the towel. Something that we could work on that was simple enough for him mentally let go, and demanding enough that we were still working.

"Ten meter circles," she said. "Boring," I thought. But, as it turns out, they are anything but boring.

We've been living on some form of the 10-15 meter circle for months now. For my stiff and resistant horse, circles are his kryptonite. He can't fake me out on a circle. I can feel the moment he weights one shoulder more than the other, and the second he loses his push with his hind end. For me, they've given me a safe place to practice the juggling of half halts and exceptional feel I need to execute other movements.

Work on these circles has pushed Guinness and I to a new level of work. His flexibility and submission is much improved. Plus, they've become a safe place for us to retreat when something goes wrong in our schooling. Too many wrong answers in our renvers work getting him flustered? Back on the circle to chill out and reconnect. Blowing through my outside half halts while working on a canter medium? Back to the circle to increase respect and lift.

So here's how it starts...
Silly music used to hide the audio I forgot to scrub. (Video link for those with a reader.)
We start on an 8-10m circle at the walk. These can happen anywhere, though I usually like at least one side of them to connect to the rail. (If Guinness is going to blow a half halt, it's usually in an attempt to push his shoulder straight to the wall.)

My focus is on maintaining a solid contact on the outside rein, pushing the rein against his neck to guide him around the circle without pushing him over. Like always, I have to hyper focus on making sure my elbows are bent and the rein feels connected to my hips and core for an effective half halt. "Bigger L in your elbows! Raise your hands!" The half halts on the outside keep Pig from falling into the circle and weighting his inside shoulder too much. Little gives and pushes with the rein tell him it's okay to turn.

With the inside rein, I'm flexing. With a stiff horse, this becomes a practice in constant vigilance.
With every step I must evaluate how he is working. Is he lifting from the base of his neck? No? Flex with the inside rein, give slightly with the outside rein, and kick him up with the inside leg. Always that inside leg. The moment he steps up with the hind leg and releases with his neck, release the flex and go back to neutral and balancing contact.

With Guinness this has to be a seamless dance. Too much action in the hand, and he goes on the offensive. A fraction too late with the leg aid, and he's sucked behind the bit. Other horses are much more tolerant of this, I've found.

The leg and seat aids are key factors in encouraging more engagement and a loose back. In the circle, I have to guide the bend with my hips. My inside hipbone needs to point forward, very forward. I think of it as trying to touch Pig's shoulder with my hip. I find that pulling the outside shoulder back helps me get the inside hip further forward. I'm not very flexible, though.

At the same time the inside hip is forward, the inside leg needs to be down. Mine likes to creep up, sort of craving a chair seat position. I work at lengthening the leg to keep my calf on, but not tightening the leg. That's one of those things you have to feel to understand, and once you do you have the idea forever. Having my legs hang long and loosely allows me to give meaningful thumps to encourage forward with my legs without upsetting my seat (and thus upsetting my half halts and contact). That's taken some serious practice.

When we started the circle game, every aid of mine had to be comically over exaggerated. My guiding hip needed to be so far out in front of me, it didn't seem physically possible. My leg had to stay longer and kick more than I thought I could support. And my flexion aids had to be ridiculously huge to get a response (other than tension). After a few months of over exaggeration, we're thankfully beginning to refine things. That refinement is a whole 'nother process. One I'm still working out. Part of that work towards refinement is what you see in these videos.

When we have forward engagement and a nice loose neck and back, we move to the same exercise in the trot.
Often at the trot, it'll feel like starting over completely. That's pretty normal. Again, the name of the game is vigilance. I ask for engagement, and if I don't get it I insist with leg bumps. If he starts to fall in, I sit on the outside seatbone for a stride, and half halt with the outside rein. When he gets to straight and stiff, I flex and push my inside seatbone further forward while bumping with my leg.

It feels like dancing, and I suppose it is.

Once we're working together like a good team, we leave the safety of the circle and work on being our awesome selves. The flexibility and respect the circle work has given us then lets us go out and do things like this...
I realize its just a shoulder-in, but dammit that's our bad direction. And I'm pretty freaking proud of it, too!

13 comments:

  1. Well done!! I'm always impressed by your hard work, even when things are tough. :-)

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    1. Aw, thanks! When things are going well, that work doesn't feel like work. I try to remember that.

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  2. this is a great post - breaking it down like this is really really really helpful! and you guys look great - definitely lots to be proud of :)

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    1. This exercise is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, so I'm happy to share!

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  3. My Trainer has me doing the same exercises on Fiction. I love the videos - I hope we can get there some day haha :)

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    1. You'll get there! It was so surprising to me that Pig didn't get stupid bored on the circle. I think he started to enjoy the back and forth communication, too. Hopefully Fiction gets to be the same way!

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  4. 10m circles are the bombdiggity. I love doing walk to canter to trot to canter transitions on 10m circles. Pony has no choice but to balance and engage. take that pony! :)

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    1. Ha! Yes! We were having trouble with a certain redhead blowing through my left rein and picking up the wrong canter lead when trying for a right lead canter depart. Enter canter depart on the 10m circle. Evasion = solved.

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  5. I'm slowly working up to smaller circles (10-15m) with Miles right now. He was so inflexible when I first got him, and while he's improved, I'd still like to see a bit more!

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    1. I think every hunter I ever rode in IHSA was stiff as a board, so I've always sort of generalized hunters as stiff. Have you noticed that? Guinness was an old hunter pony, so if he can become a bendy boy so can Miles! Promise!

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  6. Love these posts, I am so far away from isolating individual body parts like you do - but i love reading these posts so that hopefully the messages may trickle into my tick skull & marinate till I need them!

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    1. I find if I just keep my brain working to constantly evaluate my position and how it's effecting my horse, things get easier over time. You'll get there!

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    2. Fingers crossed, also I meant to say I loved the constant vigilance gif ☺☺☺

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