Flexing The Poll, Pushing Into the Bit, Firm Contact... Questions!
Hello All, I would like to have some advice and any tips you may have with pushing the horse into the bit and flexing the poll..
A little background I have a nine year old OTTB a little arthritic but very much improved, he has little training in dressage, but my trainer and I during my lesson last night were trying to teach him to flex his poll and give into contact.
Of course at first he thought I was trying to halt him or back him up because I usually and embarassingly ride him on a loose rein (hey I used to ride western leave me alone lol) anyway, this is how she taught me...
I get him at a walk and I keep firm contact on the reins (no slack and a bit of pressure), elbows bent, sitting up straight and the first thing I do to ask for it after ive shortened my reins and put the pressure on, making sure my arms arent lying on his neck but a little higher (to not confuse with the backing up aid) is to then squeeze/bump him into the contact, if nothing then to start "massaging/turning the car key" the reins in my hands, not jerking and not pulling but more like trying to flex his neck left to right slightly... and this worked for the most part because he started chewing and would lower it... and then once he did that she said to not release the pressure but to keep squeezing/bumping him into the pressure once I felt the release... this would work for a little bit but then he would slowly start lifting his poll again after a few strides or when we are turning in a corner
I have to say though my boy was trying so hard to figure out what I was asking for and he did so, obediently, a little fussy at first but an A+ for effort after chewing and feeling the release a couple times *which is all I wanted for a first attempt at this*.. But I was wondering are these steps correct?
my trainer says because he has no muscle in his neck and bc we never did this kind of training before, its hard on him and may make him sore. Should I practice this only a couple minutes a day? every other day?
Please opinions, suggestions, whatever works for you! I am curious! and Love this because he moves so much smoother and is more engaged when I have him focusing and responding to me like this!
Given his age and arthritis I would concentrate on just having him happily walk and trot with light contact on his mouth - you can have a shorter rein without increasing pressure but you need to be able to create impulsion in him and you can't do that by using a 'hard contact' - it has to come from forward movement and energy
Aim at getting him moving forwards willingly and fluently, pushing himself forwards from behind so he's building up muscle in his quarters, before you start asking him to go into a more restraining hand (and even then the emphasis is on 'light' just ask for a few strides at a time until he becomes more flexible and supple in the neck
Developing a connection is difficult to get the feel for so don't be afraid to play around with different methods. The few things I would say to completely avoid is any see-sawing (left-right-left-right-left-right-left-right in quick succession) and any kinds of gadgets.
As far as for the horse and his muscling, he needs to build it. You need to ask him to be in a contact and supple as much as is possible for him. So not super demanding, but keep asking. It is like our muscle training. Stress the muscle every day in a non agressive or overworking way and it will build. Want to be able to go up more stairs at work? Day 1-5 do 1 flight. Then the weekend off, next week do 2 flights, etc.. etc.. it's the same with the horse. Stress to a moderate level every day to "stretch" his comfort zone - literally! He should learn to stretch to the contact. Every time you ride. If you only expect something "sometimes" it confuses the horse.
You need to begin to identify the moment the horse begins to come off the contact when you are riding him up to it and simply flex in one direction to correct him, instead of letting him come completely off the contact and then wagging his head down again. If he is having difficulties maintaining the contact through a corner, you are either turning too sharply, or do not have the horse flexed to the inside enough. He should be bent the same degree as the circle he is on. What will also help is leg yields and spiral in/out on a circle. And if he ever is backed off, pick a rein - usually your inside - to help him to maintain a contact and give the outside rein so he still has an escape route if he is feeling too boxed in.
if you are asking for poll flexion it is always best to have the horse's jaw slightly flexed to one side or the other . not only will you horse almost always be "positioned" to one side or the other in dressage, this lateral flexion helps to break up a horse's resistance to the bit when asking for poll flexion.
A horse that has been resistant to, or leaned upon, contact for a long time will have big muslces on each side of the upper neck, where he has a habit of bracing against the bit. by having the horse learn to tip it's jaw to one side, ever so slightly, while flexing at the poll, you make one the horse less likely to lean against the contact with both sides of his neck. And once you have a bit of a "break" in his resistance, you might even be able to talk him into softening on his own. Your horse may not have that habit, but in any case the approach is the same. That slight softness in the jaw to the inside will also help to encourage softness in the body, since if the jaw is braced, the hrose is braced throughout the body.
Also, flexions at a stand still are not really as helpful as flexing the horse while he is walking. If you can get him to flex at the poll, while walking forward, then while maintaingng the soft contact, ask him to carry that forward into a long and low, he will start feeling more comfortable with being connected to the bit. I mean, if you can allow him to both flex, then go long and low, then come back up and be on contact, then down, he will feel more comfortable, knowing that he will not be held in a tight frame. This is stretching/compressing in a longitudinal balance. and for a horse that might not trust your hands with a firmer contact, this might help him .
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