Workin from behind / general questions - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 04-20-2012, 01:39 PM Thread Starter
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Workin from behind / general questions

I have a couple of questions to ask. I recently started riding again, after having a number of years off. Last I rode was hunter-jumper, and now I've started dressage.

Now, the first 'lesson' I had was a private evaluation so that the instructor could see which group to place me with. She put me on a very hot and spooky mare who was extremely sensitive to aids. It went very well! The mare was calm and relaxed and focused on her task the whole time, and the instructor was impressed and happy.

Cue the second lesson (this past week's lesson). She placed me in her advanced lesson group, on a horse that was more-or-less the opposite of the mare I previously rode; he was like a brick wall, requiring extremely strong leg aids, and very very lazy. To sum things up, I was a mess, and he 'walked all over me' so to speak; he loved cutting the corners and no matter how much inside leg pressure I put on him, it was as though he were laughing and saying "Oh, there's a person up on me? Really? Har har, you'll have to work harder than that wee girl!" My legs were sliding all over the place (I was perplexed! Never have my legs slid like that before! Oh it was embarrassing indeed) and my hands were heavy . A lesson indeed, if I had any doubts whether some of my muscle and balance were still in me, those doubts have been very much cleared up! haha

I made a point to stay after the lesson with the instructor and ask her for some tips. It being a group lesson in a quite big arena I found it very hard to hear her throughout the lesson. So I asked her for a few tips and things I should think about next week.

One thing, amongst many, that she mentioned was that I needed to ride him from his hind end into the bridle. I've seen this mentioned on here a number of times, but I'm a bit confused as to how exactly this is done; what are the aids that I should be using in order to do this? From what I've gathered, you maintain a consistent contact with the outside rein, use the outside leg to steer and steady, and the inside leg for impulsion. What does the inside rein do? Oh my poor leg muscles are so not there anymore and it will take quite a while until they are back, certainly. But how does that work, with the legs? Do you keep a constant pressure with the outside leg and urge off and on with the inside? I keep imagining that there is a belt or rubberband between his hind end and the bit, with me sitting atop it. So for the length of last week's lesson that band was loose and messy, my legs were all over the place (I'm still perplexed) and he was on the forehand. But the goal is to get it taught, with both of us balanced nicely, and he engaged from behind. What should my seat be doing during all of this? So many things to think of!

Another: This is something I have always been confused about; what do you do for your leg aid? Is it kicking, is it pressure at the calf? Is it squeezing? I seem to do a combination of all of these and am wondering if I'm doing something wrong; when I want him to be more forward I 'kick' when his hind leg is reaching under (this has been tricky, again, as I try to re-build muscle and balance, it's a bit sloppy at the moment ), when we're turning or bending or leg yielding it's more like a sort of..give-and-take squeeze with the lower leg, depending on how the horse responds. Am I doing this wrong? Seems it's back to basics for me!

Oh oh, one more question; does anybody have any exercise recommendations that can help build up leg muscle? I jog 3 or 4 times a week, but those are obviously not the same muscles used in riding. What are some exercises that one can do, without equipment, that can help build up those riding muscles? I have decent enough core muscle and balance, it's just those leg muscles that have become elusive!

Thanks so much for any help and advice!
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post #2 of 10 Old 04-20-2012, 02:10 PM
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I would not think so detailed yet. The horse is not forward moving enough for you to even shape him much. So, the first thing is to get him moving forward more. If you can't do that in a put together manner, i.e. with your seat nice and aligned and the correct connection on the rein, then abandon those things and just get the darn horse to wake up and Go!

I would spend some energy getting him to move off the leg better. My guess is that he knows this stuff but has become dull out of laziness and a kind of self preservation that any good school horse learns.

get a whip and when you ask him with you lower leg (and I think of it as "plumping pillows" . you kind of thump him with your ankle/calf. one light thump, one good whole lower leg THUMP, then take the whip and crack him one right backbehind your heel. Or, on his bum, which sometimes works better for some horses that are really stuck.

'He will probably charge forward, so be ready and dont' yank back on the reins. If he canters forward, let him and ease back down to your desired gait slowly.
then, ask again for a foward up tranisition, with the same 'flutter of the ankle, then plump of the lower leg. (I say flutter because once the horse is more respectful of your leg, ou dont' need to plump him much , you just kind of flutter your ankel against his side.) He should be more responsive, if not, whip on.
Dont wait a long time between asking time number two and putting the whip on. and make it a 'whip, whip, whip" really fast and with very clear intent. It's a "listen up!", not a "you bad horse!" believe it or not, your intent is clear. One is insisting on obedieance and getting it. the other is just punishing.

The difference is when you whip with intent for obedience you are focussed on what comes after the application of the whip. When you whip for punishment, it's the whip contact itself that you focus on and you forget that you have now created energy to shape. Stay focussed on the energy that you will create if you need to put the whip on.
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post #3 of 10 Old 04-20-2012, 02:32 PM
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I am responding to your question about the exercise. I found that doing Wii Fitness Plus really helped me as well as Pilates. Mainly the Wii for me. It has yoga and strengthening exercises as well as cardio. It really helped with my hips, thighs and calf strength.
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post #4 of 10 Old 04-20-2012, 03:37 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Tinyliny! I was more curious about the mechanisms of engaging-the-hind-end than worried about actually doing it in the lessons just yet, as I do realize there are other things to worry about first. I did carry a whip with me last time, about half way through my instructor gave it to me and said that carrying it should be enough and if needed to use it sparingly as the gelding has a tendency to overreact with even light touches from the whip. It did help the few times I used it, and once he did do a bit of a dance when I touched him behind the leg, but I was more focused on my legs than anything, which is probably one of the reasons that it went so horribly. Next week I'll be more conscious about when / where / how to use it, certainly.

Funny that he's like a brick wall to my legs, but so much as tickle him with the whip and he starts doing a jig!

I really do hope that I get to work with him again next week. The one thing I always struggled with while taking lessons at this barn (it's where I first started riding, 12-odd-years-ago) is that the horses are ridden by so many many riders, in many classes, throughout the week, that it seems as soon as you begin to make progress with one horse it all comes undone by the following week after they've been ridden by all the other riders in the other classes. As well as that, they tend to switch horses on you every couple of weeks, at least from what I remember, perhaps it's different now. It's the only barn in our metropolitan area, the instructors are fantastic, the horses are very well taken care of and loved by both employees and students alike, but with so many lessons and students it just seems crazy.

Anyway! Thanks much for the advice; I'll do my best to remember it next week.

DressageDreamer: I was thinking that pilates or yoga might be good. I don't have wii fit but mam has some sort of zumba for the wii, I wonder if that would be any good considering unlike running, where you're just moving forward, you have to move all over the place and use all of the leg muscles.
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post #5 of 10 Old 04-20-2012, 07:05 PM
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That is always the case with lesson horses. Nice to hear that they are well taken care of . They should be, as a good lesson horse is worth a lot!
you'll be a better rider for riding many different horses, but you will one day decide that putting all the energy into a hrose that is just goiing to lose it the next day isn't worth the energy. YOu'll either buy or lease your own.

I know that if I get too focussed on my legs and start squeezing and "digging" at the horse's sides, trying to hard to get him to do this or that, he gets harder and more sucked back. That's why I say to "flutter" your ankle. some hroses reallly hate to be squeezed but can be energized with a light fluttering just behind the girth. Be sure not to squeeze up. if you start to lose your stirrup, you know you are squeezing up.

As for getting the hrose to step more under itself, be sure you are not inhibiting it in front. You may have contact, but it must be a following contact or at least softly giving WHEN the horse gives to you. Then, applying your inside leg just as that leg is leaving the ground to step forward will have the best chance of creating some softness to the inside and some step under, which is what creates the kind of drive from the rear.

I think more experience dressage people can tell you better. I am pretty low level, in all honesty.
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post #6 of 10 Old 04-20-2012, 07:30 PM
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There are a lot of horses, mine included, who will happily plod along with 0 impulsion. Until you put them together, that is.
It requires a certain feel in the seat and has a lot to do with the half halt. If I lean forward, I lose all the impulsion I just had. Sit back and drive and in between aids, take your legs off. Put on a small aid, then a stronger one if you need to and then if he still hasn't responded, sit up and kick him about 4 times in a second, HARD and give the reins. Then reward and go back to what you were doing with no legs on, and drive with the seat. Yes your core will hurt, a lot if you're doing it right.

Good luck!
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post #7 of 10 Old 04-21-2012, 12:08 AM
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Originally Posted by schapiro View Post
DressageDreamer: I was thinking that pilates or yoga might be good. I don't have wii fit but mam has some sort of zumba for the wii, I wonder if that would be any good considering unlike running, where you're just moving forward, you have to move all over the place and use all of the leg muscles.
Doing leg lunges really helped me as well as doing the warrior pose. It helps stretch out your hips. You shouldn't need a Wii really to do the yoga exercises. It just helps you know if you are balanced or not, but not necessary. Core strength is very important as well for posting and keeping yourself balanced. Any exercise that works the muscles is helpful. There are also some exercise DVDs made specifically for dressage riders, but I have not tried those.
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post #8 of 10 Old 04-21-2012, 12:34 AM
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But the Wii makes it fun!!
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post #9 of 10 Old 04-21-2012, 12:43 AM
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I agree with Anebel, I have riden Dressage for many years, in competition, and different riders & styles do have different methods.

I like to have my horse go foward on as light an aid as possible, and he must stay in whatever gait/speed I ask until I tell him different.

sit back (most ppl sit too far forward & think they are straight) and drive with your seat. Every response or surge of energy needs to be rewarded, a release of the leg can be enough, or slight release in contact.

I like to think of contact as a conversation with the horse, it should be light and giving. So at the upper level, a slight sqeeze on the rein may be all the horse needs. At a lower level, the contact has to be more exagerated, which does not mean hard and unforgiving. I hate to see a horse's lip pulled half-way up to thier ears! it also does not mean the horse is sniffing the ground on flopping reins.

Finding the right balance can be a challenge!

As far as the exercises go, I found that a toe strengthening that I used to do in ballet as a child helps. Put a think book, like a telephone book, flat on the floor. Balance with only the toes & ball of your foot on the edge, place you heels on the floor. Now, lift up on your toes, then down to the floor. You can mimic the riders position as you do these, and it can help, especially with posting and heels down.

i do not grip constantly with my thighs, I am more just softly balanced on the seat of the saddle. But, it you want to ride that way and need to strengthen your thighs, a good way is to place a red rubber ball between your thighs, sqeeze & soften without dropping the ball.

Situps for the stomach. For your back, lay on stomach and place hands behind your back. slowly lift up from the floor using only your back muscles. Keep your back straight & go up as high as you can, slowly.

the above plus your running should keep everything working!

Good luck!
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post #10 of 10 Old 04-22-2012, 01:32 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone! Lots of solid advice here. I pulled out the auld yoga book the other night and was reminded of how good it feels to do all of that stretching and balancing. Making it a nightly practice again now

So in summary, between what I've gathered here and advice from my instructor, these are my goals for Monday's class:

  • First and foremost: Relax. And remember to take deep breaths. I have a bizarre tendency to become tense when riding in group lessons. It's not a nervous tension, by any means, more of a "there are lots of things to pay attention to and do and think about and I need to keep up with the group and what did my instructor say? I can't hear her...and oh, low and behold, I've suddenly become rigid and forgotten to stay relaxed" sort of tension, if that makes any sense. The tension is forced to go away when we have to sit the trot, because it's impossible to successfully sit the trot while tense...but for everything else, if I'm not conscious about it, I'm a like a rigid oak plank up there.
  • Get Freckles to be more forward; do not kick upward, try more fluttering / tapping sort of kicks, careful reinforcement/correction with the whip when needed, paying close attention to how he responds. Following hands. Aid > response > reward. Don't grip, don't be tense.
  • Keep him going into the corners, and not falling to the inside. Instructor's advice was a very very strong inside leg, using the outside leg to prevent him from swinging out his hindquarters, outside rein maintains a steady contact, inside rein pulled back towards my pocket, but not heavy (? was a bit confused about that part, she was in the midst of another lesson though and I didn't want to pester her anymore at that point as I felt bad for distracting her)
We'll see how it goes.

Funny thing was that even though I had a nightmare of a time keeping him from cutting corners, we didn't do too bad with leg yields and shoulder-ins..(but we did fall apart again when the instructor started asking for half-passes.)

Aye. Looking forward to Monday!
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