If you have read my most recent post on our trip to Coilog, you would have definitely noticed how much I waffled on about the work I know need to start with getting Dante to begin working/using himself properly so that he can begin to work in a proper outline. In my terminology, getting his poxy head down from being stuck up in the air!!!
Dante is quite a large horse so he has a lot of body to control, so with this process (getting him to use himself properly) I don’t expect him to be the perfect horse over night. I am planning on spending the next 2-3 months focusing on getting him bending, subtle in my hands & basically working from my leg up into my hands. He is such a sensitive horse, that too much hand or too much of a strong hold on his mouth & he begins to think I am starting a fight, which if you have followed us over the past few months is a no go zone!
Below I have outline a few of the basic exercises I will be doing over the next few weeks, some suggested from Dante’s Physio, and some from my trainer so hopefully with consistent work on these exercises, mixing them up daily/weekly so that he doesn’t get bored of them either, huge progress will be seen! No horse likes to be able to predict his workout, I have already began to figure out a few no go areas for him, or should I say areas that will need more work on, building it up as we progress.
Not much will change from our basic riding schedule. His warm up & down will remain the same. I have started to put him on the walker prior to riding to get that ‘spice’ out of him for 15/20 minutes before I ride. It has been extremely helpful I wont lie. Make the most of the amenities at your yard, it now means I don’t have to spend a good 10 minutes trying to get him to listen to me which is a major plus. I have started to ride with a schooling whip as a back up to my leg, dear god Dante really knows how to give your legs a proper workout!! An extra aid was really needed to get Dante moving forward especially whilst asking him to work into an outline, He can be quite hesitant towards it at the beginning but once he reaches that point he really relaxes into it.
Dante is not like any other horse I have ridden before. He is so sensitive at the mouth & to be honest until you ride Dante, you wont understand what I really mean! I ride him in a snaffle bit, and although some people may suggest using a stronger bit on him for more control, I disagree. I have tried & I have failed. Instead for control I use my seat & leg, which he responds to a lot better than me fiddling away at his mouth. I will admit interfering with his mouth is a terrible bad habit of mine, its something that I am still working on, it can be quite difficult & nerve wrecking at times to only rely on your legs and your seat to slow him down, it’s as if I am riding with no reins but the difference can be seen straight away in Dante, so it is definitely worth it. I don’t get any silly arguments, no grabbing the bit & running away with it in protest or best of all I get no rearing. Don’t get me wrong there is still a good contact there, but as soon as he does something I have asked, even the slightest drop of the head he straight away gets that release, I give him the contact completely & gather it up again 2 minutes later. This is something that works well for us, but again it might not be the same for every horse! Dante is such a big animal, I know it will take a lot more time for him to grasp the concept & for him to build up enough muscle for him to actually carry himself properly. I am definitely not going to rush it either, slow & steady always wins in my opinion, its the small victories that count!
Introducing Dante to ‘working himself’, to dropping his head down low & moving forward was quite challenging. Trying to get the same reaction in trot from walk was extremely difficult. In most of my weekly workouts with Dante, I always try to get a 10 minute walking session in half way through our workout. Trying to get him listening to my leg in trot & then listening to my aids for getting him to engage and work into that outline was extremely tough at times, so doing things in walk & bringing them up into the trot has really helped. In walk I try to use my legs to get him moving forward, & once he is I use the slightest inside rein to ask him to drop which he does very well with the support of the outside rein also. Once I get him working in that outline in walk, I drop the rein contact, keeping him walking forward. Surprisingly he remains in the outline and as I scratch him on the neck & verbally tell him ‘good boy’ he is quite consistent with staying in that outline for a good 4/5 minutes which is what I am looking for. What I hope to get from this, I hope to aim towards riding him forward with that light contact but for him to realize that this is the way he should be holding himself, the fact that he doesn’t need much hand contact to properly work himself is a major plus in my eyes! It will need to be consistant work from my end to get him to realize what it is I want him to do! Once he is rewarded & the work is repetitive, he tends to pick things up fairly easily. Keeping him focused & keeping him from getting bored is the only big problem!
What better exercise to do to keep your horse focused & to keep him thinking is a good serpentine! I personally love doing them not only because by the end you can feel the difference, your horse is turned on & listening to you but it is so beneficial also. If you read my post about working on ‘Dante’s bad rein’, this exercise came in very handy with helping him flex & bend, not only does it get your horse bending around the leg, but I feel like I have a lot more control over his pace with this certain exercise. Yes your horse can rush it, but they can only rush so much before they realise it is a lot more work! Getting your horse bending & working around your leg will not only help them with that outline in the long run, but it will help them work on engaging the hind end too. I use this exercise quite a lot, & recently I have started incorporating trot poles & single poles into it (see attached diagrams) with Diagram A helping more with straightness & Diagram B helping more with Bending around those corners.
Trot & Canter Poles
Trot poles are the holy Grail to keeping a young horses sane, they are key at keeping them focused, Well in my opinion anyways I don’t know where I would be without them! In more recent weeks I have used them to get Dante to start stretching down with his head & neck over them. He does get quite excited at times, but consistant work with this & he really starts to benefit. I use them as a center to a figure of 8, it keeps his focused on that point & also keeps myself focused on bending him correctly, keeping an even pace & an even rhythm is really what your looking for here. Again using a lot of leg to wrap him around & bending in the direction I want him to go, this all in turn helps him flex and stretch down. Once I get that consistant rhythm from him asking him to work in that outline becomes a lot easier, again he only tends to hold it for short intervals, but seeing the progress is better than getting nothing from him at all!
Canter Poles are going to take a good bit of progression, to begin with Dante used to rush them & get really excited thinking they were jumps, but the less I reacted & tensed up the less he done it. We did have an episode only last week, he spooked at a pole/jumped it/cat leaped over it, launching me up into the air but I managed to stay on with the help of my neck strap!! If anyone was watching us, they would of gotten some laugh, literally hanging off his neck trying to calm him down with my voice while he ran up the arena! I swear he gets himself stuck in a daze from time to time it’s like he forgets completely where he is and just takes off running! Once he realises I am still on him he stops, normally a scratch on the neck & a ‘wooo Dante’ does the trick. Anyways back to canter poles, I place 4 poles in a circle, using them like I would riding a circle in canter, but giving Dante something to focus on better, always aiming for the center of the pole of course but not always getting it! It really helps keep his canter balanced, and stops him from dropping the shoulder in, getting him to bend around my inside leg, using a slight outside rein for support, something he still really needs. On his right rein I tend to need a lot of outside leg to stop him from drifting, but with more practice the better he will become, hopefully!
Last but not least, transition work! Not only does it help engage his hind, it gets him listening to me, it gets him waiting on my instruction on what to do next. I find this exercise very helpful with walk to trot & and trot to halt transitions. There are times when Dante can act the maggot, or can be a little nappy towards other horses in the arena, using transitions to distract him is very very useful!! It also helps doing these transitions before we start jumping, I have noticed this only recently, getting him back on his hocks and springing around the place is exactly where I want him before we go jumping. Its like having a controlled energy, but I have all the power!
Doing Canter transitions is something we have only properly started to do, he is good at them, but he has began to anticipate them a lot more, in turn he gets himself worked up over anticipating them getting very over excited, which means we get sloppy & messy. I use a 20 meter circle to do these transitions, doing half a lap in canter and half a lap in trot, asking him transition up & down, keeping this to a maximum of 4 transitions at a time, I then move onto something completely different or I just trot large to keep him distracted & to stop him from anticipating that once he goes on that circle he has to canter! Sometimes its easier said than done.
To summarize the above is what I will be focusing on over the next few month, Dante is quite a weird horse, in the sense that if he feels like he is being bullied into doing anything he will fight back with you until he wins, so some of the exercises are kept simple so that his head isn’t fried or that he doesn’t feel too overwhelmed! Hopefully I will be adding in a few extra exercises & some grids to keep him interested & on his toes. I tend to keep his jumping to once a week at the minute, focusing more on canter poles trying to figuring out his stride, he has so many!!
If anyone has any exercises they would like to recommend, or any tips on anything mentioned above do drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank You for Reading, & I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas enjoy all the festivities over the next two weeks!