Saturday, 16 August 2008

Needs Must!

Despite continued improvements in Echo's responsiveness, thanks to my last lesson with John, I have still been having huge issues with her taking the contact in the left rein. The right has always been her worse rein, but it was getting ridiculous last week. My problem was that every time I took any sort of contact in the left rein, she would turn her nose to the left. To compensate for this I would have to take a stronger contact in the right rein, meaning that I was having to pull her head to the right, which didn't feel good. When I put my right leg on to continue to ask for the bend, she would escape out through the left shoulder, because I didn't have a true contact in that rein. If I put my left leg on to catch her, she sped up, so we ended up zooming round in a wooden, unpleasant fashion. Not so good.

A couple of influences encouraged me to change tactics. I was reading a blog a couple of weeks ago (I can't remember for the life of me whose blog it was, but if I do, I'll be sure to credit them appropriately!) about working from the ground. The writer was talking about doing leg-yielding and shoulder-in on the ground, which I had never really thought of doing. I also watched a demonstration with Emile Faurie on Horse&Country TV (!!) where he was showing his work with a four year-old stallion he is training. He was saying that everything must be explained to the horse. So many problems come from a breakdown in communication between horse and rider: all it requires is that the horse understands. This got me thinking. I knew that Echo just didn't understand about the left contact, but I really had no idea how to tell it to her in a way that she would understand. Every suggestion people had given me hadn't worked - probably because I was explaining it wrong.

So - I came up with my own method, combining my two inspirations. I decided to lunge her for a couple of days and followed our usual method of lunging - free on both reins in walk, trot and canter, then with side reins on both, working on transitions. I then put her on the right rein and shortened her left side-rein a little more, so that they were uneven. It wasn't by lots, but enough for that left contact to take a hold when she was bending on the lunge circle. I was able to keep the right bend using the lunge rein, and I varied the size of the circle, all the time watching to see how she was reacting to the tighter left rein. When she accepted it, she actually moved much better and her canter transitions were much improved.

At the end of the session, rather than immediately taking the side reins off and letting her walk free for a few minutes as usual, I kept the side-reins on and walked her in-hand around the arena. Using my hand on her side where my inside leg would be, I asked her to move from the three-quarter line to the track in leg-yielding. As the left side-rein was still shorter, it kept that contact through the movement. We did this a few times, then I took the side-reins off and let her relax.

I know it probably isn't the most orthodox of techniques, but I thought it would probably explain it to her in a much clearer way than I can do when I am riding her. In fact, when I rode her yesterday, she was a lot better. I felt that for the first time in weeks...even probably months, I could have an even contact in both reins, with her maintaining the correct bend. Particularly in canter, where she usually falls out through the left shoulder quite dramatically, my left leg did not cause her to speed up - instead, she kept herself straight and cantered beautifully. It was so nice to not be fighting her on the right rein. I hope that she felt that too, and now is starting to understand about the contact. I would be interested to know what all of my wise blogging friends think about my method, as I know it isn't ideal, but she does seem a happier horse as a result

After she had gone so well, I popped her a couple of times over a little cross pole that was set up in the arena. I have got a friend to come down with me next weekend to help me with poles and jumps. I can't wait!!!


jme said...

i am curious as to why you are taking a left contact prior to establishing the right bend? or am i misunderstanding you?

the left contact here should be almost non-existent as the right leg and rein initiate the bend and the left hand follows that bend by moving forward, without resistance, until the bend needs to be stabilized or more collection is needed. otherwise, there should only remain a light, following contact on the outside rein.

if your horse is responding to your left contact by turning her head left, it is probably stronger than you need and may be confusing the horse about the intentions of your conflicting aids. you might dispense with the left contact altogether while you are establishing a right bend, bringing the left rein into effect only after she understands the right bend. as the right side hollows out in the bend, the left side fills out the left rein. the left contact is automatically 'taken' by the horse as the left side of the horse stretches around the bend and the head moves right - the left hand plays no role beside limiting and stabilizing the bend or collecting the frame, and should maintain a passive contact until such time.

i've made a career of training young horses to an advanced level, and i am a great believer in work from the ground, but i rarely use side reins in training anymore (unless attached to a cavesson) as they have a tendency to make green horses heavy or evasive. and making the outside rein shorter will only reinforce her tendency to turn her head left when you take a left contact rather than encouraging the right bend and giving a supporting left contact, so I am not sure that, in the long term, this is going to help her learn what you are trying to teach. i'd be happy to recommend some groundwork techniques that might be helpful...?

of course, she might just need work on her teeth, have an injury in her mouth, be unhappy with her bit or even be sore in her right hind, etc., all of which might explain her 'overreacting' to the left rein (and avoiding the right bend...)

Echo said...

I agree that as the right side hollows in the bend, the outside fills out into the left rein - but she doesn't - rather than accept a left contact and take the rein forward, stretching her left side, she avoids the left contact altogether - shortening the left side and falling out through the left shoulder to keep the arificial bend created by the right rein. She then evades my right leg by running away from it at high speeds.

She doesn't have mouth problems - her teeth were examined very recently and she had a wolf tooth removed. The right hind is definitely the root of our problems, but I am working hard on this - doing lots of leg-yielding, circles and trotting and cantering up hills to try to strngthen her weak right stifle.

I did think about what you said when I was riding her today and I made less of an issue of the left contact. I would welcome some groundwork techniques, thank you, although I am unlikely to be converted away from side-reins altogether!

Wiola said...

Hmm, interesting. I am personally not convinced about your method of shortening the side rein but I don't really know enough on this to totally negate it.
I've always been following the method of 'first equal contact on both reins and legs/body steering only, then the outside/inside contact'.
Then the bend comes from body first , then flexion in the neck. The acceptance of the outside rein comes from the bend around the inside leg. If the horse doesn't understand inside leg as a bending aid and speeds up - I walk it. Every time. Even if it takes 100 walk transitions. They usually get this quickly and I can soon use a simple version of half-halt with outside rein.
It might be that once her right hind leg has been strengthen enough your problem disappears.

I hope you will get it sorted and I am sure groundwork will help. Long reining on two lunge lines (used as reins with outside lunge line over or behind the horse's back) is what I often use. It gives you more influence than side reins, allows you to ride straight lines and give/take as on the reins when ridden.

P.S. I have a training with a BD judge on Thu so will chat to her about it and let you know what she says :)

jme said...

Her reaction to your right rein has me wondering: what kind of rein aid are you using on the right side? It is a direct rein? An indirect rein - and if so, is it in front of or behind the wither? All of these have very different effects on the horse’s balance, positioning and direction or movement, and changing the type of aid might be enough to make the purpose of the aid more clear… for example, if she is falling out over the left shoulder, you may inadvertently be using an indirect rein IN FRONT of the wither, which is an incredibly strong (sometimes unbalancing) aid and tends to pop the shoulder out, when a gentle rein BEHIND the wither will produce a more even bend through her whole body, not just at the base of her neck. Also, the rein in front of the wither makes stretching the outside rein almost impossible for the horse…

I would suggest working on one aid at a time until the appropriate responses are confirmed in the horse before combining all of the aids. The primary aid for the right bend should be your right leg – if she runs forward off your leg aid, then you need to go back to walk and work on establishing her lateral response to that aid independent of getting her to stretch the left rein. In fact, the first thing I generally teach, before bend is a simple leg yield in a free walk. At first I ask for only one step to keep the horse from getting tense. Once the horse is responding consistently, adding one step at a time, I’ll add a light inside indirect rein BEHIND the wither to indicate more bend, and work on that for a while. I don’t worry about drifting out too much yet. then, only when the horse is comfortable with all of that do I worry about adding any kind of substantial contact on the outside rein. And I don’t go to trot until we’ve got it right in walk…

As for longeing equipment, I prefer short sessions in a loosely fitted chambon in walk and SLOW trot only, to encourage the horse to stay light on the bit while stretching and correctly developing a full range of motion in the topline and hindquarters. This might help her stifle and teach her about contact on both sides of her mouth. I like the chambon because it offers positive feedback to the horse, and only comes into effect when the horse inverts and tries to come above the bit, and rewards the horse instantly for softening, stretching and engaging…

Perhaps the best method for teaching the horse about the outside contact is to work in long reins and a surcingle. This is the recommended set-up: run the INSIDE rein from your hand-through the bit-to the side ring of the surcingle. Run the outside rein directly from the bit-through the side ring of the surcingle-around the horse’s hindquarter (above the hocks)-to your hand. The inside rein configuration encourages the correct bend, and the simple act of maintaining the outside line above the hocks is enough to give the support to the outside of the body in the absence of an outside leg as well as a sense of the outside contact without having to actively work the rein. Work only in walk the first time or two until you get the right effect, and try to keep the circle as close to 20m as possible to keep the bend moderate. If you find this helps, I could suggest a next stage… good luck :-) let me know if something I said doesn’t make sense…

Daily adventures while training my young horse.