Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Going Back to Basics Fixes Other Things

Pie and I have been struggling for a while with a couple of things - he tends to become disconnected between his front and his back end, resulting in "losing" the hind end (which means poor directional control and poor corners), and he struggles with softening, tending to "dive" with his head and neck which throws him onto the forehand, losing the hind end . . . The underlying problem was clearly (I'm slow, but even I get it eventually) relating to what the hind end was doing, and to how the hind end connected with the front end.  These problems, as such things do, tended to show up more at the higher gaits - trot showed them up, and canter was even worse - he would tend to invert his head as well which showed that he was really on the forehand.

There was something basic missing.  I finally had a theory that he didn't understand when I was wanting him to step under himself with the inner hind leg, to move his hindquarters over and keep them in line with the front end.  If something basic like this is missing, I find that, rather than work on the places it shows up most at the higher gaits, I have to fix it starting from the beginning - in-hand and walk work.  We did one entire session of just that, and then repeated some of that at the beginning of subsequent work sessions.

To start with, again as I've sometimes found it to be the case, it was necessary to exaggerate the cue - not necessarily make it bigger, but do it in a way that made it something different and notable for the horse.  In Pie's case, this meant moving my hand (for in-hand work) or leg (for ridden work) way back - to the area of the back cinch.  The fact that this was farther back than I wanted the cue to be in the end didn't matter - this was the "rough cut" which could be refined once he got the idea.  I also didn't worry about other things falling apart in the interim - all I wanted was under with the inside hind, and maintaining forward - if his posture or head position were wrong, I didn't care - once he got the new concept, that would come back pretty easily.  It was most important to isolate the one thing that was new so he could understand clearly what I wanted.  I also made sure that a movement was established well in one direction before asking for it in the other direction.

We started in-hand with turns on the forehand - he knew how to do these already and there was no forward to have to worry about.  I wanted him to take one step at a time off a soft cue with my hand.  Once we had that, we moved to him making a small circle around me while stepping under and to the side with the inside hind - a circle where the front end was making a smaller circle than the hindquarters.  Any time he started to lose forward, we carried on in a regular circle until that was reestablished and then went back to our stepping under.  Once that was good, we moved to doing leg-yield and shoulder-in in hand to reinforce the inside hind leg stepping under and over.

Once that was good, we moved on to ridden work.  Our first session was entirely at walk.  We repeated everything we'd done in hand.  I was still using the exaggerated leg cue to make everything very clear, and I continued to only worry about what the inside hind was doing, as well as forward, but nothing else.  Pie being very smart picked it all up quickly - you could almost see the lightbulb over his head - "oh, that's what you mean".

Once we had walk cemented - it only took one session - we moved on to trot in our next session, after an in-hand and walk review.  Everything stuck very well, and his corners were much improved.  By the next session, I was able to start refining the leg cue, bringing it forward a bit - he still got it and with every session I was able to refine it a bit more.

Yesterday was the big pay-off.  The ring was crowded, so we had to do some maneuvering - lots of turns and circles.  Everything was going very well, with an even less exaggerated cue, so we took things up to canter.  Bingo!  The result of him being able to respond when I asked him to step under and and to the outside with his inside hind was that a number of previous problems evaporated.  It was the best canter work he'd ever done, and under some of the most challenging conditions.  His steering - my directional control - was automatic and easy - no wiggling of the front or back end.  His corners and turns were exceptionally fine, even on what for him were very sharp turns and small circles to avoid other riders - previously he would have fallen out of canter on turns like this.  And the softness and engagement from behind were there - no diving or inverting and the rhythm of the canter was much better - and these weren't even things I'd been directly working on.  What happened was that, in addition to learning how to step under and to the outside with the inside hind, this also "activated" the inside hind, improving carriage and posture and gaving him the ability to engage his hindquarters and carry himself more softly.  He was really lifting himself from the hind end and was connected from back to front, which improved everything else. He clearly got it and was very happy that I finally did. Pure magic!

Banging away at trot and canter wouldn't have fixed any of this.  And riding the front end of the horse wouldn't have either.  Getting him to move the inside hind under and over fixed a lot of things, but it was important to go back to basics to get it right.


  1. Lovely!!!
    A Perfect Training Manual, For D'ap And Us, Right Now!!
    Hers May Stem From Injury Also, Our Therapist Said.
    So The In Hand We are Doing, Plus, Bridge Work. Loading One Foot At A Time Upon A Raised Object.

    She Is So Disconnected, She Almost Is Unable To Lift Her Hind Legs, For Farrier.

    I Loved This Kate, Thank You. Awesome Work And Connections(You)

  2. Work stepping over and through pole patterns is also good for this sort of rehab. Backing, then backing in circles or around turns also is good. Good luck with all of that!

    1. Yes, Sissy Has All The Cool Set Up For Obstacles. Will Have To Do The Backing In Circles, Around Turns. Thanks!
      Have Fun With These ,With Pie Too!

  3. Your posts are always so timely! I am having this exact problem at the moment. Although Dee is short in the back and has her hocks set well underneath her, she wants to lope around with her nose on the ground and her hind end in Wyoming! Not pleasant to ride at all (like sitting in the back seat of the school bus). I will definitely be trying some of these exercises when I get out to the barn this afternoon. Thank you for the great ideas.

  4. Now don't let him learn to step too far over to the outside. What you have now established is a connection to the outside rein, the most important one for good dressage. It needs to help create a kind of "wall" to help him stay upright and balanced through his exercises.

    Either way, well done.

  5. Perfect post for us! I love how you break everything down into the smallest, simplest components. Sets you and the horse up for success - physically and emotionally. Thanks :D

  6. This is exactly what I've been working on with Eagle these past months in-hand. Eagle tends to become stuck and almost afraid to move at all if his understanding isn't clear. You're so right on about getting back to the basics for almost any problem that a horse and rider may be encountering because speed just makes a small problem much bigger. It's a wonderful reminder for me when I read your clearly explained post of these exercises. Last night Eagle almost fell down, he did go down in the front when I was asking for a canter freestyle in the round pen. He becomes worried and goes into a full-blown gallop, never a relaxed canter. I'm starting to think that he may be out of balance or something and is fearful that he may fall because when his front feet tripped him up, his gaze was aimed directly at me as if he considered it my fault. It was a lot of work on my part to get him to break out of his fast trot too. He clearly didn't want to do it, and I pushed. Tonight, I'll go back to slow in-hand work just as you described. Once it's golden, maybe I'll try asking for the same thing under saddle. Good stuff Kate! Wish you could be my "eyes on the ground". Thank you! And, CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! to you and Pie. I'll bet he feels so relieved that "you" finally figured out what he's been trying to communicate to you. :) Love this stuff!!


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