Bending for Straightness

It is important to prioritize your ride. The most important part of prioritizing what you are going to work on is not what you choose to work on but rather what dictates you to choose those things to work on. What should dictate what you “choose” to work on should come from the horse you are working with. What do they feel like, what do they need physically and mentally, what do they need from you as the rider (voice, leg cues, seat, hands, etc.)? It takes time, practice, and a willingness to learn to develop the skill it takes to feel and see what your horse needs.

Too often, we ask our horses to be straight from a young age. It is common for the rider to ask the horse to be straight before being equally balanced left and right. Horses are asked to be straight before they find balance and understanding. Straightness is not the goal of training but rather the result of it. A horse that is correctly trained with a technique that allows him to mentally understand and relax as well as perform the exercises to make them more balanced and athletic will ultimately be a horse that can be straight.

Straightness should be a test to test the training itself. When you let the horse be straight, he should stay between all of the rider’s passive aids. Passive aids mean that the rider is not doing anything to assist the horse, but the rider is ready to help the horse if needed. You should not hold your horse in a straight position; this would be false straightness. If a horse is forced to be straight before they are truly balanced, they will become rigid in their body to compensate for the lack of balance and become reliant on the aids of the legs and hands. When a horse becomes reliant on the aids, you have to use them all of the time, and then your horse slowly becomes duller and duller to the aids, and so begins the vicious cycle of tug-a-war.

Straightness is the kiss of death for a horse if it is prioritized above balance and suppleness. Straightness fixes nearly nothing! That’s because straightness is a result, not an exercise. When people are sore, we stretch, we bend, we move our body in all different directions to work out the stiffness so that we feel better and can be comfortable in a straighter position again. Imagine a soccer game where the players were always straight. (Straight up because we are vertical, unlike our horizontal partner, the horse.) It would be a very awkward-looking game that is not very exciting. If soccer players were forced to play this way, they would not be able to show their unique talents and abilities based on how they are built, their preferences to train, and how they perceive the game themselves. As for horses, we have become accustomed to seeing a cookie-cutter look for all the horses. Horses that are all in the same position as each other and for every movement. It is not possible for all horses to maintain balance, suppleness, and mental relaxation in the same posture. Not all horses have the same conformation. Not all horses have the same strengths and weaknesses. Not all horses have the same preferences.
Don’t try to make your horse look like the next horse or look the same way as another horse you admire and aspire your horse to be someday. Your horse is just as much an individual as you are. Your horse’s balance and position need to adjust to each and every movement. This allows the horse to stay supple during the movement because balance and lightness exist! Whenever you see a soccer player change directions while dribbling the ball down the field, you will see their position change to adjust their balance for that next step, whether one step or twenty.

Humans are naturally controlling. The horse’s natural response to control is resistance. With time, you can learn how to be in control without being controlling. Tell your horse what movement you want, and then let them show you how they can do it. Let your horse be themselves and guide you with what they need to be mentally comfortable, strong, flexible, supple, and balanced. All of these things together will ultimately result in straightness.


Applying the Riders Seat

A rider that uses their seat correctly is a rider that is seeking refinement and finesse. When a horse responds to the seat, self-carriage will be able to exist for longer periods of time.

Most of what we do with our horses classically, they do in nature. Training is not teaching the horse how to do what we want. It is about teaching them to understand the aids so that they know when to do what we ask on cue. A horse is very sensitive by nature. They can feel a fly land on their side with a heavy winter coat. Your horse can feel every move you make with your body but, if the movement does not have any meaning, they will not respond or will respond incorrectly. It will take time for your horse to understand the subtleties of your seat. The first step is to start using your seat with intention so that it has meaning to what you want. To continue reading the article, click here.

A Classical Makeover ~ Racehorse to Classical Dressage

Classical riding is not a technique for training but rather principles to guide your training. These are some of the principles that guide classical trainers.
-Help the horse to feel good in his work.
-Help the horse understand, so force is not needed.
-Show the horse how to enjoy his work.
-Help the horse to stay healthy.
-Have compassion and patience for your horse.

Any riding horse can become a Classical Dressage horse; all there needs to be is patience and a clear understanding of classical riding. So long as there was no physical damage done in the previous discipline preventing the horse from its natural movement. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your horse has physical limitations.

This article features Truck! He is a 16.3 hand Thoroughbred off the track racehorse. His previous owner said Truck was a hard keeper, and he was about 75 pounds underweight. (Still in racehorse body condition) She had him for six months and wanted to do dressage with him, but afterward changed her mind and decided to do a different discipline.

To keep reading, click here.

A Classical Makeover ~ Western Pleasure to Classical Dressage

Classical riding is not a technique for training but rather principles to guide your training. It is these principles that guide classical trainers:
• To help the horse to feel good in his work
• To help the horse understand, so force is not needed
• Allow the horse to enjoy his work
• To help the horse stay healthy
• To have compassion and patience for your horse

Any riding horse can become a classical dressage horse; all there needs to be is patience and a clear understanding of classical riding — as long as there was no physical damage done in the previous discipline preventing the horse from its natural movement. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your horse has physical limitations.

This article features Louie, a quarter horse gelding that was started in Western Pleasure. To go from Western Pleasure to Dressage is about as big of a change that you can ask a horse to achieve. I will briefly go through the process that Louie went through to get him to his current training level.

To keep reading, click here.

Accountability and Perspective

Does this sound familiar? My horse did this, and he didn’t do that, and I had a terrible ride today. Insert your scenario into “this” and “that” to complete the picture.
So why did your ride really go south? I believe the majority of the time, that “bad ride” is really our fault. I know that is hard to swallow, but I believe that to be the truth so hear me out.
I used to be that girl that would complain about my horse. How he did this, and he didn’t do that, but you know what, I blamed him for all of the things I could have done better and all of the things that I did not adequately prepare him to do. It takes a long time to build a real relationship with our horses and to understand their needs. Ask yourself, “What does he need from me so that he can do his job, and we can dance together?” This answer will vary from horse to horse, but you get my drift.
Our horses rely on us to teach them the ways of being a trusty mount. They have to learn how to do all of the things that we ask of them. Have we fully prepared them mentally and physically to do what we ask? Did your horse have previous owners? If so, what baggage did he bring into the relationship? What baggage have you brought into the relationship from your previous experiences? It takes years to train a horse, and even longer for our training. We must work on ourselves so that we may help our horses.
Please, for the love of God, stop blaming your horse, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and change your perspective. Rather than complaining about the “bad ride,” try to figure out why you think it was bad in the first place. Did you let your bad day at work ruin your ride at the barn? Was your ride bad simply because it did not go the exact way you had pictured it or was it something else? Ask yourself what your horse needs from you and what he is trying to teach you. Try to see it all as a learning experience rather than good and bad rides. Every time you interact with your horse, you are either training him or un-training him.
It is essential to have someone you can check in with who is farther along in their equestrian journey than you are, someone who can help you see what you and your horse need to work on to make things easier and better for both of you. I recommend finding a highly educated instructor to help you and your horse work through your issues (and I do mean YOUR issues…LOL). All jokes aside, I know that sometimes our horses can be little turds, and I also know that sometimes they need to see a vet. Spending time with your horse and getting to know him will help you to know the difference. If you are either unable to get to or unable to afford a trainer, Cody’s mentor, Dominique Barbier, has some great books to read as well as DVD’s to help you on your journey. Dressage for the New Age is a great start.
CH Equine is here to help you and your horse. We offer clinics in and out of state, horse training, seminars, and weekly lessons. We would love to help you and your horse build trust and understanding so that you may have a wonderful partnership.
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Outside the Sandbox

Most of us enjoy riding outside the arena. But, for many horses, this can be a scary thing. Many riders simply choose not to take their horse out of the arena for fear of their own safety and or their horse’s safety.
Here is a tip to help you know when your horse is ready to leave the arena.
Consistency is very important. When you leave the arena or even go to a new place (arena or not), the first several times out, you will most likely lose 30-50% of your horse’s consistency/training/focus. So, if your horse is only 60% consistent with his exercises in the arena and you lose 50% of their consistency, you are now sitting on a horse that is 30% trained. A horse that is only 30% trained is not a safe horse in a controlled environment, let alone out in an open space with the wind in their mane.
If you have a horse that is 80% consistent, you will lose around 30% rather than 50% leaving you with a horse that is 56% consistent which is much better than 30%. As your horse gains more exposure and experience, the percent they lose will be less.
Calm and Lazy horses can fool you into thinking that their temperament will keep you/them safe. This is only true if nothing ever spooks them or makes them excited. Which will eventually happen at some point with every horse. It is that moment you will be wishing you had more consistency and training with your horse, but at that moment it is too late for you.
I am not saying you have to have a highly trained horse before you can ride outside of the arena, but your horse needs to have a high level of consistency within the level he is at. Be patient with your timing of when to start riding out and start with short rides in areas where your horse will be more comfortable and with as few distractions as possible.
Stay safe, and have fun with your horse.