Stiffness in a Small Arena?
I've been working with this one mare for a couple of months now and we've come a long way. She's still fairly young and a little bit green, but she's got potential. The main issue right now is that she's pretty stiff. She has no problem in a large ring, but she's a big horse (16hh, part draft) and the way she maneuvers herself in a small ring is often awkward and stiff. She tries to cut her corners, collapses on the inside bend and drifts inward. She often throws her head to the inside as well, even along the long wall, and when I try to straighten her head she resists.
In attempt to fix this, I usually move my inside leg back slightly and apply pressure (she responds better to that than just pressure), pulse the outside rein to balance her, and use the inside rein to create bend. I twist my shoulders towards where I want to go and keep my hips aligned with hers. Still, while it works in a big arena, in the small one she's drifting all over the place and I can't seem to get her into her corners while keeping the appropriate suppleness and bend. Is there anything I'm doing wrong/should change, and what are some good exercises to keep this from happening?
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
I used to school two young 18hh Clydesdales, who at 4/5 yo were like this, and my 17hh TB was like this when I got him too. I didn't find it stiffness though, but a lack of balance in a large horse going round small corners. I corrected it by lots of lunging, so the horse learns to balance itself on the small circles without rider weight interfering, lots of hacking out, to build up fitness to carry the rider in straight lines, and by starting off schooling in a larger arena, and when riding in the small arena I did lots of walk work to start. I introduced lots of transitions from halt to walk and walk to halt, and then short bursts of trotting on the straight sides with lots of walk-trot-walk transitions, and then the start of lateral work in walk - lots of things that will help with balance at a slower pace.
For all three that I've had this initial problem, I have done this, and it has let them strengthen up and learn to balance, so that they were actually able to balance and handle the corners in the small ring. Bigger babies will find small schools more tricky to start, so give them time!
If she's stiff in the small ring she's stiff in the big ring too, it's just showing itself in a different way.
You don't want to be holding a horse straight, you want to do exercises that teach them to carry their bodies straight on their own. And lunging will not teach a horse balance, again, it's exercises that will. The best way to get a horse straight and balanced is to work with it "not straight" if that makes sense. Don't go in a straight line, make lots of turns: circles, serpentines, etc. Make sure you aren't just going around on the rail. Shoulder/haunches in and leg yield are some good starter exercises to get straighter and balanced.
Agree with Minstrel. Take maybe the month of April and JUST lunge. I would add, too, that working over small cavaletti or secured (bricks or rocks or the plastic pole holders) ground poles, set one stride apart--measure your horses stride, first, would give her the musculature to handle the balance she currently lacks bc she will be forced to stretch and stride under picking up her feet over an 8-10 inch obstacle.
Before your try riding again in a small arena, try riding trot and canter spirals. You ride in a circle and keep making it smaller and smaller without breaking gait, then you make the circle larger and larger. It isn't as stressful as small, continuous circles while mounted.
Lunging exercises teach your horse the beginnings of dexterity and suppleness, which of course improve balance. Even just trotting round in a circle will, over a period of time, improve the horse's balance on a circle. Yes, you will of course then have to work on balance under saddle. But you have given the horse a head start by letting it balance itself first without the added pressure of a rider. Just my opinion.
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