What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Understand what strength is
- Figure out how it relates to suppleness
- Work on straightness to strengthen your horse
- Notice when things begin to develop
Have you found yourself wondering or wishing about your horses top line or frame? You probably have heard that they are related to how your horse is working, but struggle to really connect the pieces together in the saddle.
This episode of the Daily Strides Podcast is all about specifically the hindquarters and building strength in the hindquarters in your horse, which will lead to overall development.
Time & Consistent Correct Training
Riders are often looking for quick fixes. They want their horse to be on the bit. They want the horse to be working in a ‘frame’. But they are forgetting that strength takes time.
If I sent you to the gym today, and asked you to do a certain amount of exercises, your success would depend on your current fitness level. Whether you could do it, or not. Of course if you push past what you are physically able to do, you are probably going to injure yourself; or wake up the next morning feeling incredibly sore.
This is the same for our horses. Very often people are asking their horse to work within parameters that the horse is not used to working in.
When this happens, the horses current level of development will be challenged as well. It is not comfortable for your horse. Neither is it enjoyable and there is a high risk of causing injury. The other ‘outcome’ of pushing too hard or too fast is that your horse may begin to compensate elsewhere, and you will end up training the horse ‘backwards’.
What is True Strength?
Strength is your horse’s ability to propel itself forward. When buying a car you will look at the engine of the car. The hindquarters are the engine of your horse, so this is where you need to spend a lot of your time maintaining and developing your horse. So everything you are doing is for the good of the engine – the hindquarters.
Strength, as well as being your horses ability to propel himself forward, is also his ability to correctly carry himself.
As he becomes stronger, your training will ask different questions. These ‘questions’ will require him to carry himself differently. He needs to be physically strong enough in order to correctly do just that, and then develop further in his abilities.
How Strenght Relates to Suppleness
I believe that strength and suppleness are very closely connected, and so too is straightness. I suggest starting with suppleness, which leads to strength, which leads to straightness.
Suppleness is basically asking your horse to become more ‘limber’. This increases the overall ease and flow when being ridden. I don’t believe that suppleness is standing still asking your horse to eat a carrot somewhere at its elbow.
Suppleness when ridden requires movement. It is your horse is working and moving, and is able to use himself to the best of his ability.
Working on Straightness to Strengthen Your Horse
As you begin to correctly build and improve the horse’s suppleness (and your suppleness as a rider) you will find that you both become stronger. That strength then leads to the straightness.
Straightness is important because if your horse is straight it means that he is pushing or thrusting forward equally from behind. One side is not firing stronger that the other side!
Obviously straightness is not only to do with the hindquarters, it is also to do with the whole body, as is suppleness and strength. But I am focusing on the hindquarters today.
As you begin to build this, the horse can begin to carry themselves differently which engages the core. As the core begins to get more engaged, you will begin to see his top line develop and he will begin to naturally carry himself better.
This simply means that his weight is being carried differently as he is working.
The Cycles in Your Horses Development
You will notice that as he begins to develop more strenght, he will carry himself differently which will lead to him becoming straighter.
The cycle will keep repeating and developing as his training develops; suppleness, strength, straightness. These three principles keep building on each other.
You will notice as you begin to invest time working on this that your horse will begin to feel different as he carries himself more correctly. You will also probably notice that your horse will begin to work into the contact.
The improvement in the contact is the result of correct development allowing him to carry himself more. This allows him to take more responsibility for his half of the contact.
He will no longer lean or depend on you. He will truly be able to contribute to the correct development of the contact, which is a little like agreeing to hold hands. You become equal partners and it is a mutual agreement that the two of you have come to. He must first of all be physically strong enough to do this.
Noticing when Things Begin to Develop
Consistency requires just that, constant attention to detail in your riding and training. I also believe in applying consistency to how mindful you are about your horses development.
Notice where your horse is, and notice any weaknesses that show up. Notice if you maybe ask for a bend to the left, is he rather bracing against you or is his head tilting to the side. He may also be struggling to track up one side or the other.
It is so important to begin noticing things like this, because it is only by noticing them that you can then begin to work on them.
Developing Symmetry in Your Horse
Most horses, just like us, tend to favour one side over the other. Next time you ride your horse, begin paying attention to how much ‘ease and flow’ there is doing the same exercise on both reins.
If you do notice a weakness of one side or a favouring of the other, take a more long term approach when dealing with it.
So many riders make the mistake of hammering on the weak side. If someone made you continually do something which you find difficult over and over again,I am sure you would start to feel definite resentment beginning to grow.
Your horse is no different. Rather sprinkle the ‘difficult’ exercises or questions in between things which he enjoys and finds easier. Allowing him to do the things that he finds easier right now in his present situation, and rather just sprinkling in these more challenging questions, allows him to feel good about working and developing himself.
How to Know When Things Begin to Develop?
Normally one of the first indications many riders get is through a downward transition. As you go down let’s say from canter into trot, you will feel that there is a lovely lightness the first two strides of the trot. Now, the downside is that it will probably be for just that amount of time, one or two strides, and then it is lost and become a little heavier again.
But that lightness through that initial transition is where he engaged himself, held himself and carried himself and is the beginning of true strenght in his body.
He just was not physically, or perhaps mentally, strong enough to continue. As part of our OTTB Owners Program and also the Clarity and Confidence Riding Program, I talk a lot about how the horse has to develop mentally through all the different principles, as well as physically.
He must not only physically feel that he can carry himself, but also that he has the confidence to continue carrying himself going forward.
Celebrate Those Initial Steps
When you begin to notice those initial couple of strides as they start to happen, your goal as the rider is to try and get more of those ‘feeling good’ moments. More lightness that lasts longer, and are closer together in frequency.
Simply put, over time you are lengthening the ‘feeling good’ moments for your horse, so the contrasting not so desirable parts are becoming shorter and less frequent. Over time you will build it from where it is a glimpse every now and then of what you want, to where what you want is the mainstay of the ride
Links mentioned in the episode:-