View Full Version : Exercises for teaching horse to bend - updated w/video

Mar. 31, 2011, 12:44 PM
I have currently started working my OTTB more often under saddle (just turned 6, off the track for two years). Anyway, she is pretty awesome at bending to the left, however she is stiff as a board on the right side. I was hoping some of you would have some helpful tips on exercise to encourage her to bend. Thanks!

Mar. 31, 2011, 01:02 PM
I like working them in circles and serpantines close around the jumps and standards in the ring. Generally they want to look down and in at the jumps, and they have to move over to avoid running into things. So you can use those natural inclinations to enforce asking them to bend.

Mar. 31, 2011, 01:05 PM
That makes sense! Thank you that's very helpful!

Mar. 31, 2011, 01:10 PM
Do you do any ground work?

Just getting the idea of "move over away from pressure" from the ground helps. A lot of the time if you cross tie you don't move the horse side to side while grooming like you would if tied to a hitching rail - but ask for that kind of response. You press about where your foot would be, and ask the horse to move. It tends to make more sense to them from the ground to start with - my horse is schooling mostly 3rd level dressage and above, yet sometimes I still work on bend and sideways from the ground when he doesn't seem to get something.

If you can do turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches (doesn't have to be perfect, just moving the front end around or back end around) it helps you getting bend later - it helps the horse understand moving parts of the body off your legs, rather than everything at once.

Have fun with it, and enjoy your horse!

Mar. 31, 2011, 01:15 PM
Yes, I could probably stand to do more groundwork and basics with her. She is still borderline confused when I add leg whether to react by going forward, or moving away from the pressure. She seems to understand that leg pressure on the left means bend, however when I apply same pressure on the right it registers as GO FORWARD! to her. So yes, you are correct I should spend more time with her on the ground teaching her these things as well.

Mar. 31, 2011, 01:30 PM
All of my guys move from pressure on the ground just from moving them when grooming, cleaning stalls etc. I don't make it a point to really work on it, but the pick it up a's time goes on. Maybe just start making him move in his stall rather then you walking around and simple things like that.

When we start undersaddle I always start with turn on the haunches (usually not pretty, but if they move their feet one step that is good enough in the beginning) then move to turn on the forehand (again not pretty!). Then you can start putting it together into a leg yield, shoulder in etc. If you can get control over each part of his body individually and he understands this cues everything else will come more easily. Be patient and take your time. I start with just a few steps each way the first session and then asking for a few more steps before they are done each day ad before you know it he will be really get it and you can move on to more difficult things! Good luck!

tidy rabbit
Mar. 31, 2011, 03:41 PM
Make sure that when in the tack, you are asking correctly for the bend. I know most of us are more coordinated on one side of our body than the other.

Then think about your timing. When in the trot, on a circle, when you feel the horse's rib cage swing out, add inside leg to encourage more bend. Timing is 9/10s the battle. :)
That and patience.

Mar. 31, 2011, 04:20 PM
Make sure that when in the tack, you are asking correctly for the bend. I know most of us are more coordinated on one side of our body than the other.

Then think about your timing. When in the trot, on a circle, when you feel the horse's rib cage swing out, add inside leg to encourage more bend. Timing is 9/10s the battle. :)
That and patience.

That's a great point, too. My mom was having a lot of trouble with bend in one direction, but also has a tendency to weight her seatbones unevenly. A Jane Savoie video mentioned using pulsing or non-constant leg pressure, because if you do a steady squeeze while asking for bend you tend to change your weight. I tried telling my mom that, and she was instantly better. I assume you're not as drastically uneven as she is (64 w/ back problems and hadn't ridden in 15 years, it's expected!), but that if you're even minorly uneven an OTTB will be more sensitive to it.

Mar. 31, 2011, 04:53 PM
I have a particular exercise i like... I sit in the tack at a halt and bend the horse to the right (in your case). They will likely be stiff and start to walk in a tiny circle to the right with no bend. At some point however they will halt (maybe with a few half halts on the left rein if they really dont get it) and they will give to the rein (ie you're not holding them there, but theres a soft contact in the rein by them holding their head in the bent position). As soon as they do this release so they can put their neck back into a straight position. (side note, this 'bent' position doesnt HAVE to be severe or at your toe - it depends on how stiff your horse is - if he's good at it, ask for more bend, or vice versa. Nor is this a severe sudden pull to the right. Its asking for a bend until they give to the pressure).

Do it a couple more times and they *should* respond sooner and sooner. With the horses i've worked with, they've eventually learned 1) that bending my neck doesnt mean walk on (you'll be able to bend them left and right at the halt without them moving) and also that their neck really does bend, and they can even hold themselves IN that bend (like when they give to the rein pressure).

This isnt something to drill into the ground but is a nice reminder about how their body has different parts and they can work seperately!

Apr. 1, 2011, 12:45 AM
Rode her today and she was pretty pleasant, although quite strong. She accepted easy bends to the right without issue. After watching many videos of myself today, I have decided I need to get back into lessons right away! When she tends to get strong and hang on the bit, it appears I don't give to her mouth at all, and that concerns me. Also, I don't like where my leg is, it almost looks like I am bringing it forward to brace against her pull.

Overall, however, I am quite pleased with her - it was 40 degrees and a bit windy - so she could have been much worse!

Cantering: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10100516825988495&comments

Trot to the Right: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10100516817620265

Trot to the Left: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10100516810205125

Poles and Tiny Crossrail: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10100516625615045

Apr. 1, 2011, 01:27 AM
Sit with seatbones evenly at the walk. When tracking left, allow your left hip bone to drop "into" her back without compromising the rest of your posture. When tracking right, allow your right hip bone to drop. You may want to try putting your hand on your waist to "push" down the first few times to get the feel.

When trying to create a bend, turn your pelvis in the direction you are going. If you can't turn your pelvis, think of turning your bellybutton. Shoulders should naturally follow, but don't collapse.

So far I personally have not been able to "overdo it" but I'm also new at this and working with a trainer so I have awesome eyes on the ground to help me know if I'm doing enough or need more.

In terms of patterns on the ground, I like to do some serpentines but they're not my favorite. I like doing circles- one coming out of the corner, one about halfway down the ring, and one going into the corner. I can very easily skip a circle if I need a break, or if I need to recenter myself, or if I want to give my horse a break. It's all the benefits of a constant circle with almost none of the down-sides (except, you are still working one-sided and will need to switch directions).

Doing these exercises for literally 1 hack day made our weak side our good side... and, since I worked so hard at these (almost entirely at the walk!), our previously good side became our struggle side. So, now I'm mindful of just how effective these exercises are for me and my horse. YMMV.

Apr. 1, 2011, 12:00 PM

Any critiques are welcome. I know we have much to improve on!

Apr. 1, 2011, 12:25 PM
First looks like a real sweet nice horse. I notice something in the canter video, it looks to me like you lock up your elbows and then rock your body to follow your horses mouth. You would have a move effective seat for working on things like bending if you could actually sit the canter, and unlock your elbows and soften your arms to follow your horse. I know you can do it because you follow nicely over the little cross rail, just not during your canter work. Just my nickels worth.

Apr. 1, 2011, 01:02 PM
So my impression could be completely wrong and just due to camera angle, but it looks like she's travelling with her haunches to the right. If you're just trying to get her head to bend right, it's going to be a challenge for her given haunches to the right and balance of her weight on her forehand. She's using that neck to balance, and asking her to turn her head will throw it off.

That's not BAD given you're just starting to give her consistent work, it just is. On another thread someone posted that haunches tending toward the right is typical of ex-racehorses because of all the time they spend moving that way while ponied. It makes sense, and according to my trainer is typical of the OTTBs she's had and worked with.

If by "bend" you mean you're trying to move her head - I'd stop worrying about that now. I'd instead work on teaching her to move her haunches off your legs (start with the ground work mentioned earlier), do turns on the forehand to work on loosening her body, and work on being able to either move her haunches left or her shoulders right. While results will be the same idea, some horses understand one or the other better.

Right now, from what I can tell of the video, it looks like "left bend" means her body stays bent right, head bends left, and haunches are thrown even more to the outside. "Right bend" is already happening all the time.

But again - that's how it looks to me, from a small video taken in nasty weather, and I could be misinterpreting the perspective! The exercises mentioned can all be helpful regardless, though. :)

Also, I do like her! Given you said you just started consistent work with her now, she looks quite nice. Horses have to learn to use themselves completely different OTT.

Apr. 1, 2011, 01:26 PM
Thanks for all the compliments, and suggestions. The videos taken were literally Madison's fifth ride since September/October and probably her tenth in a year. I got her from New Vocations as a 2 going on 3 year old, gave her two years off completely and then fussed with her a bit last year. She had this past winter off because to be honest, it was brutal and I didn't feel much like riding.

The riding bug has taken a bite, however, and I plan on signing up for lessons ASAP. I work at a hunter barn and I might see if there is any way I can trailer her in for a couple training rides here and there. I am really excited about this mare, she has the personality that I like and she is cute!

I will update when I get some lessons under my belt. Its been about 5 years since I have ridden on a regular basis, in lessons, and on my own. So to say I'm rusty is an understatement. I have a lot to work on, but I'm excited for the future.

Apr. 1, 2011, 10:25 PM
funny, my OTTB mare was the same, stiff on one side, bending well on the other.
people were telling me that's because they get raced only one way ? not sure though....