Is This a Good Exercise or Not?
So I only jump 1-3 times a week, within those three days, 1-2 are spent on gymnastics and one is dedicated to heavy schooling from 2'6" - 2'9" courses. The rest of the week is dedicated to flat work and conditioning (I've been taking her through runs cross country, going up and down hills to build up her muscles)
When I do work in the arena, I start out riding on the buckle or on fairly loose reins to let her stretch out. I also do a lot of circle work, as well.
Yesterday, I worked for a half an hour straight circling at the trot. I started out at a 20 meter circle then with every lap I'd make the circle smaller until it was a tight spin. The main thing I was doing was keeping my inside leg on her to keep her bent and I had the reins fairly loose, keeping contact only on the inside rein. I know the outside rein helps for balance, but as i was doing this, her head started reaching down and low. I did this at the walk and trot for a long time. Her canter has always been somewhat choppy, but after this exercise, her canter felt different, it felt more floaty and fluid. It felt really good.
I've been trying to encourage her to move out long and low, but her headset is naturally pretty high so its taken me a while to even get her head level with her withers, but she's starting to engage her hind end and search for the bit.
My question is, is what I'm doing good? Are there other methods of getting a horse to move out long and low?
I also want to get draw reins, what are your opinions on them? I know how to use them so I don't need a run through, just an opinion on them.
Whatever works for the individual horse works for me. With my OTTB mare, she only reaches for the bit if I ride her completely on the buckle and work her off my seat. My OTTB gelding gives me a good frame when I push him to work harder and extend greater in the trot. With my Percheron, I have to work her butt off from back to front to get her lifting her back so that head comes down.
Re the draw reins, I'm really not a fan. I like for a horse to reach from behind and try to search for the contact rather than feel pressure from the chest and learn to put his head down from it.
Long and low work is very benefitial for all horses. But you have to be doing your job correctly to make sure your horse is using herself correctly.
I do a lot of long and low work, where I engage the back end, allow him to open up, move under himself and lift that back up into my seat.
Regardless of horse, you always ride back to front.
With the small circles, I would limit yourself to doing those tight small turns - they are rough on your horses hocks. The small circles are find doing them periodically, but not on a regular basis.
I would start out with strait work, getting the engagement, lifting the back. Then I would move into lateral work, once you get relaxation and suppleness and then start making your contact shorter and the move to circle work. I would stick to 20 meter circles personally, but that's because my boy has arthritus in his right hock.
Don't get me wrong, bending, serpentines, figure 9's and circles are fabulous things to work on, I just wouldn't go too small too much.
I think you will get a lot of strong opinions on the use of draw reins/german martingales or anything of the sort. One of my trainers refuses to use anything like that and claims that anyone who does is not riding correctly. I see her point. My other trainer will use german martingales for training certain horses. I personaly would do everything possible to not use any kind of draw rein/martingale but understand that it could be helpful in some situations. I know its kind of a vague answer, I guess I'm not really sure what my opinion is of it without knowing your situation very well. =/
I agree with the other responses. REALLY tight circles are hard on the horses hocks. I have a tendency to work on about 20 meter circles on a regular basis, anything much smaller than that would be too tight on an everyday basis. Reaching for the ground is a VERY good thing. I do it with my horse on regular basis and he really pushes out his big trot while he reaches. I feel like he is going to kick himself in the chin most of the time, but it really helps him stretch his back and makes the remainder of our ride a lot more fluid. I definitely think it could help with your canter work. Stretching out those muscles in your horses back with help him/her to be more loose and fluid through all their transitions.
As for the draw reins, I am not a huge fan. My horse has a tendency to pin his nose on his chest and not actually reach for the bridle. He packs himself behind the bit instead. I feel like the draw reins can teach this reaction to the horse because it doesn't necessarily make sure they are bent correctly. If you know how to use them it could be benificial, but you can get the same results without them.
My problem is she has a pretty high head set already, and I've heard side reins when lunging also teaches them to carry themselves differently, but my issue with that is that they don't get release for keeping their head set, whereas draw reins do.
I second MIEventer's advice about working on the straight and get your horse lifting his back (which doesn't mean just staying on the rail, but using the 1/4 lines, etc) then move onto large circles.
If you decide to go the side-rein lunging route for a warmup routine I'd recommend starting with them being loose and work up to an increased contact. Also I prefer using the side reins that are half elastic (from bit to chest basically), not quite as harsh.
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