Archive for March, 2011

What Do You Do if the Horse Cross Canters?

Canter Series # 12 Excerpt from Book Four  

Cross-cantering means that the horse is on one canter lead in the front and the opposite canter lead in the hind. This would be an example of incorrect rhythm at the canter. This is a common problem in young horses and older horses that have not been ridden with their hind legs engaged and their backs up. 

 First determine if the horse’s cross cantering is caused by an injury or not.  If it is, consult your vet and determine what course of action you should take.

 Second, look at your trot work.  Is the horse balanced off the inside shoulder and using his hind legs?  If the horse is on the forehand with a hollow back then it will be difficult for him to maintain a balanced canter and he will switch leads to compensate.  The canter comes out of the trot.  Some trainers might tell you to canter around and around the ring, pushing the horse forward to strengthen the hind, but that is usually counter productive.  The horse will simply practice incorrectly, cross cantering as often as he feels out of balance.  Cantering up hills will help to strengthen the hind legs if you have access to trails and fields.  If you are confined to an indoor arena, as some of us are during the winter season, practice your trot work, engaging the horse’s hind legs more and more.  Canter each day, but only for a short duration.  Canter around the arena once, stop, change direction, and canter on the opposite lead.  Keep your canter short enough for the horse to maintain the proper canter. 

 Do not get anxious when the horse breaks in the canter and start pushing and pushing until he goes back to the canter.  By the time the horse picks up the canter again he has picked up speed and lost his hind legs out behind him and then he goes racing around the arena.  That isn’t what you want.  My best advice is to stay relaxed when starting the canter.  If your horse breaks in the canter, relax and come back to the walk, so you can reorganize and lift back up into the canter.  Remember to engage the hind legs so that the horse can carry himself with balance, with a brush of the whip, and a reminder with your legs.  This will keep the canter organized and your horse will be able to hold his canter lead better and better in each training session.

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Canter Series # 11  Excerpts from Book One 

Trained in the Aspirant Technique, this rider, Kaylee Clark, eleven yrs old in this picture,  is in free balance and able to gallop the field without the use of reins or legs – simple balance off her seat.

I first saw this position of horse and rider in the movie “Dances with Wolves” and immediately instituted it as an exercise in the Aspirant Technique.  Over the years it has created strong riders.

This same summer, with her strong core of balance, she was able to ride a hot young horse at first level  so successfully that the judge thought the horse was an old school master.  The horse was only five.

Currently she is schooling her horse and another horse at third level and plans to show third level this summer.

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Canter Work Series # 10  Excerpt from Book One

Quiet Hands in the Canter

  Quieting the hands in the canter will be easier now that you have been able to quiet them in sitting and rising trot.  The motion of the horse in the canter is much different than the trot, as you have already learned.  By now you have been able to still your body in the canter and all you need to do is let your body ride between your hands to still them. It is the tendency of the hands to bounce up and down, and if not the hands, then the elbows will want to flop, so there is a lot to bring under control. 

Just be sure your hands aren’t locked together in front of your seat, since this will block your seat by creating a barrier.  So relax your arms, widen your hands, and put them more in front of you. Also, be sure that your elbows aren’t locked against your sides so that your body can move freely and separate from your arms and hands. To help still the hands you will need a neck strap or a tuft of hair from the mane so you can hang onto just like in the posting trot.  This will enable you to feel how much the body rises up and down with the motion of the horse. The arms and hands should not follow the up and down motion. In the beginning, think of widening the hands and imagine riding your hips through the middle of your hands, keeping your elbows back and still but not stiff.  This will help you get the feel of controlling your arms and creating quieter hands.  If you have mirrors, it is good to glance at yourself and check and see how still your hands are because that will help you to feel what you should do.  If you have followed the sequence in this book, your horse will be so happy that you mastered this final part of your body.

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The Seat

A protective seat is when the rider draws up the leg and pinches with the knee and rounds the shoulders and the body says, ” I need to protect myself and keep my self safe”.  But a safe seat is a seat that is secure and relaxed and allows the leg and knees to let go and trusts your balance to protect you.

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Balanced Position – Excerpt from Book 4

Thanks again for your questions about balance, I hope this blog will be of help.  Learning to ride your horse in balance can be difficult.  Being able to sit erect on the horse with the legs  down underneath the body is a difficult concept for the average rider.  Yet to sit in that position is not difficult for the human body.  Once on the horse, the instinct to tighten and restrict the hip joints set in and the rider is typically unaware that she is restricting the hip joints or pinching with the knees.  Forcing the leg down and back under the body often doesn’t work.  If the leg is slightly rolled under and lies on the horse properly, gravity will automatically drop the leg once the hip joint is relaxed.  So in order to get the leg straight down in a correct position, it is necessary to release the hip joint, allowing the leg to drop into a natural position under the body.  I was teaching Susan, a relatively new student this past week, and I asked her to move the knee down and back to a balanced, correct position.  She said, “I’m really trying hard to force it to go there and it won’t.”  I said, “You can’t force it to go there, you need to release the hip joint and allow the leg to come back under you.  Just relax the leg and hip muscle and allow it to go where it needs to be.”  Then she exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, that makes it easier.”  So, for all who struggle with position, next time you ride relax the hip joints and allow the legs to loosen and then slide to where they should be.  If you try to force the legs into a place without releasing the hip joints, you will tip forward and hollow the lower back and end up with back pain. 

When pinching with the knees is added to a constricted hip joint, it is not possible to find the correct position until the knees and the hips are both released.  Continuing to ride with these two faults will cause perching and hollowing of the lower back. 

Stirrups can also cause problems by pulling the leg forward. To find your position quickly, cross the stirrups over and find the correct position before having to manage a swinging floor (the stirrups).  Finding the correct position is often a challenge for the experienced rider, since the longer you ride incorrectly, the harder it is to make proper corrections.  Stick with it, it is worth all the effort and it will free your horse’s shoulders so he will be able to reach his potential, thanking you each and every day you ride with more and more enthusiasm for his work.  A true partnership will be made.

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The old masters had great knowledge of how to train a horse. There is no need to re-invent the wheel, but sadly somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the beauty and grace of dressage.  Over the years dressage has changed from classical to competitive. This book is a pathway to re-establishing classical dressage in the competition ring and also to create an easier task and happier horses for all disciplines.  It will help you create relaxed horses that love their work.  As you read the pages of this book the roots of this  technique are explained in detail.  It is a fresh approach that has resurrected some things from the past, re-established and collected ideas together, plus discoveries from my years of training, now available to riders as another voice.  A voice that will hopefully ring true, amongst others, as you discover the simple pleasure of speaking the language of the horse.  The same technique can be found in other writings as I have spoken of in my previous blogs.

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A winter ice storm brought our training to a halt at Isaac Royal Farm.  We brought all horses in for shelter and  sat by the fireplace with coffee, hot chocolate and other assorted goodies as we each read our book in progress.  We were nevertheless blessed with spectacular beauty created by nature out my kitchen window.  The ice frozen on tree branches  glistened in the sun light and made the trees look like they were made of glass.  We drank in the beauty knowing  it was fleeting and the same scene with it’s own special lighting would never be repeated.  Hoping it is our final winter gift.

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Thank you for questions on Position

My friend Beth Ann and I have been doing research trying to find other writers using the same theory of position, soft methods of riding with the body, and little use of the bit.  She has been especially successful.  As a result, I recommend reading “The Natural Rider” by Mary Wanless.  Everything she teaches about position and training corresponds completely with the Aspirant Technique and also Nuno Olivera’s writings mesh with the technique perfectly. We are not new!!  We do have some unique ways of explaining the same things and putting together an ABC outline for applying the information for training your horse and assisting the rider.  The works of these two writers make great companions to the Aspirant Training Books.  We honor and appreciate their writings.  I will elaborate in future blogs.


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Canter Work Series # 9

Common Problems in Transitions From Canter to Trot and Walk

The most common problem is the rider thinking she needs to lean back in the down transition.  This can cause the horse to hollow his back, fall on the forehand and make the rider take the reins.  To teach your horse to transition with only soft contact on the reins, you must pay careful attention to your balance.  Sit tall and straight, and bring your knee back and down when you ask for the transition because this will automatically engage your seat forward.  To help make a distinction in your weight try to think “lift, lift, drop”.  Think of the “lift” a couple of canter strides before the transition and then the “drop” will be the actual transition.

            Using treats with a young horse can quickly establish his willingness to engage his hind legs and come to a balanced transition.  We have found that teaching canter to walk or halt is easy for a young horse to do and greatly helps their upper level work in the future.   Try using your voice, halting and giving the horse a treat so that he anticipates the transition. This will also keep him slow and relaxed.  The canter transitions in Training and First level are all performed from the trot, but when you are training at home you should include transition from the walk to help the horse balance.  It is not difficult to teach the horse to transition to the trot after you have taught him to walk/halt.  Ask him to transition from your seat and the moment he starts to stop, release the hold of your seat and let him go forward in the trot.  Because the horse is thinking of stopping he will have engaged his hind legs.  A tap with your whip will remind him to stay through the back as you ask him to trot on.

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