Monday, January 7, 2013

Winter Horse Play ~ Part II

It truly is feeling like the winter season here in Eastern Oregon, and I find it is more difficult to get motivated to get out and ride.  This Winter Horse Play series is a great motivation because it only takes a time commitment of 15 to 20 minutes, and gives me some quality time with my horse. These exercises are similar to a good 15-minute Pilates and Yoga workout combined, with mindful movements that develop rhythm, balance, and lightness.

Review: If you are just joining us, review the elements of Work in Hand, how to make the rein triangle, and watch the Tip for the Ride video. (  Remember, it is important to start every session utilizing the Horseman’s Protocol to become present, think, picture the end product, allow it to happen, and finally reward the effort.

Shoulder-In or Sideways on a Small Circle:  After stretching your horse over his topline with the Bolero exercise in both directions, develop good posture and self-carriage in yourself and pick up your rein triangle.  Establish a feel or contact on the outside rein and look for your horse to pick his balance up and back. The poll should be the highest point, with a relaxed jaw, and an attitude of “I am ready”.  The movement you are picturing will be for the horse to move around you sideways on a small circle, with the hips of the horse swinging a larger circle then the shoulders. The balance moves from the inside hind foot across under the body to the outside shoulder. The rhythm at the walk is four-beats, but you will primarily be concentrating on a two-beat flow from inside hind to outside rein. Your positioning, in good posture, is at the shoulder, and ideally your body acts as a post that the horse is rotating around, with you pivoting on the foot closest to the nose. As you compress the air with your whip hand, think about accepting the energy and the movement you have created into that outside rein. This is not with a huge amount of down-pressure in side-two of your rein triangle…just a suggestion or a ‘feel’. The horse should weigh nothing your hands. Finish the exercise with slightly more contact on the outside rein to invite a ‘balancing-up’ on the outside hind foot to a halt.

Shoulder-In on a Larger Circle to Square: Now that your horse is beginning to understand the Work in Hand positioning and use of the outside rein for communication, let’s take this movement into more dynamic applications. Begin by picturing yourself and the horse moving sideways on a fairly large circle of about 7 meters. His hips will still be making a larger arch than the shoulders, but now you get to move with the horse. Position your toes under the nose, and walk the circle or square geometrically, forward, and in good posture.  Your shoulder blades should be over your seat bones, with heavy elbows, and belt buckle up. You will be tempted to push with your shoulders or slow the movement by drawing your hand on the bit towards side-two of the rein triangle.  Remember that the brake (actually spelled ‘break’) is simply a feel or a little more downward pressure in side-two. Think of a ‘half-halt’, a little interruption on the outside rein to balance the horse.

Leg-yield to wall and backup: Now geometry really comes into play. It is your responsibility to become vigilant about placing your toes, shoulders, and energy on the lines that you will be asking your horse to follow. You will be asking the horse to travel sideways and forward, with the shoulders leading a bit, on a diagonal line to the wall or fence. Before reaching the wall, step slightly in front of the shoulder, with a little down pressure in side-two of the rein triangle. Stop on the wall, with your belt buckle now parallel with the side of your horse, and facing towards the stirrup.  From this position, after the halt, back the horse primarily with your intentions and body language, using very little rein pressure. You step forward, as your horse moves back. Next, prepare to pivot on the foot that is furthest away from the horse, bringing your belt buckle now facing forward in the same direction as the nose of the horse. Walk out on a straight line with relaxed rein position, allowing the horse to stretch forward and down.

One-hand Work in Hand: A variation on the departure after the backup, is to develop your rein triangle in one hand, and depart with self-carriage.  To accomplish this one-hand positioning, start by developing contact on side-one of the triangle. Now, with the hand closest to the tail, reach up to the mane line, and run the rein over the top of your thumb and between the ring and little fingers. Let your hand run down side-two of the rein in this position to approximately the point of the shoulder. Next reach up with your free hand, shorten side-three, and place this rein in your other hand, running between the ring and little finger also. As you depart forward, turn your shoulders perpendicular to the horse. By keeping a heavy elbow and slight downward pressure you effect side-two, or the outside rein. By releasing pressure or giving a ‘feel’ back to the horse with your ring finger, you develop an ‘active’ inside rein, or release on the side-three of the triangle.

OK…time to head out and give these postures and movements a try.  Watch for Part II of Winter Horse Play on the Tip for Ride videos, and join the blog. (


Kimberly Taylor said...

Really educational and helpful video. The Winter Horse Play is really effective approach to get motivated during winter season. What makes it interesting is the time span is just short but quality to get along with horses.

Fionna Vezzani said...

Performance horses are well equipped to handle cold weather. People find temperatures from about 50-85 degrees Fahrenheit but horses can be comfortable with the 15 degree weather.