No matter your riding discipline there a few major tenets of riding that every equestrian should follow, namely: keep your horse straight, balanced, and using impulsion from the hind end.
Basically all things that my little Ferrous has trouble with doing properly. Don’t get me wrong, he can get there and he’s a champion hunter. Cute as a button and he frames up beautifully. Take a look at this photo of him and another rider before I bought him. Cute frame on the front end, but not really coming underneath him in the hind as well as he could.
A true frame is incredibly hard for Ferrous and maintaining it is a challenge. Here’s a confession- I learned how to work in a frame with Delight, the OTTB that I love and used to ride. He was still learning and being so long in conformation was not easy to do it with, although he’s gotten so much better and is looking fantastic now. Delight, is very straight though, and I did not need to hold him together.
The opposite is true with Ferrous. He has a weak top line and tends to bulge his belly, especially to the right. The first time I rode him I was coming off riding Delight and unused to holding a horse straight anymore. It was an adjustment! We quickly got on well together, however. Now, for me it is fine tuning this balance.
Recently we rode with our trainer, Robin Brennan. It is so important to have another pair of eyes and someone to give you suggestions. Bonus, if your trainer rides your horse herself which she has started doing. Her plan for us:
Walk/ Trot transitions done effectively and properly.
We work on walking in a frame and then transitioning into trot using my seat and legs (no voice!) while keeping him straight underneath me. To do this, I had to make sure my legs were closed and my hands holding an even and quiet connection. I know this sounds easy, but Ferrous is weak and tends to throw up his head to transition upward to the trot. Our goal: keep him in frame and straight during this transition.
Ferrous likes to step inside with his right hind when transitioning downward. It’s very subtle and so I have to really pay close attention. Knowing he does this I have to keep my inside leg closed and slightly back to remind him to stay straight and keep him walking forward with impulsion and energy.
I’ll be honest. I love working with poles. They make things fun and interesting. Plus, they keep my pony listening really well and picking up his feet and belly. There is an endless array of pole and grid work designs and I think they are one of the best tools for all riders out there.
Our indoor ring is a Kentucky Style indoor with 16 stalls at the center, and a track around the outside. So working with poles is possible, but limited. I’m excited to work outside and play with some fun grids now that spring is finally peeking her head up over of the duvet.
For this ride, we set up three poles on the long side. My challenge is that Ferrous will be perfectly in frame and then he sees the poles and becomes a giraffe, trying to rush over them. So something to work on. He is nothing if not predictable so I know this will be his default.
Ferrous receives sports massage and acupuncture twice a month. If I’m being honest it’s not enough and he would do well with double this. Goals. That being said, he is tight from the wither to his poll always. This is where he holds his tension, especially because the hind end is not strong (yet).
Of course, he knows immediately when you ask for a frame and tries hard. But it is very difficult for him to hold it properly for any length of time. Something we are actively working on. I love that Robin and I agree he needs a good ten minute walk/ trot warm up before we can even ask him to frame up. He starts out incredibly stiff. After warm up it is much easier for both of us!
I adjusted the way I connect and encourage his frame. With this lesson, I kept my hands still, elbows bent, and used my body to ask for a frame with impulsion. I felt like I was dancing! I really exaggerated using my core and shoulders to shift with his trot while keeping my hands completely still. Moving the bit in his mouth while using my body to move his hindquarters and belly.
What a difference!
I’m not going to lie- it was incredibly hard for both of us, especially tracking to the right which is Ferrous’ harder direction. I was huffing and puffing and my stomach muscles were burning. I kept laughing, thinking I looked like I was dancing in the saddle but Robin assured me that it was not as obvious as I thought and was using my aids more effectively. Hopefully one day I’ll get some of this on video.
All together a huge difference and I could really feel him using his body in the proper way.
Back Up Straight
Another thing that sounds so easy. And it is on a balanced horse. I’m training Ferrous to be straight and use his body correctly. It took us a good three tries to get it right, and boy was it hard for him.
We learned a lot and worked really hard during this lesson. So lots of homework for us! I like having goals and a plan to work with since I’m a very detail-oriented person.
What are your favorite exercises for building a top line or balancing your horse?