Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Unlocking The Hind End

The first thing I did after coming home from the BVX?
A solo trail ride with my Bean who had an entire week off.
As the riding season slowly draws to a close, I've started to put less pressure on myself and Annie, and have taken the opportunity to hit the trails a bit more as well as return to simple exercises like lunging and ground-work. That's not to say that we have been avoiding the ring, because I did manage to make my way to the arena last week for a quick school. Soon enough, the trails will no longer be safe to ride on (bears) - in fact, a few have already had sightings - so we are taking up as much trail time as we can in some respects. Another damper on our riding plans has been the farrier - it appears as though he kinda disappeared for a hunting trip and didn't tell any of us he would be gone... so I've been politely waiting but also have started making calls because damnit, I wanna actually ride my horse! With her toes a bit long, I have been trying to keep riding to a minimum.

The school itself kinda left much to be desired, but I was also working hard to apply some of the critiques offered in the online Dressage show as well as from previous lessons/ clinics we have taken this year. So, it made for a messy kind of school (which can also be most progressive sometimes, haha).

Letting her float along on her nose a bit more than usual instead of
having her retracted and tucked up in the throat-latch. I hesitate to
call this "stretching"... it's more like letting her poke her
nose out and push herself into the contact without feeling restricted.
One of the things I worked verrry hard on was being softer in the elbows - it is something I struggle with since I have t-rex arms, and I felt like I was tipping forward a lot in the ride, but I kinda just went with it. Second thing was working on a better and quieter hand position - when Annie retracts I kinda take up that excess rein and instead of encouraging her nose out, I end up just reeling in the rein and give her throatlatch nowhere to go except in and up. We spent a lot of time working on this, ensuring I was being more proactive and clear with my aids.

We had some Discussions about the canter as per Annie's reversion to her cross-firing MO, and while it did kinda piss me off, I slowly just let it roll off my back and kept asking and kept pushing her to do the thing. About 15 minutes of arguing later, she finally relented and cantered around like a civilized beast. We had some super canter and did several simple changes across the arena, as well as adding in a few canter loops (a light intro to counter canter) before calling it a day. I wanted to make sure she understood the situation and stopped before it felt like I was drilling her (plus, she started to realize what was going to happen when we headed across the diagonal and started to go into Auto Pilot. OK there mare, let's do something else haha).

Pictured: Annie in the midst of another change (in the back) and her haunches
pointing dang near parallel to X in the arena, haha. It's like almost riding two
different horses!
In reviewing the video I took, I can see how I am letting her hind end get away from me (again). It is largely one of the reasons she cross-fires and sometimes gets the wrong lead. Unfortunately, it is also very difficult to control, especially when she's being resistant so I started to work her on the ground to get the access I need to her hip without confusing her in the saddle first.

Post-Discussion: My my, mare, what a lovely canter!
(Note the very minimal tail swishing which is often her MO).
We set off lunging and had some good, positive results. I over-exaggerated the amount of hip I wanted her to throw outside the circle, and it certainly made her struggle since she is used to the exact opposite. I remember what Anthony told me about her canter - working to lengthen the hind end step and shorten the front end step. The "step in" of shoulder in he had me do was a huge help in straightening her out, as she travels with her haunches leading vs her haunches following her shoulder. I mimicked this from the ground by giving squeezes on the lunge rein to bring her shoulder in and pointed the whip at her haunches to tip her butt out. The straightness is VERY difficult for her, but I think with time it will come.

The following two photos speak volume:

Haunches pointed in. You can see I have raised the lunge line, ready
to ask her to tip her head and shoulder to the inside and swing her
haunches out.

Straighter - the haunches are following the shoulder, as they should.
We've lunged a few times with good results, and have also worked quite a bit on stretching down into contact. I have started to use the neck stretcher on her again, and have seen some really great results so far. She's willing to push into it and hold herself there, which is more than she ever attempted last year. We had a few not so positive interactions with the neck stretcher last year, so I ditched it, figuring she just didn't understand and it wasn't worth the struggle. I'm not a huge lunging person, so we have also done some work on the ground - predominantly turning on the haunches.

In the last two weeks we've also done a trail ride (wherein she was a friggen rockstar, esp when I shrieked at Ella, who attempted to cross the highway by herself), given the nephew some more pony rides, and have even done our very first bareback canter (in a halter no less!) during a fun little ride in the back pasture.

Getting a good stretch at the trot. What a good girl!!
Right now, we're taking it easy, continuing to push past old habits and still trying to find ways to have fun along the way - because when it's just work, work, work, it isn't fun for either party!

That being said, does anyone have any good exercises or tips for dealing with a very haunches-in prone horse? I love all the good info other bloggers have and don't mind the helpful advice!


  1. I just had a great discussion re: haunches in with my coach last night. Most of the babies want to travel haunches in and being straight is hard! Agree with shoulder in, square corners can also help keep them straight and stepping under. With Bridget, we used to almost counterflex her a little sometimes too to help her stay straight. I don't know how you tend to askafor/ride the canter, but on the sensitive ones she has us go straight to asking for canter off our inside leg and using outside rein to contain rather than having any potential for confusion with your outside leg being back and active and therefore in a possibly asking for haunches in position. She has us do lots of renvers and shoulder in and variations of those in walk and trot too, to help establish strength and control of their bodies. Sorry for the novel, I spent literal years on Bridget's canter as it isn't a naturally easy gait for her. Audrey finds it almost too easy and escapes from me just the way you describe Annie :)

    1. That's actually really helpful so thank you for taking the time to write it all!!

      Counterflexion is a great idea - something I actually haven't been doing a lot of! So I'll make sure to add that back into our regime. And makes so much sense about the outside leg. I found that on the lunge, with her having the stability of the neck stretcher on the outside and me reminding her to flex to the inside she kinda was able to get herself under control, haha.

    2. I use very little outside leg and train the horse to go to canter from the inside hip. It's kinda like a little lift. The other thing I figured out with Carmen is that I was letting her have too much freedom with the contact which let her fall out. I now keep steady contact (well I try lol) and tell her that she can do it that way.

    3. That makes a ton of sense. A lot of the times (I find, anyways) that I am very "loud" with my canter aid. And I can appreciate that you needed to use that contact to your advantage - I am always wondering if I have too much or too little, lol.

  2. So happy you've been having some great rides! I struggle with the T-Rex arms and my inclination is always to go 'back' with the hands. I've had a few walking-only rides (and eventually graduated to trot, then canter) where I really make myself think of 'hands out front' like i'm carrying a bucket of water and I don't want to spill on myself. On the flip side, it's a struggle riding like that and still trying to be consistent and teach a young horse about the connection so to 'break' the habit I have allowed myself to take my hands wide when I need to take up the contact, and push into it with both legs in a 'stretch' type feel.. now one would argue the horse has to understand how to stretch in order to understand the concept, which is true but that is where the walking rides came in. Improving the overall suppleness and the ability to 'ride the outside shoulder' has helped immensely. Sierra still feels like at any moment she might leave to the left (when going right) for various reasons but lots of loopy figures is really helping. She is the most wiggly, crooked horse I have ever ridden so I totally feel your pain! Lots of suppling exercises through loopy, large figures and counter bending as well as continually reminding myself to 'ride the outside shoulder' as opposed to pull on the inside rein to turn has really helped us! *Sigh*, riding is hard.. lol!

    1. T-rex riders unite, lol. Thanks for the advice!! I'll try and keep that in mind in my next ride.

  3. I hear you on the tiny arm department. I feel like my arms and torso are shorter than normal so when I think about soft elbows I always try to just think about the hinges moving and my arm being more able to move forward while keeping my torso up!

    1. Tiny arms are the worst, haha. One of the clinicians I rode with told me I'm lucky I didn't get a long-necked horse bc otherwise I'd have some SERIOUS issues hahaha.