Now that Z has been home, watching her being ridden and riding her myself, my plan on her training has become clearer to me.
My purpose on sending her to RH has been accomplished – she knows about having a rider on her back and accepts it, she knows to go forward, she has some knowledge of moving off the leg, and some knowledge of bending to a rein aid. Right now she is light to requests on the rein and I want to keep that.
Where she needs her biggest work is in relaxing the body and “moving through.” Now is an excellent opportunity to establish this body memory – before she becomes trained to a “sport” or we get too concerned about collection.
In discussing this with Molly, she talked about Mark Russell’s work and how he relaxes from front to back, in order to ride back to front. Watching some of the exercises she was showing me, it came to me that this work is also similar to Peggy Cummings which helped me understand how I would be applying these principals in the future. The bending and stretching down, relaxing the poll, the axis, and the throatlatch will be ground work in her sidepull, reinforced with clicker training.
When I did a lot of ground work with Beautiful Boy, I used Hempflings Dancing principles as he was so good about mimicking the Handler. I had just started with Z when she left to the trainers, and while she is not as fluid as BB, this will be work that will help her lift her back and move more correctly. We’ll return to our mimicking on the neck rope and see if I can get her to start moving with a lifted back, relaxed neck etc…
Where I see this training differently then say, using the bridle, side reins, pushing into a frame etc… is that the horse is more free to learn it on their own without the mechanics of tools. This gives the horse Choice, and when a horse has Choice, they may learn it slower but they learn it better. Although to get around the time element, I reinforce with the clicker: the horse mimics me correctly on the neckrope, and I click and treat, reinforcing it in this manner tells the horse “yes, this is EXACTLY what I want!”
Klaus Hempfling works with a lot of Baroque horses which naturally have a compact body and being Stallions, have a inherent energy to draw upon. To get a mare or a gelding, not from this genetic background, to move like a dream is a bit harder… and of course it’s ME doing it, and not Hempfling, so I do what I can. 😛
The exercises by Dr. Hilary Clayton (Activate your Horses’ Core) that I did with Big Guy during his pelvis injury I will also start with Z, including the carrot stretches, the belly lift, pelvis flexion, and lumbar lifting with pelvis tilt. I’ll wait on the tail lift – she might kill me!
In riding, some of the things Molly wanted me to add was working towards Z stopping with a relaxed neck head (as opposed to a highly held head which inverts the back). Yesterday, we worked on this by asking her to bend to the inside, slowing her pace and doing it in a relaxed manner. For example she did a lot of slow walking while circling.
She said that after a horse is trained in this way, a slight touch on the inside rein will become a cue to a halt. This makes sense as my cue for a downward transition (canter to trot) is that both legs come back to the girth.
Another aspect of riding we are working on, that will be trained via lunging, is the responsiveness to a request. Meaning if I asked for trot, I want the trot, not more walking. This aspect doesn’t really concern me because with the Hempfling neck rope and mimicking work, this will become established. For example, I did a little experiment where I lifted my knee up – the cue I had trained her too before she left to the trainer, and Z took the trot on the lunge.
The next few months will be about strengthening her body, fostering a positive muscle memory of good form, and fine tuning her responses to the requests for walk, trot, leg yield, shoulder-in, and eventually a canter depart. We have lots of great work to be done and I can’t wait!