Welcome to Part 7 of the Unharnessed Potential project, an education and awareness campaign to promote the re-training and re-homing of Standardbreds when they retire from a racing career.
In the previous training article, Alistair explained some exercises to refine the canter response and the introduction to jumping and cross-country training, which all help prepare for Andy’s future all-round career.
This month, the focus is on lateral movements.
Now that Andy has consolidated all of his basic responses under-saddle, we can begin training the basic lateral movements, including turns on the forehand, leg yielding, shoulder-in and travers.
Lateral movements are great straightening and suppling tools as they improve the flexibility and coordination of your horse. Improving coordination is important for Standardbreds, and Andy in particular, because most of their prior training was working in bilateral paces.
Andy has long and slender musculature, which makes it easy to get him into the positions I want. However, he finds it difficult to maintain his gait as he is still learning to coordinate his legs. By training and practicing lateral movements, Andy will gain the coordination and strength required to maintain his gait within these body positions and movements, and it will positively impact his overall physical condition and way of going.
Training the lateral movements will also improve Andy’s canter work because, as a pacer, he still struggles to hold the position required for canter, whilst keeping his legs in a coordinated three beat rhythm.
The gymnastic advantage
The lateral movements additionally will stretch and supple different parts of the horse’s body, preventing soreness that may otherwise require equine massage. How our horses respond to the aids we give is always a good indication of what responses require further work, and this can be enhanced through training and exercising the lateral movements.
If the 10 basic responses are consolidated under-saddle and they are regularly checked (testing for self-carriage), then any resistance to your rein or leg aids could be a result of sore/stiff muscles. Take, for example, a horse that resists the right rein. Normally, we would say that the horse has a poor right turn response. However, it may be that the left side of his body is just sore and inflexible. In this case, riding shoulder-in both ways may be beneficial.
In another example, the horse may pull on the right side of the bit because he is stretching the right side of his body in order to protect the left side. In this case, we don’t need to necessarily think about softening him to the right rein but, instead, we could make him put more weight on the left side of the bit, which will make the right side eventually light.
Shoulder-in with bend away from the right rein is great for this, however this can also be accomplished by using a simple indirect turn from the right rein.
The benefit of the lateral movements over just simple indirect turns, however, is that it stretches more of the horse’s body as we are able to independently control and place the hindquarters and shoulders in different positions from what the horse is normally used to – just like gymnastics for people.
Training the basic lateral movements
Before training the lateral movements under-saddle, it is important that you can move the hindquarters and forequarters of the horse independently from each other in-hand (See the May issue of Horses and People Magazine).
Since we already have control over the shoulders using indirect turns under-saddle (See the June issue of Horses and People Magazine), it is now important to train yield of the hindquarters.
Yielding the hindquarters should be trained using a whip on the side of the rump of the horse. This area of the horse should always be an area associated with moving the hindquarters.
When tapping the hindquarters, it is important to release the pressure (stop tapping) for the correct response, which is stepping the hindlegs to the side (laterally).
If the horse tries to step forward, you can prevent this by using your stop/step-back rein aids.
Standardbreds can be quite whip-shy and, therefore, it is important not to tap hard. Soft taps will produce a more relaxed response (See page opposite).
The aim of this is to be able to classically condition (associate) the known tap cue with the desired under-saddle cue of putting our leg back. Once we can do turns on the forehand from our leg back cue and turns on the haunches from our direct and indirect reins under-saddle, we can begin training the lateral movements.
The lateral movements should always be taught in walk. This is the simplest way to train obedience to the aids, due to the fact that there will be less resistance as the horse is moving slower and will naturally find it easier to balance.
The lateral movements:
Leg yield is always the first lateral movement I train as the requirements for leg yield are simple. The horse must be able to turn on the forehand (yield the hindquarters) under-saddle and respond to an indirect turn (which place the shoulders in the correct position).
Because we spend a lot of time riding on the outside track of an arena, horses tend to fall back towards the outside track if ridden on the inside track. This creates a good place to begin training leg yield. Horses generally also yield better off the left leg, so we start on the inside track on the left rein.
To begin leg yielding, the first thing to do is to slide your leg back to the yield hindquarters position. At this point, your horse may trial a variety of responses.
If he does not move sideways and goes faster then you need to, immediately slow the horse and repeat the question, and maybe help with a small indirect turn from the left rein.
If the hindquarters lead too far or too quickly, you may correct this by using an indirect turn from the left rein; releasing once the shoulders have caught up.
If the shoulders lead too much, then you can slow them down using an indirect turn from the right rein followed by a little nudge of your left leg until the shoulders and hindquarters are even and then release.
When you can yield the horse’s body evenly from the inside track to the outside track with no major corrections, you can begin yielding from further out, and from the right rein and leg.
You will notice that your corrections are big initially. However, as you practice, the corrections will diminish until you no longer need to make any corrections and your horse can maintain the yield in walk with rhythm.
You now may aim to achieve this in trot.
Shoulder-in is the first lateral movement we train that involves bend. It is a three track exercise that is great for suppling and stretching, and for strengthening the horse’s hindquarters – as the bend of the horse pushes the inside leg further underneath the horse.
In the shoulder-in, the horse should bend around the rider’s leg, however, and contrary to popular belief, the bend is not necessarily created by the inside leg. It is actually the inside direct rein and the outside indirect rein that bring the shoulders in, creating the ‘bend around the inside leg’. The role of the inside leg is to tell the body of the horse – with a little nudge – to keep that position whilst moving along the track.
Without the inside leg, the shoulder-in would just be a simple turn off the track across the diagonal, for example. It is the initial hugging of the inside leg that eventually tells the horse that we want him to travel along the track with his shoulders-in.
The way I begin training shoulder-in is out of the corner of the arena. Imagine you are turning across the diagonal, but your inside leg comes on as soon as the inside front leg comes off the outside track.
Rhythm is more important than angle when training shoulder-in. Try to keep the natural rhythm of the walk. If rhythm is an issue, then the angle may be too steep.
Remember that the bend is created around your leg by the reins and, in particular, the inside direct rein. The outside indirect rein creates the angle of the shoulder. The inside leg stays in contact in the normal leg position and is still used as a ‘Go’ aid. The outside leg remains in its correct, neutral position.
One of the most common mistakes made when training shoulder-in is letting the horse come off the wall. In this case, you need to prevent the hindlegs from leaving the track by stopping the frontlegs from moving more forward and immediately applying more inside leg pressure.
The moment he begins moving along the wall, you should release the pressure and return to riding straight. To start the shoulder-in again, you can do a 10m circle and repeat the process out of the circle.
It is important not to ask for too many steps in the beginning. Gradually build up the amount of steps and then also the amount of angle. It’s helpful to have a mirror at the end of the long side of the arena to be able to see the angle as shoulder-in can sometimes feel different than it looks. It’s important at the end of the long side to ride straight before the turn, so that you maintain a clear turn response.
The travers movement is the first time in our horse’s training where we control both the shoulders and hindquarters independently from one another. Prior to this, the hindquarters would generally follow the shoulders of the horse. Now, we are asking the shoulders to remain on the wall through an indirect inside rein, whilst asking the hindquarters of the horse to walk along the inside track through an outside leg yield aid. This is confusing to the horse in the beginning as they generally think that the yield aid involves the whole body of the horse, but now we are preventing the shoulders going with the hindquarters. The horse should be flexed along the wall facing the direction of travel and the legs should be stepping on four tracks.
As I mentioned earlier, the outside track has a natural pulling effect on the horse’s body. This can sometimes make it difficult to get the horse’s hindquarters off the wall and, when you finally do, you might lose the rhythm (especially in trot).
A good way to prevent this is to walk towards the long side on a very slight angle. It doesn’t need to be an angle that will give you four tracks to start with, but just an angle to have from the beginning, so that the hindquarters never make it to the wall. This way we only have to focus on keeping the hindquarters where they are, instead of moving them off the track, and still having to keep the horse’s forward momentum. This exercise is particularly useful in trot, as horses tend to become quite short and choppy in Travers if the rhythm isn’t kept from the beginning.
When these lateral movements are consolidated, we will have a whole new set of tools to position Andy in the way he needs to continue his education into canter and also the further lateral movements, such as renvers, half-pass and pirouettes. These are ,after all, just further refinements and combinations of the above lateral movements we have just trained.
In the next part we focus on preparing Andy for his first outing as we prepare him to appear at Equitana, so we need to prepare Andy for new environments beyond the AEBC fences.
I will talk about ground work tips to encourage relaxation on arrival at the new venue and how to expose him to the new environment under-saddle. Naturally, any problems he has at home will show up at the competition, so we need to prepare for this and use many techniques to help.
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