View Full Version : Obtaining forward AND relaxed

Arrows Endure
Sep. 24, 2010, 09:40 PM
Ok, I have a question....

I have a 5 year old arab cross. He is generally an easy going kind of fellow, and likes going slow and relaxed. So, I have been working very hard on installing a "forward" button. What I am noticing, is that when I get forward, I lose relaxed. When I work to relax him, he goes back to slow. Think western pleasure slow.

He is destined to be my next trail/endurance horse, but in order to give him the best shot to be sound long term, we are working on dressage principles. And, I think I would enjoy doing little schooling type shows. He has a lot of trail time, and is much more happily forward out of the arena, but not what I'd consider relaxed. He doesn't spook, and seems to enjoy himself, but he's always alert.

In the ring, I'd call him "nappy" honestly. He goes forward when I ask without a fight, but I do get attitude. The head goes up, and he'll pin his ears or swish his tail. And I can't get him to relax into the gait until I let him go "his" speed.

He's been checked by the vet/chiropractor and is healthy. He had lymes earlier in the season, but he's been treated and is currently clear. He is VERY sound and always happy to go for a ride, providing I do it on his terms (SLOW).

What would you do with this horse, to get the forward and keep the relaxed? I try to keep his training varied, as he's smart, and does get bored easily, but I have never had to deal with lazy before. My last horse had an excess of forward, so I never had to install the "Go" button.

Pony Fixer
Sep. 24, 2010, 10:06 PM
This to me, is almost the boiled down crux of dressage. They are a yin:yang and it's not uncommon to lose one when you get the other.

I say install forward. Once your horse becomes more accustomed to the forward (not running, mind you), the relaxed will come!

Sep. 25, 2010, 12:30 AM
Also, I would check your saddle fit. It sounds like he might be hitting his shoulder when he takes a bigger stride. But if it is just lazy, I too would work on forward, relaxed with back up can only come from forward.

Sep. 25, 2010, 03:02 AM
I definitely agree to check saddle fit - am currently dealing with nearly identical situation with my Arabian mare. Stuck riding bareback while I saddle shop.

Sep. 25, 2010, 04:48 AM
When you ask for the forward, how much hand/leg is involved?

If someone took your hands/legs away riding forward could you still control the tempo and steering from your seat?

When he is going forward can you put the hands forward a foot with a big spaghetti loop in the reins and still have control?

In order for the horse to be relaxed going forward the seat has to seamlessly follow along and the hand has to serve as a supporting, not starring role. If you are legging him forward and then using the hand to control the tempo or 'massage him' relaxed, it will ride him into tension.

A good thing to practice is trot walk transitions from seat. Only use your hands when he runs past your seat after you initially make the transition request. Use them with an eye toward explaining to him, "When I ask with my seat you need to listen and not take the request as far out as the hand." Then practice smaller-trot-bigger-trot transitions from seat.
Is he polite to the down canter transition or is he in front of your seat and in your hand?

When you have more control with your seat you will be able to be quieter in the hand and "allow" him rather than "control" him.

Arrows Endure
Sep. 25, 2010, 07:47 AM
Hmmm...thinking here.

Saddle fit is excellent, I ride in a very good treeless saddle with very good padding underneath. The saddle does not cause him any issues with his back or shoulders, as confirmed by the vet/chiropracter and the massage lady.

If I took away my hands and leg, I could contol most of the steering (he's five and green, can't promise 100% of the time right now), and all of the downward transitions from my seat. He likes those! *grin* And I tend to ride with little to no contact right now anyway. I have been adding some at the walk, because I can get a very nice forward walk that is relaxed, but not at the trot yet. If I add hand there, the head is just going to go straight up (half Arab). Now, using the seat for upward transitions, hmm.... You know, I don't think I know HOW to ask for an upward transition with my seat.

When I ask for forward, I use my legs and/or my voice. His first 10 strides are always kind of short and stilty, and then he will get some impulsion and move forward. I have been working on a lot of walk/trot/whoa transitions to get him more sensitive to my leg, and can now ask with just a whisper and get a response, but am definatly using my legs to ask.

Training a young horse is always such a challenge. Of course, that is what makes it fun....

Sep. 25, 2010, 08:34 AM
You know, I don't think I know HOW to ask for an upward transition with my seat.

Basically it is going to be the same motion that you use for the downward transitions ... or setting the rythym of the gait (slower/faster) ... if you have contact, then you must open your hand a bit to let your horse go forward when you ask with your seat for the next gait up, or a faster rythym within the gait you are in.

If you are using your seat for downward transitions, then you should close your hand a bit as you ride forward into the closed hand/downward transition.

I may be using the word rythym incorrectly ... I might mean "tempo".

Sep. 25, 2010, 12:04 PM
Horses train riders to leave them alone when the rider asks for something beyond their comfort zone. Horses and humans don't mind tasks that don't involve discomfort, and one form of discomfort is learning a job that isn't part of the familiar habit pattern. When you are introducing something that is unfamiliar to the horse, it can be fairly important to set the stage for success. Ground work can be a precursor to ridden work, and it may be best to establish forward on the ground before mounting. Going forward needs to become a habit. When you transition to a certain gait, forward will be part of the mix, like going from trot forward into the walk, vice versa. Moving with more energy is more work, and the horse is attempting to get you to back off to his comfort zone.
Moving forward involves the use of different muscles than the lazy horse is used to using, and it is good to exercise those muscles to build strength in them when you aren't sitting on him. He needs to learn how to lift his back without extra weight on it, and when you are sitting on his back make sure you are balanced and not sitting heavily behind the motion. As he learns to use those muscles they will tire easily, so he might be able to move with engagement for short distances and then fatigue.
I like to lunge over poles on the ground set in a circle so the smaller circle needs smaller steps and the bigger circle needs longer steps. If I'm working with a very high-headed horse, I'll run a light rope from the girth through the bit rings and tie over the neck, so there is light pressure when the horse holds the head up, and no pressure when he drops it. Then he trains himself to carry the head lower and use different muscles.
Some arab types just don't get moving with more energy without raising the head and neck higher, it's a habit you can't change with regular side reins. Some horses need to pick up the head and neck to lighten the forehand, and avoid using the correct muscles that way.

Druid Acres
Sep. 27, 2010, 01:59 PM
My first horse was a half Arab, and while never really naughty he could get disagreeable when he was bored out of his wits with whatever I was asking him to do. He excelled as a trail horse and loved xc jumping, but hated flatwork in the ring. And he was way too smart.

I suggest changing things up as much as you can, avoiding the same routine day after day, and keeping things interesting. He may just be bored.

Sep. 27, 2010, 03:51 PM
He may need to develop a work ethic, he's green/young. Spend alot of time riding the working trot-slightly faster than HE wants to go. I don't think he's bored, he's trying to get out of working. To make sure that he is not fighting any hand, keep your pinkies on the pommel of the saddle, and let him fight himself, and keep that working trot rhythm. When he can do this consistently, start working big serpentines into his program, and slowly work into smaller ones. Make sure that your pinkies on the pommel is your "home base" after you move your hand out for a turn. Hope this helps.

Sep. 27, 2010, 04:03 PM
Arabians are notorious for the full of energy when they feel like it type mentality. Plenty of motor when THEY want to bring it lol, and then its like rev rev REV! Your off to the races with no

They need really good timing with the aids. Lots inside leg to outside rein, followed with lots of nice little half halts hopefully getting them on the aids long enough to settle into work quietly and relaxed.

My arabian is best ridden when I keep my leg somewhat on him so its not abrupt when I ask for forward. Bending in and out to get him accepting the aids rather than acting like a cat thats been tossed into the river.

Some days there is more tension then others, and I have to sit back and just do lots of walking in between work.

Sep. 28, 2010, 04:46 PM
Check out the point-to-point exercise previously posted on this forum for an exercise to gain 'forward'. http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?t=270720&highlight=impulsion+point+to&page=4

Relaxation will come when you're in harmony and if you ask properly (ie. in phases of 'ask' and when it is his idea). I still use the exercise now and then on my finished horses but for the most part, once you've established a willing and happy forward button, you can just open your hands and allow a couple strides of forward now and then between your lateral and collected work to add impulsion.

Sep. 28, 2010, 07:47 PM
With the little Arab mare I ride on occasion (she's 19, but had no idea about balance under a rider until a couple of years ago), it was all about balance, she'd let me adjust her at an underpaced tempo, but would lose her balance immediately when going more forward. I let her be slow to begin, but making sure that she is balanced and listening, a little 45 degree legyield along the wall etc. Then I would ask for a little more and come right back in a half halt, that way she learned to trust that forward isn't necessarily going to throw her off balance. Don't know if it might be helpful for your horse to go more forward only for a few strides and keep coming right back. Sometimes you just have to blast them forward, take the outside rein and wait till they take it up, too.