Thursday, August 5, 2010

Clop, Clink and Floating Work

Our farrier came this morning, which was a good thing as Dawn was about to lose a shoe and Maisie wasn't far behind. The combination of prolific (and vicious) flies causing much foot stamping, heat and hard ground, followed by monsoon rains and mud, has done a job on the feet of all the horses. Dawn was only at 5 weeks from last shoeing and Maisie at 4 weeks, but they both had grown a lot of hoof and were in serious need of trims. I can usually hear a loose shoe coming - the loosening shoe usually has a hollower sound than the shoe that's firmly attached. Dawn in particular has a very distinct footfall - she really slaps her feet down and the hollow note is easily heard on the concrete barn aisle - but by this morning she was up to clop, clink, which meant the shoe was just about to come off.

Considering that, our work this morning before the farrier got here was only at the walk. She wanted to walk off from the mounting block - and my daughter confirmed she'd been mounting Dawn (my daughter rides bareback) while she was moving and Dawn apparently thought standing still for me was no longer part of the program. So when she walked off, I jumped down and we went back to the block for another go - this time she stood nicely on a loose rein while I got on and settled.

Then we did a bunch of things - softening work, transitions, figures, changes of stride length within the walk, and some backing. I find more and more that walk work is really an important foundation for everything else, and that you can work on all sorts of things, including relaxation, straightness and rhythm, at the walk and then find that the work translates well to other gaits. I also think establishing a good quality walk, halt and back and the transitions between them is very important as it sets the tone for everything else. To me, watching a horse move at liberty, in hand or under saddle at the walk tells a lot about the horse, its soundness and athletic potential and the nature of the horse's training and interaction with the rider.

After our walking warm-up, Dawn and I worked on some more lateral work, starting with turn on the haunches to the left. I kept my focus on the feeling of "up and over", which creates an opening for the shoulders to move into. Once that was going well - we'd been doing a little work on it for several sessions - we did the same thing to the right. Each set was interspersed with walking around on a loose rein when she took several really nice steps. Then we did some work on turn on the forehand in both directions - she finds this easier than turn on the haunches.

Then we did some sets of walking down the long side, halting and then moving directly into a 180-degree turn on the haunches to reverse direction, then walk back and do a turn on the haunches to the other side to reverse direction again. This exercise can also be done without the halt, but it helps get the weight on the hindquarters. When we're doing turn on the haunches, I try to be sure that the hind end is active - think walk pirouette where both hind feet move, but in a very small circle. Then I threw in some turns on the forehand for do a 180. The trick with this I find is precision, combined with softness - if tension or bracing or pushing enters into the equation, things no longer flow smoothly. This is a fun exercise, since you can do 45, 90, 180 or any other sort of change of direction you want, all over the arena, and mixing up the directions and movements. A pretty good day's work for only being able to walk!

The next step we'll take is to refresh her side-passing work - this can also be varied by doing it as leg-yield. The side pass requires that both the front and back ends move, and effectively combines the work on turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand. Once our side-pass is working well, we can move on to a wonderful exercise which is a real test of softness, relaxation and precision - getting those three in the same package is the test - the "floating exercise". The following is a description from the clinic post last year on horse #7:

. . . when going in a one direction, say from north to south in your arena, move from walking forward, into side pass with the head to the left, into backing, into sidepass facing the other way, and back into forward as one continous flowing motion. You don't want the feet to stop or to have any hitches in the motion - if you use too much aid this can stop the flowing feeling and lock up the motion. It is not possible to successfully do this exercise unless you maintain a good open flow - this exercise also helps you get a feel for what you need to do with a particular horse.
On flow, from the same post:

Flow is very important - think of the movement of the horse as a continuous flow even in halt. The engine is still running - feel the flow. If you get it right, the movements will be continuous and lovely, not just one step after another.
Dawn and I are putting together the building blocks for this exercise, step by step.


  1. Kate,
    Your work with Dawn sounds great! There is a lot that can be accomplished, practiced, and appreciated at the walk, and it sounds like you have a diverse group of exercises to work with. I also like to work on the circle at the walk - trying to master my aids and trying to turn ovals into circles! Your varied list of exercises and the wonderful floating exercise is inspiring me.

  2. I think it is amazing how much you can accomplish at the walk., it is the often overlooked gait.

  3. Excellent exercises to supple and relax your horse. Dawn is still making great progress? Has your daughter noticed any difference in the way she goes?? Just curious if the gymnastic work is showing up yet in the "fun stuff."

    I hate the sound of the "Clip" instead of that nice solid "clop" when shod hoof hits the hard ground. Always sends a shiver to my brain and me to the phone to call the farrier.

  4. I am impressed at what you have achieved in such a short time, the walk is an overlooked gait for loosening up and general training.

  5. Great work! Thanks for the exercise ideas.

    Mine are growing hoof faster than normal too. We went from January to mid-April without the need for a trim, but we've had 3 since then, and they get trimmed again tomorrow.

  6. When I rode with Diane we lived and breathed the practice of "if you horse can't do it at a walk, he/she can't do it at the trot or canter or jump" so I definitely believe in what you're doing!

    I am hoping John (vet) says I can keep riding Jimmy at the walk, because I want to keep him moving and thinking and start working on exercises like this. That way when he's ready to do more than walk, it's a fluid upward transition, and not like starting from scratch.

    Great post!

  7. I am learning so much from these recent posts. I need to go back and read them more slowly.


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