Exercises for Focus, Engagement, and Other Basic Stuff

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Exercises for Focus, Engagement, and Other Basic Stuff

This is a discussion on Exercises for Focus, Engagement, and Other Basic Stuff within the Dressage forums, part of the English Riding category
  • How to get a horse to focus
  • dressage exercises to create engagement in horses

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    05-14-2011, 09:46 PM
Green Broke
Exercises for Focus, Engagement, and Other Basic Stuff

This isn't strictly "Dressage" capital D, but more "dressage" lower case D. I could have posted in jumping or general English riding, but you dressage riders seem like the go to equestrians for flat work.

I had a lesson today with my trainer, who comes sporadically into town. She had me do some exercises over poles to make my horse listen to me instead of looking at the pretty stuff on the other side of the fence, the pretty llamas, the pretty ponies, etc. She told me my horse doesn't focus on me well and doesn't use her body -- my horse drags herself along with her front end and doesn't use hind. My horse thinks the arena means super happy fun time where she can run around and rush though stuff.

Eventually, I want a jumper horse that I can go to hunter paces and little shows with. Before I do any jumping, I need a horse who can listen to me on the flat. So... Where do I start my "dressage" training?

Upon re-reading, I've found this post isn't very particular... But I'm just having a hard time phrasing my question... If unclear, just say so and I'll try to explain.
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    05-14-2011, 09:50 PM
Lots of change - if your horse's mind seems to wander, it's time to change! Change direction, change gait, change anything but keep it up. Anticipate when she is starting to get bored, and change before she has a chance to. Poles, cones, other stuff to go around and across, these will all help. Use the whole arena, and use your imagination :)
    05-15-2011, 11:36 AM
Green Broke
I've tried that before, but she just seems to get more strung out. Focused, but the transitions aren't of very good quality.
    05-15-2011, 01:36 PM
I found that sometimes simple things like serpentines help keep their attention. Also, you can ask for a really forward walk (just as an example) for a few strides and then bring it back to a very slow walk for a few strides. You can do it in the trot and canter too.
    05-15-2011, 02:04 PM
What about schooling her in a different enviroment. Like, if you school everyday, do one day in the chool, next day in a feild or hacking. You can keep her intrested if you are constantly changing enviroments.

I would even say half and hour - forty minutes (or less) in the school and then an active hack would keep her intrested. Try setting out poles in different formations, or playing games once a week. If all you do is school, she may begin to bore easily.

Keep her intrested! Change is the key.

Try riding with another horse once or twice a week if possible, and maybe do games (such as classic gymkhana games) and maybe even beginner dressage tests.

So school hard twice or three times a week, hack once or twice and play games and CHANGE ENVIROMENT!

Riding with another horse can really keep their attention (but I don't know, maybe it will distract her more). But this may not be possible.
    05-15-2011, 11:00 PM
The more consistent, accurate and focused you become while riding, the more these qualities will show in the horse. Yes, by nature horses wander around and investigate things, this nature is very useful when directed properly in training. Yes, it is important to vary the work, however this does not solve the inattentive issue, maybe a sourness issue.
You have trained the horse that it is ok to wander around aimlessly and focus no attention on you. To undo this it is very important for you to take time before your ride every day and plan what you are going to do.10 minutes or less is all it takes to write down your ride. From there you can modify it in the saddle to suit your horse that day, but it is very important that you take the time to mentally prepare yourself before every ride.
During the ride make sure you are mentally and physically riding everything perfectly the first time, no fiddling and saying "I'll do it better next time". There is no next time. Perfect practice makes perfect.
When you are riding consistently and with extreme focus then you begin to train the horse in a positive direction. From that state of mind you can teach the horse what you want. Break things she doesn't understand down into small pieces and make sure she does everything 100% before moving on. If the transition wasn't good, do it again and again until you are both in understanding of how to do it to the best of your abilities.
Good luck!
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    05-16-2011, 08:55 PM
Green Broke
Thank you all!

She is your classic trail horse. "Imma wander around in the general direction my nose is pointed." I've never practiced asking for her complete, undivided attention and maintaining it. (She's also a bit of a baby with the attention span of a tea spoon. :P)

As much as I love to plan things, I've never put too much advanced thought into arena riding. As suggested, I'll map out my rides and stick to the plan. Arena riding is also a foreign thing to me and I have a hard time focusing. I guess I'll have to put myself into "the zone" in advance before mounting up.
    05-16-2011, 09:29 PM
Green Broke
I apologize for the double post, but I have a few questions about pattern-y stuff...

Is it okay that my circles aren't really circular at the moment? I tried today to do some more little bending and pattern exercises my trainer suggested, but every time I do something geometric... It isn't geometric. When I circle, my horse stops bending sometimes and cut off part of the circle. I correct her with inside leg and end up messing up any hopes of having an actual circle shaped circle. Similar things happen to serpentines and figure eights. I can't even walk a straight line! I can get it to where these things are better (they get better each time we work at it), but not perfect -- or even good, really. I know that perfect practice makes perfect, but I can't build Rome in a day...

Are my horse and I just a particularly uncoordinated pair, or does everyone go though this at first?
    05-17-2011, 12:16 AM
With your horse "falling in" during a circle, instead of asking for a 20m circle with a bend as for a 5-10m circle at the walk. Almost bending her a little more than neccessary and making sure that she doesn't fall in. Once she's got that, push her out into a slightly big circle so that you are slowly spiraling outwards. Then, after a full circle, spiral inwards. You can do the same thing in the trot and canter but it's easiest to start at the walk.

I think both of your are just learning to focus. I went through that with my last horse who I've been riding for the past 6 years. He was always falling to the inside and the getting all wonky. Mostly, it just took me to figure out when and how much to correct him, but we got the hang of it.

Just keep your head up, keep practicing and make small goals each ride. Think of something like "Today, we are going to have a nice 20m circle in the walk." and so on. Things will come in time as you and your horse are figuring out what you are asking.
    05-17-2011, 10:02 PM
Green Broke
I like that. I suppose if I can do something little every day, I can do something great each month, and in six months accomplish relatively amazing stuff.

Next ride, I'll try for a little walking circle. Not a walking egg, walking kite, or walking diamond with the top rounded off... I could study for my geometry final while riding my horse with all the weird shapes I come up with.

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