Archive for November, 2013

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Top Horse Boarding Facility’s Lessons Learned – Part 5: Dressage and Straightness

November 25th, 2013

Top Horse Boarding Facility’s Lessons Learned – Part 5:  Dressage and Straightness

At Whispering Hope Stables the owners and I as Head Trainer pride ourselves on not only providing the best horse boarding facility in the Raleigh/Cary/Apex areas, but on educating and training our equestrian athletes and their riders. My focus is on dressage basics as the necessary groundwork for other disciplines including hunters, jumpers, cross-country, and pleasure riding.

The good news is it’s not just your horse; they are all born crooked!

Just as you’ve watched a gleeful dog burst into a full gallop only to wonder if his hind end is going to pass his front as it veers off to the right, your horse more than likely tends to bend one way more than the other. The job of the skilled rider is to identify the crookedness, strengthen his weaker side with targeted exercises, and teach the horse how to carry himself/herself in correct alignment. So in order to get to this point, again, we refer to our training pyramid. We are making the assumption that the horse & rider are able to maintain a regular rhythm, are relaxed & without tension or bracing, and that the horse is pushing forward into a steady connection. So why, when going down the long side or heading down the line to a jump, are the hips traveling to the right?

The answer lies in the biomechanics of the horse. Just as we have a dominant hand, they have a dominant side. The dominant hind leg carries more of the weight of the horse by moving under the center of gravity while the weaker side slides out to the side, where it doesn’t have to support so much. Typically a horse will be right-sided, meaning his front right leg carries most of his weight. The reverse is true for the hind legs; where the front right is stronger, the hind left will be. There are theories about whether this is caused by how the fascia as the horse develops in the womb as there are some horses that are left-sided. A number of factors can affect this, such as breeding or trauma to a certain limb or muscle group. Regardless of the root case; it perpetuates itself as the stronger side carries more and becomes even stronger, and as the weaker side continually gets itself out of work.

So…How can you begin to identify crookedness? Do you find yourself thinking that your horse is always pulling on the right rein while the left one is hanging loose?  Does he/she fall in on circles going one way then fall out the other? Is one of your shoulders always sore? Is your horse perfectly happy going around with his nose one way, but if you try to bend the other, he/she gets upset and starts tossing their head to avoid bending? More obviously, if you look over your shoulder, are your horse’s haunches directly behind his/her shoulders or off to one side?

Lateral exercises encourage the horse to step underneath the center of the body, thereby forcing the inside hind leg to carry more weight. The shoulder-in is the building block of all upper-level work for this very reason. On a right-sided horse, I may do most of my work going to the right, asking for a bit of a leg yield to the left (away from the right leg) or a shoulder-in right.

A horse that is stronger on his/her right front tends to lean on his/her right shoulder, habitually falling to the right or pulling on the right rein. To balance this, your horse needs to strengthen both the right hind (horses stronger on the right shoulder are stronger on the left hind) and the left shoulder. We take weight off the right shoulder by placing the right hind under the center of gravity and asking the horse to move away from our right leg, toward the left front. When properly performed; the horse should be pushing into a steady left rein, and the right rein should only be used to correct the bend when needed.

One mistake often made is to pull the right rein until the horse falls left.  Instead, release the rein except for momentary corrections to the bend and be sure the horse is stepping away from your leg.

Haunches, in and half-pass, are excellent for improving balance and flexibility as they require that the horse travel in the direction to which he/she is bent.  Once again, be sure the rein on the side to which your horse is bent is only used for momentary corrections. Pulling or holding the horse up creates tension in the horse and in the rider, which defeats the purpose of the exercise.

All of these exercises should be perfected at the walk before moving on to other endeavors.  As with any exercise involving muscle memory, your horse needs a lot of practice before having the movement ingrained in their brain enough to know where to put his feet to keep their balance as you move on to trot and canter. Once the horse can easily move his/her body around in a relaxed way from the slightest touch of the leg, then not only should the horse be strong enough to use either hind leg handily, but the rider should feel when the horse’s hips are slightly out of alignment. Afterwards, a correction can be made quickly and subtlety.

So, to become straight, the pair must first master bending. In order to move on to the final building block in the training pyramid (collection) the pair must be able to have the strength, balance and flexibility to move from shoulder-in to renver, to travers, to half-pass one direction, then the other. By this point, the rider must be skilled in making little adjustments to the angle and bend as well. The more skill the rider develops in adjusting, the more easily the rider can maintain straightness. When straight, the horse’s hind legs are evenly loaded and ready for the final step in the training pyramid: Collection.

Written by:  Laurie Hutchinson

Head Trainer

Whispering Hope Stables

 

Laurie Hutchinson is the Director of Training at Whispering Hope Stables, Raleigh’s Premier Equestrian Facility. In 2013, she is competing Whispering Hope Sporthorse’s Hugo Boss in the USEF Young Horse Dressage Program for 6 year olds and her own Veva Rose in the Grand Prix and the USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix for 8-10 year old horses. She can be reached at (919) 851-6237 for lessons, training and clinics.

 

 

 

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Raleigh’s Top Dressage Trainer

November 4th, 2013

NCDCTA published an article in their November 2013 online edition on Raleigh’s Top Dressage Trainer, Laurie Hutchinson.  This article is on Laurie winning Gold Medal Status on Saturday, October 5th in Williamston.  Congrats again to Laurie Hutchinson.  You can see the article at http://www.ncdcta.org/newsletters13.html on page 3.