This was a question I got and I wanted to share my answer with you all incase you have the same problem!
First you should try and figure out why you’re gripping with the backs of your calves. It could be because you’re used to riding a slower, more leg-dead mount and have to have your forward…
The rider has to want to learn, truly and honestly, without making excuses, without blaming the horse, the saddle, the bit, the footing, the boots, the breeches, the farrier, the vet, or whatever. The desire to learn must be greater than anything else, pride, vanity, ego, everything. It comes down to the question of how important it is to the rider to really learn to ride, and how far he or she wants to go in his or her riding.
Thomas Ritter (via equitationstation)
Halt and reinback with a high head and a relaxed mouth is an exercise that I use very often in all of my horses. It’s purpose is to both relax and rebalance the horse, so that he learns to shift his weight over his quarters and elevate his front end right off the bat. The horse starts to connect the idea that a raised rein means he should relax his mouth, lift his withers from the base of his neck, and tilt his pelvis in preparation for the shift of weight. At that stage we start to refine this exercise until it becomes anything from a canter-halt transition to a simple half-halt wherein the horse remains (more or less, depending on his conformation) in a ‘frame’. The advantage that we gain from teaching it this way is that you never get the horse that dives onto the bit heavily and uses the riders hand as a support during downwards transitions. The transitions will come from behind and be executed in a very balanced way, maintaining lightess.
To sum up: Developing the downwards transitions from high head reinback means that not only are you being very clear on what you want the horse to do, but you are also never giving him the opportunity to lean on the hand and become heavy.
Oddly enough, I will not be doing this exercise with Chevy as often as I would with most other horses that I ride/train. The reason for that is that he has both a very soft and relaxed mouth already and also very little impulsion, you can see in these videos that he resists by backing up quite often. He doesn’t want to go forward, and he either resists the leg aids or doesn’t quite understand them. He does this under saddle as well, and it is an issue that will be addressed very soon. I hope to get some footage of it.
So this vlogging is not going to be terribly sophisticated, at least not at this stage. My process throughout this experiment is likely to be very organic. For now I’m just going to have someone film me every once in a while while I work with some horses in various states of training, and explain what I’m doing as I go.
I’ll also post anything I find that is relevant to classical training, inspiring videos, things of that nature.
We’re starting with the very first mouth work I use to introduce a young horse to the bit. Thanks for watching!
Just curious, would anyone be interested in seeing training videos? I’m thinking of doing more of a video blog, focusing on classical dressage and highlighting videos that show the actual training.
Chi is 18 now, and despite a few grey hairs he doesn’t seem inclined to stop learning. If we continue at the rate we’re going it’s possible we’ll be riding around 3rd level by the time he’s 20. Flying changes seem like a
fun frustrating challenge.
Occassionally I hear that he’s improved greatly but that I should get another horse. That another horse would be less effort and would be able to go so much farther in the training. I kind of think these people miss the point. I’m not interested in the destination, it’s the journey we’re taking together, Chi and I, and the lessons I’ve taken from it that are important to me.
I am riding other horses. There’s a very talented sport horse mare, that I’m slowly bringing along to whom the dressage work is almost effortless to teach. I’m starting a young appendix who is incredibly nimble and has a ton of personality. I have a saddlebred I’m developing muscle on who is fully trained, a delight to ride and enjoys all the canter work and jumping we do together. But I keep returning to my powerful, one-eyed Canadian gelding with his dinner plate feet and his utterly gentle nature. Everything with him is tricky tricky to keep light and balanced, but it allows me to develop a habit of working with horses that is at once both firm and also incredibly soft and gentle.
I could not be more grateful for the lessons Chi continues to teach me, and he in turn appreciates that my pockets are always full of apple treats.
On impulse two years ago, and because Chi has been so delightful, I had a bout of insanity and bought a package deal of two young Canadian mares and a broodmare who dropped a healthy little colt. The oldest filly is just coming old enough to ride now, and having turned 4 this spring we’ve started her under saddle. I’m taking everything I learn from Chi and putting it towards training the new guys, and so far “Nifty” has taken to everything like a duck to water. I gifted her to Gab last year when she decided to get back into riding again, and they’ve developed a bond that is swiftly becoming as solid as anything I’ve ever seen. The first time I swung a leg over her back she put her head down with a soft eye and was happy to be led around like she’d done it all her life. Gab said she looked like she was about to fall asleep. This is what they talk about when they call Canadians docile!
It is an amazing experience to ride a horse that seems to be able to read your mind, to respond to your energy. Anyone who knows this feeling must be familiar with it’s addictive quality. Not only does Chi now respond to the lightest aids, he does so charged with an incredible amount of controlled power. He is turning into a finely tuned, “push button” type horse (provided you ride with quiet energy, feel and lightness). He teaches me everyday that less is more, and I am gradually learning how to get out of the way and let him dance. We still have issues, but they’re all minor and bit by bit we’re handling them. (I’m relatively certain at least 75% of them are my fault)
Right now we are working on trot renvers on a circle, which still sometimes presents some difficulties. The trot halfpass is coming. Canterwork isn’t yet effortless, but it no longer inspires in us the dread it once did. Earlier last week we practiced various forms of canter transitions for over half an hour and the only place there was sweat after the ride was on his flanks. No nervousness at all. I was preening like a proud mama.
Training continued, but I was having an issue with it. Because of Chi’s heavyset stallion-thick neck and his propensity to go on the vertical so easily and his natural power, I wasn’t noticing that he was locked in his spine and giving me false collection. I knew something was going on that wasn’t right, but I was at a loss for what to do. Jo discovered the issue and its cause, and basically fixed it for me. I was to ride long, low and forward for a while. Low and behold, not only did Chi have a TON of power that I was gradually learning to unlock, but his balance improved to the point where he has good self carriage w/t now and goes round in the canter with minimal help- something I was unsure that he could accomplish.
Chi’s anatomy has changed as well. He carries himself more uphill now, even without a rider. He canters on a whim and often at liberty, something he didn’t have a hope of doing before. His pie plate sized feet no longer stomp the ground, instead he steps lightly. When I ride him it’s hard to hear his footfalls. His mouth is like butter.
He almost never spooks anymore, and when he does he’s easily calmed. When startled outside he sometimes pulls up and looks, but rarely does anything silly. I am both grateful and relieved, and I trust him almost totally now. We’ve experimented with riding bridleless, but he is more comfortable with me directing him - I assume because he doesn’t always trust himself. I feel confident now that were he to start to go blind in the other eye we would be able to manage just fine. I finally have his trust.
He tolerates being flysprayed now.
Then, of course, I couldn’t get him to quit doing it. Word to the wise - ALWAYS teach shoulder in before travers. That way you have the tools in place to strighten them out again. Thank god I had sense not to rush the lateral work, and to do it in the right order.