Thursday, October 20, 2011

An inverted western pleasure horse

That's what I've succeeded in training. The first time I sent Katie a video to evaluate (last fall) she told me that Coriander was pokey and inverted; I've been trying to work on that ever since. We've gotten a little better on the pokey front, he's a more forward than he used to be, but he's still inverted.

The better-educated-than-me riders reading already know why this is a problem, but, in case you are emerging out of the tunnel of ignorance like I am, here's why riding an inverted horse is bad in a nutshell: It damages their body. Since I plan to ride this horse well into his twenties, I need to teach him how to carry himself better so his body doesn't get hurt carrying me around with poor posture.

This is how he looks under saddle right now: His back and neck are hollow, his weight is on the forehand, and his hindquarters trail out behind. You can watch us at work here if you feel like assaulting your eyes.
 picture borrowed from
 This is what I want him to be able to do when ridden: Pick his back up and stretch his neck down with the hind legs engaged.
pictured borrowed from Sustainable Dressage
Problem is, I have nary a clue how to achieve this. I've taken huntseat lessons for most of my life with instructors who didn't/don't seem to care that their horses run around inverted and hollow, so no one has ever taught me how to do this. Fortunately I found Katie who I know can teach me, but she lives awfully far away,  essentially still leaving me on my own.

Yesterday I ran across this exercise at Sustainable Dressage, the shoulder-in volte. It's an in-hand exercise that's supposed to help horses learn to stretch over their backs. I introduced Coriander to this exercise last night, just the beginning part where you activate the inside hind to step up further, with dubious results. I made the mistake of trying to lump too many pieces together before he sufficiently understood what I wanted, now I'll need to spend a few days fixing that mistake. Anyway, I have high hopes that this exercise will help him to round instead of invert.

Has anyone tried this exercise? If so what were the results? Does anyone have other suggestions? My plans for him over the winter is to do in-hand work on stuff like this to help his posture, so having a few tools in the box would be helpful.


  1. In order to get my horse to stretch over his back, I bend him to the inside - then give. Bend & give. Drive him forward. Bend and give. It may take a while for a green horse to catch on, but eventually the goal is to get them to stretch down into the contact. Then, up comes the back. Don't be so hard on yourself - these are all normal issues. :)

  2. I've perfected being hard on myself into an art ;)

    Thanks for the tip, I'll give it a go.

  3. My daughter and I have just started my quarter horse filly again, and she's definitely inverted. We're still working on the basics of communication. I think lessons are definitely a PLUS in the carriage department. Instructors can see it from the ground so much better. I almost have to film it and then play it back later because I'm just not that advanced a rider. At least you understand the problem and where she should be--that's better than most people.

  4. You may need to get basic softening, both vertically and laterally, established first so he can do this exercise - it's a very good exercise but a braced horse (inversion is a form of bracing) won't be able to do it. Take a look at my "In Search of Softness" sidebar and see if any of that helps - and remember since he'll need to develop new muscles as he carries himself differently, that you'll have to take things very slowly so he's not over-taxed in the beginning.

    Dawn and I are doing this exercise under saddle now and it's very helpful, but she's already a ways down the softness road and is able to carry herself from her core and be soft in the bridle.

    Pie is fairly inverted and we're just starting his softening work and I expect it to take quite a while.

    Remember - Slow Horsemanship . . .

  5. Shannon - First let me say that I enjoyed your videos. Coriander looks relaxed and responsive. You look good together. :-)

    Gem used to pull his nose up in the air and out, inverting his posture. His nose in the air action was him being disrespectful. At a trot, my instructor told me to lightly pulsate the reins, first one then the other while still keeping my legs "on" to keep him moving. As soon as Gem would start to lower his head and relax a bit, I released and let him think about it for a sec. If I needed his head lower, I repeated the procedure until his head was in the correct position. This action helped him frame up better and I think adjusting his posture makes him more relaxed overall. I still have to work at it, but it's becoming more the the norm to have his head lower and neck slightly rounded and relaxed. Baby steps. :-)

  6. I think you and Coriander look very nice together. Don't be so tough on yourself. Training is hard and takes a very long time.

    Dusty used to go around inverted and almost at a running trot when we first started her training. She was very green and it took forever to get her to reach down and in turn round her frame. I started her training at a walk because the trot was runaway. I think the best softening exercise we did was to walk circles with a opening inside rein while releases the outside rein. When I say this took forever I'm not kidding I felt like I was on the Carousel that never stopped. At times we even spiraled in and out, but always at the walk until she knew what I wanted. There are some other things we did but this is what we started with. I'm no trainer and I'm sure each horse learns differently, this is just what worked for us in the beginning.

  7. hi! please excuse me for jumping in in the middle of things here and adding my 2 cents, but i'm someone who takes this very issue seriously in my training, so maybe i can offer some alternatives to try also?

    with regard to the shoulder-in volte, i have some doubts about its efficacy in this matter. an actual shoulder-in executed in an actual volte would qualify as an extremely advanced movement. i'm guessing since you're still dealing with inversion, you're not doing such high-level work? doing this exercise without the proper balance and positioning would be, imho, a trainwreck and a waste of effort.... your 'problem'--which, btw, is how every normal horse not forced down with reins or bits begins his training--is fixed much more easily than this would imply. and from what i can see in a quick glance at your videos, you have good hands and nice, light contact, so you're halfway there already.

    my experience is that dressage trainers/riders like to overcomplicate things to the point where they become intimidating or ridiculous. what i would recommend instead is a variation on what karen suggested:

    the necessary relaxation, positioning and stretch for what you are after is based in simple bending exercises executed with a simple, singlehanded direct (leading) rein and release. start at the halt, then the walk, etc.. i won't bore you with all the details because i don't want to take over the comments section even more! but if you think it's something you want to try, i could walk you through it or at least point you in the right direction.

  8. Shannon, I am a great believer of in-hand work and I totally agree with jme that the shoulder-in on a volte is an advanced movement. With Cassie, I was doing simple bending exercises and I was walking her in-hand on a volte asking for correct bend on both sides (right hand is very hard for Cassie as she is crooked to the left). I wouldn't start shoulder-in until the horse can give correct bend on a volte, and then I would do shoulder-in on a straight line coming out of the volte.

  9. This is what is so great about blogging- if you need help you can get it. Thanks so much everybody!

    Linda, I totally agree with you. I had no idea he was so inverted until I saw us on video. His head carriage is naturally low so it doesn't look so bad from the saddle.

    Kate, thank you, that was just the reminder I needed. I did go back and read your posts and then we worked on head lowering tonight. I need to remember that I'm a rusher and that I need to be more aware of when I'm trying to move too fast.

    Wolfie, thanks for the nice comment about the videos. I'm quite pleased at how little leg it takes for him to respond, I think that's one thing I've done well :)

    GHM- thank you for the reminder that training takes time and relating how long it took with Dusty. A lot of it for me is just wondering if I'm doing it right- especially these things I've never done before. So when things take time I immediately think it's because I'm doing it wrong.

    jme- Please, "bore" me with the details because I really do want to know. I'm not going to turn down help after I've asked for it :)

    twohorses- yes, I see what you two mean and agree that I'd probably be asking a bit too much of him with that move. We could definitely start with just bending on the volte, that might make it easier for me too. Not so much to think about!

  10. I feel silly giving training advice considering where my horse is in her training... BUT, Lilly was pretty inverted many moons ago and I did something similar to what jme is suggesting (I think).

    I basically started working on "long and low". Working in a circle at the walk, I would take her head and gently pull it to the inside of the circle whilst trying to keep the reins very loose. Then I'd push her with my inside leg and when she took a step to the side, she would naturally give in her neck and then her head would come down.

    It worked really well with Lilly and she learned fairly quickly how to get soft and raise her back. I actually still use this exercise today when she gets rushy or pushy with me.

    I hope this helps!

  11. Coriander looks like an honest boy and you are nicely balanced in the saddle. Horses have to be soft sideways before they can be soft over their backs. I like groundwork activities, like the one you linked to, and any undersaddle exercise which encourages the horse to step under and slightly sideways with the inside hind. This can be as simple as a circle and as complicated as lateral movements. My teacher often has the rider (me and everyone she teaches) rotate the upper body to the outside of the circle. Even with loose reins, this tends to give the horse room to move correctly. I have seen many lessons where she has the horse trotting with a long neck and a lifted back just be asking the rider to rotate out. Steering can get a little tricky, but the results are worth it and seen to happen without any fancy aiding. I am excited for your dressage lessons!

  12. Omg, I blogged about that exact same exercise (that I also found on Sustainanle Dressage!) a few years ago. I tried it, but at the time I did not know that Salem was having back/hind end iusses, so I achieved only limited results. Hopefully, after I get him all patched up, I'll be able to start over (and if I can find a good dressage trainer, all the better!).

  13. in2paints- Thanks! That sounds easy enough, I could definitely give that a go.

    Val- Thank you for the complement :) We'll keep it up with the groundwork and I'll try that twisting thing.

    Frizzle- Small world, eh? A good dressage trainer shouldn't be hard to find where you are, right?

  14. i'd love to try to help if i can :-) i'm swamped right now, but i'll try to write you back tonight. should i post here or on my blog? (i tend to be long winded, so i don't want to leave an overly long comment.)

  15. Whatever you feel is best, I know how to find your blog :) Or you could email me, radal16 AT

  16. Good comments!

    I'm still slowly working on this with my own greenie but I want it to be his idea when I ask rather than forcing the issue. Lots of leg and asking with the reins with a release which almost always gives me a reaction in the direction I'm looking for - which of course is followed by praise. He's figuring it out and once he settles down and is warmed up it comes much more easily. But we still have a ways to go. I'm not impatient. LOL!

    I'm at the stage where I need to get tougher and start asking for roundness earlier in our rides. He's smart, he knows...

    I can get it fairly easily when we do spiral circles in and out.

  17. oops! it thought i left you a comment, but i guess it didn't go through... i got carried away, so i posted my long-winded explanation on my blog, if you are interested.

  18. Aw, you don't look so bad at all! Cor is happy and relaxed. I'm not comfortable doling out training advice, but forward forward forward solves soooo much. It doesn't happen overnight, but once he's creating energy from his hind end, you can capture it with your reins and recycle it. He's got a decent head set already (ie you don't have to worry about him running around with his head in the air!). Don't be afraid to ask him to use himself a little more. And honestly, you guys make a beautiful pair. You are NOT affecting his future soundness or anything else by working the way you are:)

  19. I just rode a horse today working on exactly what you're talking about. You're welcome to ask me questions if you still have some. I know it's been a while.

    1. Thanks Jo, I'll watch the video as soon as I can :)