Flatwork by far is one of the most important things to focus on with any horse young or old. It’s benefits are not only rewarding, but with a good Flatwork foundation you will in turn see massive improvements in your jumping.
Check out some of my go to exercises hat I have been focusing on the last few weeks, while there are adjusted to Dante & his ways, I am sure you will all find something to add to your Flatwork routines!
Bend Left, Bend Right
Having a big horse can have its hardships & challenges. Getting them to be supple even to do it whilst being relaxed is tough. Then try move on to bending them correctly, or flexing those neck muscles, this is where you come into difficulties especially if they are not used to it. But I have learned a way to help loosen Dante out, and this short yet effective exercise really helps me out before I start any jumping.
Exercise: After a good warm up, I let Dante have a 5 minute stretch on a long rein. When gathering up my reins to go back into work, I make sure both reins are even. Remaining in walk I bring Dante to the left circling him back to the right & I continue this pattern until he is accepting the contact and turning with a slight feel of the rein. Be sure to maintain a even contact on both reins, using your hips and body movements to back up your aids. It is all about backing everything with your legs also. In the long run I eventually will hopefully be able to do this with the pressure of my legs rather than using my reins as direction pointers.
Push On the Long, Hold on The Short
This is by far one of my most feared exercises. But one that has a fantastic effect on Dante. With him being so big and floppy he finds it hard to hold himself together. This exercise is brilliant to help him maintain his balance, & it really helps him grow his topline.
I will warn you, doing this with a horse for the first time be sure to remember to grip with your lower legs, this will help you keep your balance. To ride this, you are basically using the long sides of your arena to push & lenghten out your horses canter, using the short sides of the arena to shorten & really focus on collecting your canter.
Your legs will feel this exercise for sure as will your hips! Try using the motion of your hips to push your horse forward, you really want to be able to use this when you are jumping a round of fences, being able to push your horse for the longer stride is something we all want to do, as well as having to sit back and hold your horse for the shorter stride without your horse falling into canter.
One downside, your horse will take time to adjust to this exercise. They are clever animals, they will start to anticipate the exercise by remembering. So keep the exercise frequent enough that you can start to see the difference. I tend to keep this as an exercise I do in my jumping warm ups its helps get that extra bit of fizz out too!
Leg Yield – Lateral Work
Something I thought I would never have the patience for, let alone a horse that would actually cooperate with me to do it. I now finally understand the art of lateral work & the magic that it can create when you really begin to incorporate it into your weekly flatwork sessions.
We have started off simple with Dante. We have almost nearly mastered this in the walk, & only dabble in doing some lateral work in trot always trying to finish him when he does it correctly. I find this a great exercise to do toward the end of my flatwork sessions, as he is already loose & moving forward, I find it easier to get him soft & collected. Other times though, I use this exercise at the beginning of my sessions to get him to soften slightly, it depends on his moods!
How I Ride this: Starting in walk, from A in your arena i come in 1/2 meters from the outside track. The main thing is to keep riding Dante straight before I start asking him to do anything. Once I am happy I then begin to ask Dante to move over on to the outside track. Making sure Dante has his neck flexed away from the track, you should always be able to see your horses eye, I then open out my outside rein using my inside leg to push him over. Always make sure not to drop the contact on you inside rein as you need this to keep your contact. I have been using my schooling whip to reinforce my aids. When your horse reaches the outside track the most important thing to remember is to ride your horse straight! What i normally do is push Dante forward into trot remaining in that contact for a few strides once he is straight on the track.
20 Meter Circles – Push in, Push Out
Canter work can be boring, there are only so many times you can do those laps around the arena before you tend to get quite fed up. So instead of aimlessly cantering around your arena how about we add in some lateral work to your canter circles.
This is a great exercise to do, it also helps with getting your horse moving away from your leg. I do this exercise in trot to begin with then I move it up into canter.
Exercise: A good starting point to really open your eyes to this exercise is to place an object in the middle of your 20 meter circle, this can be a cone, a mounting block or your instructor! Start by riding your 20 meter circle, once you pass your starting point start using your outside leg to push your horse in toward the object you have placed in the middle, keeping on your circle, then begin to use you inside leg to start pushing your horse back out on your original circle. Remember to keep an even contact, try using your legs to do all the work with your reins as a back up. And the most important thing to remember, you should always be able to see the white of your horses eye as they bend & flex in around your leg.
Start Walking. Who would of thought it, how important can your horses walk be? Well trust me it is an important one. How else are you going to get good marks in your dressage test ehh!! It is a gait that is always forgotten, but I love focusing on Dante’s walk. This may be because this is the hardest one to get a steady rhythm in.
At the beginning of almost all of our riding sessions, Dante does this little skip & a hop out of slight protest against walking forward. He finds it hard to hold a contact a gather himself in an outline in walk, which worries me but also challenges me. I have learned that if I focus in our walking half way through our flatwork session or at the end I get a much better reaction.
While I focus on keeping Dante held together, I also do a lot of walk to halt transitions, using my legs & seat to push him forward. Focusing on your own position at this time is also vital. your seat in walk should be the same in all other gaits, so I take those 5-10 minutes to focus on keeping my shoulders back, my heels down and my leg positioned correctly just behind the girth. The say your muscles have great memory, & I feel like practicing in walk is one least liable to end in an accident!
Now that you have my 5 go to flatwork exercises, try piecing them together in one of your training sessions & you will have yourself a hardcore workout plan with some amazing results.
I pick days at the start of the week & the end to really focus on my flatwork, keeping things fun & exciting in between with field hacks & some jumping lessons. There is also no harm in ending any of your flatwork exercises with a small jump. If your horse loves jumping, it will certainly leave them on a good note doing something they love, who knows they may even start to think that if they perform their flatwork well they will be rewarded with that jump at the end of their session!
If you give any of the above a go, be sure to tag us in any videos, or if you have any go to flatwork exercises, be sure to write them in the comments below, I am becoming ever so fond of learning new flatwork techniques!
Until Next Time,