How do you structure a training session?
When you warm your horse up do you have any sort of plan or do you wander around aimlessly until you think “right, that will do, let’s crack on”.
There are many products now which claim to assist in the warming up process i.e. magnetic therapy, ceramic therapy, massage rugs etc… and I believe the non-invasive therapy (magnetic and ceramic) can only be beneficial, but they do not prepare your horse to have a saddle strapped on and the weight of a rider on their back. These therapy rugs/pads etc… do not replace a good warm up but can be used before and after exercise for overall wellbeing.
Some horses I will warm up from the ground with some in-hand work or light lunging, this is a great way to get your horse listening and engaging with you and can be particularly effective with young, weak or flighty horses.
If I am warming up mounted, I would gently hop on board and always give them a stroke or a pat and a few quiet positive words, this is where your trust and bond begins. You need to give them the confidence to follow your guidance.
The first 2-3 minutes I allow a “half length rein” this is somewhere between a collected contact and a long loose rein. If the rein is too loose you have no engagement at all and the horse is free to hollow his back, if the rein is too tight you are asking too much contact and collection before the horse is properly warmed up, so let’s call it the “half length”. Here we are still engaging the horse into a contact and conversation about where we are going and at what tempo, but we are not asking too much strenuous activity of the muscles and joints. I will do a few laps of the school, including a couple of large circles and smooth rein changes.
I will then ask for rising trot on the “half rein” contact, using my inside leg by the girth for forward movement and outside leg back a little behind the girth to control the quarters and stop the forward movement escaping through the outside. My main aim now is to maintain a light contact on the half rein with good rythem and tempo, this does not need to be fast, just a nice active forward trot.
The situation with each horse will depend on when I canter. Some find canter easier than trot and others won’t canter at all in a session. For arguments sake let’s say I am on a young horse who has a weak trot, I would do a minute or so of trot and ask for a canter on their easiest rein first. I would usually take a two-point seat (slightly out the saddle) fairly quickly to lessen the weight/impact on the horses back and give them the freedom to lift and use their back. The two-point seat I adopt will differ a little depending on the horse, a flightly young horse who may be tempted to spook I would stay a little closer to the saddle.
After about 5 minutes of trot and canter (again this all differs from horse to horse) I would bring the horse back to a walk and allow them a long rein for a stretch, I work on half a circuit of the school for a stretch.
Now we are warmed up and ready to go about our training session. It is a great idea to have a number of exercises in your head that you can refer to in training sessions to give you focus and options. You may plan to target something in a session and for whatever reason your horse, or you are having particular trouble with that exercise on that day, so you need to have a plan to fall back on so you don’t lose focus and motivation.
I might stand at halt and do a couple of gentle flexions left and right before setting off. Give yourself a moment, take a few deep breaths, relax with your horse, and away we go.
I will start with a few transitions, walk and trot, see if my horse is listening to me and my session progresses from here. All the time I am going through in my mind:
• Is the horse forward thinking?
• Is the horse straight?
• Am I straight?
• Do we feel relaxed?
• Is the horse listening to my aids? If not, am I giving the correct aids effectively?
• Is the horse flexing the direction I am asking? Is it true flexion? Can I see a glimmer of their inside eye and the skin of the nostril?
• Does the horse’s hind quarters feel engaged and like it is starting to step underneath me?
• Am I softening as my horse is softening and responding to my aids?
• Is the horses jaw soft and relaxed? A light chewing is sign the horse is relaxed and content.
And this is only to name a few of the things that go through my head when I am riding. If you don’t have a school you can use all these pointers when out hacking.
Each horse’s training session will take a different course and it is up to you and your trainer to create a plan that works for you and your horse. With all horses, no matter how young or inexperienced you want rhythm, suppleness, contact and straightness where possible. As the horse gains experience and strength you can start to ask for more impulsion and collection.
The key is to adapt a plan to each individual and work at the horse and riders rate of development, if you rush these basic points you will end up having to take a number of steps backwards to go forwards again. Often horses are being schooled to a level beyond their physical development and being rushed, this doesn’t do them any good in the long run.
Take your time, get it right and you will reap the rewards.
West Barn Equine