Monday, May 21, 2012

Your arms belong to the horse

Sorry I've been MIA for a while, it's been a rough few weeks for me here. Don't worry, the Quarters are fine- I just had to work through some stuff.

Two weeks ago the Quarters and I got a long, intense visit from classical dressage trainer extraordinaire, Katie. I asked her to come out and help me find a way to get Coriander to stop bracing so hard against the bit (among other things).

Who? Me?
The first thing we did was find him a new bit. Due to her amazing Jedi powers the very first bit Katie put in his mouth made him pretty happy. So this is his new bit, a Herm Sprenger aurigan something-or-other bradoon. I had no idea a thick, singled jointed snaffle would make him happy but he's the expert on his own mouth so there you go.

His new bit
We then worked on flexions, jaw (mouthing the bit) and lateral (getting the neck to bend side to side with the poll high and the head vertical). These are great and I've incorporated them into our pre-ride routine. BUT the biggest breakthrough for us happened after I was mounted.

Have you ever heard that when you ride your arms belong to the horse? In case you haven't heard this- it refers to the fact that in gaits where the horse needs to move their neck to balance, like the walk and canter, your arms need to follow that movement. I thought I had following hands but I really didn't, especially when we were turning or bending. As soon as I asked for either of those my arms stopped moving, and Coriander immediately braced against them.

Katie spent quite a bit of time bringing my attention to that and helping me fix it. At one point we were walking in a circle, I wiggled my fingers to ask him to flex- which he did- and then I very obviously followed his head with my hands. Coriander immediately relaxed and telescoped his neck.

Eureka!

So that is the secret! I've been really working on this for the past few weeks, because he's green his head is all over the place but I've been concentrating on following him wherever he goes, exaggerating my movements trying to keep a constant, smooth contact where the rein never slacks and then snaps him in the mouth. We're making progress, slowly but surely.

Following hands, folks. Following hands.

27 comments:

  1. A small but important part of the puzzle. Sounds like you both are figuring things out.

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    1. Yup, some retraining has been necessary. For me, not him ;)

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    2. We're (I'm) really focusing on following hands too these days. And I don't think it's a small part at all. You can't get forward if you're blocking with your hands. I mean real forward - willing cooperation.

      Jealous that you got in person lessons! ;)

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    3. Sorry, I guess it is a small part to me because it was ingrained from the beginning. One of my instructors had us ride using Ace bandage for reins, that really helps get the feel. Plus if you remember Sally Swift, she used to do ground lessons where one person holds the reins and another acts like the horse. It is amazing what we telegragh through our hands.

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  2. OHWA! HAHAHAHA! I clicked on your blog this morning...and then took off for my second cup-o-Joe..to come back to your Fantastically adorable new header with horse faces asking..."What mom!".
    Too cute Shannon!

    I haven't even read the post yet. have to come back to that as I'm ruminating upon the "bars" post and need to watch the video again. That's what I'm doing today!
    KK

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    1. That photo cracks me up. Notice the ears pointing toward the barn, they are literally standing there saying, "why are you standing there taking a picture, our food is waiting!"

      Feel free to email me if you have bar questions.

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  3. My thoughts exactly on starting them bareback! Nothing to get hung on. In fact that's exactly what my farrier said when I told her I wasn't using a saddle lol. There are some people that I'm dying to show that video to because they were all saying I was going to get myself killed and I should send him to a trainer . . . yeah right! Maybe later when he needs some dressage training that I don't have the know how for, but I can easily start him and teach him the basics because he's the most amazing horse on the planet (a little biased) lol!

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    1. Absolutely you can get him started, plus this way you can use clicker training and help him to really understand what riding is all about.

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  4. Great post! It's amazing how sometimes I simple extra set of eyes is all you need. It's hard to remember everything we need to be doing lol. It sounds like you're really getting it though and he's happy about that. I'll have to remember to read this post again when I start working on contact with Chrome (that will be a while since we have to learn to walk, whoa and turn right now lol). :D

    Oh and I LOVE the new header too. They are so adorable. They look like mirror images of each other. Good job catching that perfect moment. :)

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    1. Thank you, I got lucky with that picture :)

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  5. Another great post :) Love those AHA! moments

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  6. Oooh! Very interesting. You know, I bet I do that, too. Ok, can't wait to go ride and check it out! I love it when other people's aha moments become my aha moments too! lol

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    1. Isn't the internet great? That happens for me too :)

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  7. Following hands is like breathing, it sounds so easy but then when you have to concentrate on something you hold your breath and stop moving. I know I still do it. Sigh....

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    1. Exactly, as soon as I started concentrating on something else I'd lose it. Bodies are complicated.

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  8. You what is so cool about this? You discuss the feel of riding instead of the mechanics. Great post and welcome back!

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  9. Ha!! I love that header photo! It looks like they're saying, "do you mind?" Too funny! :)

    I really had to work on following hands when I first started working on show stuff with Lilly. Back when I was taking lessons, that's what my instructor yelled at me for the most. I still have to be conscious about it, but I try very hard to make sure I do it.

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    1. Sounds like you had a good instructor!

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  10. Following hands is really key in getting relaxation from the horse. Dusty is so easy to follow because her head has lots of movement. Blue is a little harder to follow because his head doesn't move all that much. Glad you got this piece of the puzzle to make everything fit together.

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    1. Coriander might be a mix of both of those, sometimes his heads is going all over and sometimes it just about stops- that's when I know he's feeling upset about something. I haven't got this piece fully shaped yet but I'm working on it :)

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  11. Shannon -- You have such good hands, kind and sensitive. I find with many riders who've made the transition from hunters to dressage, or made horses to green horses that it's hard to make your hands so LOUD after you've worked so hard to make them quiet.

    It's a revelation with a young or inexperienced horse to discover just how much they use their heads and necks as balancing rods and how much you have to move your hands to follow them. More than you think. And just like a chipped tooth, it feels so much larger than it is.

    I think that's part of the reason so many people have trouble doing it. It feels all wrong. So riders instead focus on "a frame," or what they call "contact" and horse and rider end up with another solution -- the horse bracing to hold its neck in place, an uncomfortable mouth that's strapped shut with a flash, and the rider's hands as the fifth leg holding the horse up.

    I love the new Quarters photo, too!

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    1. Thank you, and that's exactly how it feels- LOUD! And busy! But he's so much more comfortable with it so I know it's right.

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  12. Cool! This is something I am working with on my buckskin and the black. Neither of them are real adapt at reaching forward and relaxing into the bit. I'm so used to horses that just stretch forward that I had to remind myself how to teach these two to do that.

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  13. I LOVE the header picture! It makes me smile. You are so sensitive your your horse's needs and you always strive to make communication better both ways. Good post.

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  14. Love this statement Shannon!
    It is true, your elbows to hands belong to your horse.

    I think all the lessons and yelling from my sister and more lessons did something to my muscle memory...cause if the horse goes forward and down and stretches...so will I. It has become unconscious for me somewhere along the riding. That is what will happen to you too...your hands will feel as though they hold the very LIPS of your horse, making you sensitive to them.
    Loved this!!
    KK

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