Cross Training for Hunters

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Cross Training for Hunters

This is a discussion on Cross Training for Hunters within the English Riding forums, part of the Riding Horses category

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    04-17-2010, 12:31 AM
Cross Training for Hunters

Hey everyone, I got some great replies to my critique in another section, and I just wanted to express an opinion I had about cross training. I feel like cross training is amazing and helps sooo much when trying to fix problems, but I feel like cross training should always be done with a horse's goal in mind. I don't want to be told I'm an idiot, I'd really like to hear people's opinions in constructive, not degrading ways. This is my opinion and I am not an inexperienced rider, but I love to hear what other horse people have to say because I still have so much to learn, like all horse people!

The reason Ocala is not a dressage horse has nothing to do with him being incompetent. I ride both dressage and hunters, and have even dabbled in western and I find that some horses are built to be strong in certain disciplines and not others. Regardless of their purpose, every horse should have a very strong program with an appropriate flatwork foundation. That does not necessarily mean schooling tempi's on a hunter, but it does mean encouraging each horse to prepare itself healthily for the job it is being asked to perform.

I don't do dressage on Ocala because being asked to bring himself into a tight frame feels unnatural for him and upsets him. Today's dressage culture does not embrace a horse's long and low natural frame at training level like it used to, and instead works to put all horses into a warmblood-like frame. I don't dispute that, but it just isn't right for my horse considering he really needs to work on his natural frame and being functional without relying so much on my hand. He does need to work on bending and transitions, which we are currently doing. I prefer to ride him with an old-school dressage training pyramid type mentality that embraces rhythm, relaxation, and balance first. Ocala is a fairly young horse and therefore really needs work on all of those things.

So I don't disregard dressage, I just feel like a more flexible program is required to school a natural and gifted hunter. How would you use dressage principles to accent your riding as hunters?
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    04-17-2010, 01:01 AM
For my own physical fitness and for my horses I want to increase our overall athletic ability. I want my horse to be adjustable. I want to be able to ride in a hunter frame, dresage frame, on the buckle etc. I want my horse to be able to be able to keep a natural, even forward pace, extent, collect, and everything in between. I love cross training. Cougar and I were mainly into doing jumpers but we did lots of dressage, would drabble in hunters, do cross country, gallop him out on the track, go out cattle penning, do lots of endurance riding, lazy trail days etc. We always switched it up to keep us both fresh.

I've done that with all my horses. I don't like to get stuck in one frame or one riding style. Function and adjustability above all else.
    04-17-2010, 01:17 AM
I agree that a horse ought to be adjustable, but I really am beginning to work for a higher level of showing than we had previously been doing. Of course, I need to work from the ground up because it has been a while. I like the idea of versatility, but when you have a goal of higher level competing, do you think you should focus on one goal?
    04-17-2010, 01:28 AM
Oh certainly. Focus on your one goal as you want your horse to excel in that area. But I still say if they get too stuck in one thing it will not help them, only hinder. You said a "tight frame" upsets your horse. Coming from my experience a dressage type frame isn't supposed to feel tight. I'd be going back and addressing that before I moved up. But that's me thinking about my gelding and if I was trying to move up a level. I'd go back and think why is that an issue and is it one that I can improve on?

This is just me spitting out ideas though. I don't know you or your horse, so it's a bit of a moot point on my part.
    04-17-2010, 12:01 PM
No, no I really enjoy hearing from your perspective! I see what you mean, I just feel like asking Ocala to move strictly upward in a frame like I would a more uphill warmblood just makes him upset because it really doesn't feel natural. I do school dressage principles, but I don't feel like the frame translates well. I give all the half-halts and leg that I feel is right, but he just doesn't like to be in that collection frame.

Do you think I should keep trying anyway? I have thought that I should just move on and not make him angry because he really doesn't get upset with much...
    04-17-2010, 12:43 PM
Green Broke
It sounds like yours trying to get him 'ok, all of a suddenly be collected'
But collection comes with relaxation and baby steps. :)
I promise you, if you do dressage ad much as you do hunters, you will be able to go higher an your horse will last longer. All the high level hunters/jumpers do dressage.
I jump with my dressage horse all the time, and just forget about dressage, I find its good for me and my horse. I have seen so many crazy horses that can't be riddden out of the arena, I am a full believer of the importants of doing different things with your horse. I am trying to teach my horse to rein right now for fun, haha :) just my two cents
    04-17-2010, 01:17 PM
Originally Posted by ocalagirl    
No, no I really enjoy hearing from your perspective! I see what you mean, I just feel like asking Ocala to move strictly upward in a frame like I would a more uphill warmblood just makes him upset because it really doesn't feel natural. I do school dressage principles, but I don't feel like the frame translates well. I give all the half-halts and leg that I feel is right, but he just doesn't like to be in that collection frame.

Do you think I should keep trying anyway? I have thought that I should just move on and not make him angry because he really doesn't get upset with much...
I'd keep at it personally. True collection shouldn't feel tight and restrictive. Lots of horses are not comfortable really carrying themselves and engaging their hind end. The head set will follow if everything else is proper. When I think of a tense frame I think of a horse that isn't as supple, soft and correct as it could be. Doesn't mean he needs to be riding around in that frame your entire ride but I find dressage can really help your jumping. It increases everything you want. Forward, uphill movement and a supple, light, responsive horse.

Not all horses are suited to climb up the levels of Dressage be it physically or mentally just not their thing. But they all benefit from the basic principles worked into their riding routine.
    04-17-2010, 09:52 PM
Green Broke
If you are most concerned about the horse's frame and the way they're carrying themselves I don't think you have a complete grasp of what dressage is all about. 90% of the horses I ride are hunters and believe me, I do dressage (or what I call "good flatwork") EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Instead of thinking dressage as a certain frame that does lateral movements, think of it as training your horse to be the most effective with this body and easy for you to ride through the dressage training scale: Rhythm (hunters are ALL ABOUT rhythm!), Relaxation (pretty darn important for a hunter, yes?), Connection (how to you truly communicate with your horse through jumps without proper connection?), Impulsion (can a horse jump without impulsion? Sure, but not well), straightness (oohhhhhh so important for hunters!), and lastly collection (think: self carriage, being light on his forehand and engaging his hind end). THAT'S dressage. Your hunter needs it.

I've ridden with quite a few successful grand prix trainers. I've cliniced with some big name riders. I've spent time with some of the top olympians in the world. And believe me, they all use dressage. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

IMO, you cannot but a truly effective hunter WITHOUT dressage.
    04-17-2010, 09:56 PM
Green Broke
I'm just curious....

What happens when your horse is too slow/fast coming to a jump?
What do you do if your horse falls in in the corners?
What do you do if your horse bulges out in the corners?
What do you do if you can't make the corner at all?
What do you do if your horse misses his changes? (or doesn't have one?)
What do you do if your horse is crooked?
What do you do if your horse jumps flat?
What do you do if your horse changes tempo?
How do help a horse move better in the under saddle?
What in the world would you do in a handy hunter class if they ask you for a trot fence, hand gallop fence, a halt, etc etc?

Every problem a hunter faces in every course. Every single ones of these questions is answered with.... DRESSAGE. :)
    04-17-2010, 11:01 PM
Thank you, Ocala and upnover, for bringing up an issue I've wanted to post on for months.

When I rode and trained hunters, my goals for a well-schooled hunter were two clear speeds at the walk, 3 clear speeds at the trot, and at least 3 clear speeds of the canter, 5 being better. I also did simple lateral work, including leg-yield and shoulder in, turns on the front end and a modified turn on the haunches. I expected the horse to hold a correct bend primarily off my inside leg. I didn't call this dressage, I called it flatwork. I did this work in what Litteaur called "connected" rather than "collected", worrying about the horse working back to front and using their backs and not at all about whether their heads were vertical, and I rode with a huntery passive following contact, rather than the more active, stronger dressage contact.

Making a distinction between dressage and flatwork may seem like nitpicking; but the distinction to me is clear - the goal of dressage is developing collection and the collected gaits, the goal of flatwork is simply a supple, responsive horse. There is no need for a hunter to ever be ridden in true collection.

It's an unfortunate fad right now for hunters to show in something like a training level frame. (Previously, any kind of frame was penalized. In the 80s, I wrote 'overflexed' and 'false frame' on a lot of cards, as did a lot of other judges.) The intent of encouraging a frame in the hunters was to encourage more educated riding; and to distinguish the truly well-schooled horses from the ones on autopilot. What it created instead was a lot of horses with their heads cranked onto the vertical.

So, Ocala, if you don't want to do "dressage," or ask your horse to work in a frame, that's absolutely fine. You can have a well-schooled, responsive horse and solve all the problems posed by upnover, above, by what I call flatwork instead.

Sadly, however, in a hunter flat class, a horse that does travel in a frame, false or otherwise, may pin above you depending on the judge.

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