1. Here’s a great exercise called “breathing the legs” that you can use to freshen your horse’s walk. Try this exercise at home first. You might be surprised by the reaction you get. So you don’t want to do it for the first time at a horse show.
-Take your legs off your horse’s sides.
– Move them back an inch or two.
– Place them back on his sides lightly.
You can use it in either free walk or medium walk. You should feel a surge of power from behind.
2. If your horse’s walk tends to be lateral, try one of these two things:
-Slow the tempo down. Just be sure your horse stays reactive to light driving aids in the slower walk. He shouldn’t get lazy or fall behind your leg.
-Step slightly sideways. That will break up the legs on the same side so he can step more deliberately with each leg. With a young horse, do a bit of leg yielding. If your horse has more education, do shoulder-fore or shoulder-in.
3. Use your arms correctly in the canter. In the canter, your horse telescopes his neck forward and back in the same way he does in the walk. You need to follow with your arms in the canter. If you don’t open and close your elbows, your horse can’t use his neck for balance. So, he struggles, gives up, and falls into the trot. He’s not being disobedient. You’re just putting him in a position where it’s difficult for him to continue to canter.
Imagine that when you pick up the reins, your arms don’t belong to you anymore. They’re an extension of the rein, and they belong to your horse.
Here’s an exercise to help give you the feeling of an elastic contact in the canter. You can even practice this exercise in the halt first to get some muscle memory.
-Get up into a two-point position.
-Pretend you’re a jockey galloping down a track with your hands pushing the neck forward every stride.
-While doing that, notice how your elbows open and close with every stride.
-Then sit back down, and keep your elbows opening and closing in the same way.
4. If your horse gets nervous in the walk, here’s a tip that might help him.
Think about how relaxed you sit when you’re finished with your work. So, if you’re walking, and you feel like your horse is going to get tense or jig, sit in the same relaxed way. Say to yourself, “We’re done. We’re finished. Work is over.”
Inhale. Exhale. And dissolve into your horse’s back. If you sit with less positive tension or tone in your body, your horse can feel you relax and will mirror that.
5. Make sure your horse reacts to light leg aids. Your goal is to “whisper” with your aids and have your horse “shout” his response—Not the other way around! To check that your horse reacts to light leg aids:
Close both legs and see if he immediately responds with a surge from behind as if he’s going to do a lengthening. If he doesn’t, correct him by tapping with the whip or bumping with your legs to send him forward. (The intensity of the correction depends on the sensitivity of your horse.) Then slow down, and RETEST. Ask for the lengthening again with an aid as light as a mosquito bite. (Remember, your horse can feel a fly on his side so he can feel very light aids IF you train him to react to them.)
The key here is to RETEST. Otherwise, you’re just teaching him to go forward to the “correction” not from the light aid.
6. Improve Your Seat in the Canter. Think about how your seat moves when you’re cantering. Notice how your hip angles open and close. Start with your upper body on the vertical, and then open your hip angles and let your upper body rock a bit BEHIND the vertical. Then come back up to the vertical with shoulder over hip over heel.
Visualize arrows extending down from your seat bones. Whichever way those arrows are pointed, is the direction you’re sending the hind legs.
If you lean forward and close your hip angles, you push the hind legs out the back door.
If your upper body is on the vertical and you rock behind the vertical, you open your hip angles. As a result, the imaginary arrows extended down from your seat bones point forward. You’re saying to the hind legs, “Come along, come along, go with, go with.”
Who else but Jane Savoie wears so many hats in the horse industry? Her visibility as a dressage competitor, coach, instructor, speaker, and author makes her truly unique. Her accomplishments and the breadth of her influence are impressive. Jane’s newest home study course, Step-by-Step Dressage. has hit the shelves! This course takes all the principles of The Happy Horse Course and shows you how to apply them in real-life training situations. For more info on how to train a happy horse, go to: www.janesavoie.com/happyhorse