Hi, let me start off by saying that I am not a dressage rider but I still feel this is the best category to post this question. I am bringing my horse back into work and he has SI/hind end muscle issues so I have to bring him back very slowly. He is a jumper at heart that's what he loves to do the most but I do enjoy working on flatwork and trail riding as well. Right now he can walk and do about 10-15 minutes of trot work. The problem is that with the ground frozen I can only ride him in our tiny indoor, it's the size of two 20 meter circles stuck together. I do understand the basics of dressage (I've taken a handful of dressage lessons plus some lessons from an eventer) and I do ride him collected once he is warmed up. He is part gaited so he has to be encouraged to use his back and hind end as much as possible to maintain a nice trot and stay balanced. The problem is that he is bored out of his mind and starting to act out. Here is what I've worked on so far, any suggestions for exercises, books, articles would be fantastic.
I usually do a 20-30 minute walk warmup. I start out on a completly loose rein a few times around the ring each direction. I then take my reins up to a light contact, at this point his head is still level more like a hunter horse. I walk across the diagonal and quarter lines focusing on him walking straight using my leg and seat to support him. I start adding circles and serpentines and asking him to bend and begin to collect. I throw in lots of halts. I also work at lengthening and shortening his stride at the walk, sometimes on a loose rein and sometimes when he is collected. After he is loose and using himself well at the walk I move to the trot. Because he is unbalanced I focus a lot on him holding his body straight and balanced through the corners and in circles. He does not have very much training in lateral movements and because of his hind end issues I am hesitant to ask him to do lateral work until he is stronger. Unfortunately there are no poles in the indoor and they are really far away in the pitch black after work to bring into the indoor and put away. I can use poles on the weekends but if it' nice outside at all than I ride outide and he's happy. There are cones that I can use but I have no ideas on what to do with them.
Would turns on the forehand and turns on the hindquarters be too much for him? They're both mental and physical, if he is physically able to do them at this point.
As for the cones, set them up spaced apart and weave through them. Put them closer and closer together and see how well you can get through them. Scatter them about the arena an try to circle around each one. Little things like that.
Perhaps you can also bring some desensitizing into this? I find the foam pool noodles and beach balls can be used for endless fun and mental workouts. Random idea.
You could also do some halts/back up/trot transitions *if* he is sound enough. Maybe too much for him at this point? Maybe just backing up. Or maybe just walk/trot transitions, little things like that.
Since it sounds like cavalletti rail work is out of the question, you'll have to get creative with your cones. Set them up in a triangle and ride a "barrel race" pattern.
Set them up in an elongated rectangle (say, one near each corner and one on either long side) and ride lines between them, change gaits by each one you pass or halt at each one, then continue. Ride a circle at each cone. Change directions each time you pass one. Set them up like the eyelets on a shoe and ride around each one as if you're lacing the shoe. (A zig-zag line. I'm hoping this makes sense!)
Set them up on a straight line and ride a "pole bending" pattern.
There are several dressage books that use cones as training aids, but I'm tired right now and can't think. One was a well-known, respected BNT. Hoping someone here will remember his name!
It's hard to keep their attention while rehabbing, especially when the weather is brisk and they don't understand why they can't GO FAST. Set up strange items in the arena to keep it interesting looking. Sort of an indoor trail course. Tarps, pool noodles, beach balls, what have you. Introduce him to these things in hand first!
Ride with others if you can. That makes arena work more interesting.
And for your horse's back rehab -- lots and lots of hill work. Walking and trotting up hills!
Thanks those are great ideas! I don't want to do super tight turns with him right now so I can't weave with the cones too close right now. I have been trying to do more backing up but he actually isn't trained to back so I can only get about one step consistently under saddle and he complains about it. I have been backing him up every other ride. I don't want to push him too much because he is still weak in his hind end. Maybe I can do that from the ground more to build him up. I will def try adding turn on the forehand and haunches he should be ok to do that. I know I have at least 4 cones so ThreeFigs I'll def try the diff exercises you suggested. I would love to have more people come out and ride with me because he isn't nearly as bad when someone else is riding but no one likes the cold. I'd say maybe once or twice every 2 weeks someone else shows up in the evening. I am new to the barn so I don't know very many people to ask anyone to ride with me. The one woman I've talked/clicked with can't ride right now because her horse has a stone bruise.
I can work on some desensitizing though he is really really bombproof. I've done trail competition obstacles for fun at a barn I used to board at. Walking inbetween tarps tied to trees where the bottom is loose so it still flaps, through noodles over shiny stuff etc etc. I do think even though I know he won't react to them maybe because there is something different in the ring he might be more interested. I will bring out a tarp tomorrow and see what he does. I am going to the MD horse expo and one year I was tempted to buy one of those big balls they can push around but didn't. I'll keep my eye out for it this year he might really like it.
I am unfortunately not able to work on hills right now. The only slopes are in this one trail area we have and if the ground is frozen it's too hard for him (front shoes pulled 3 months ago) and if it's warmer it gets really muddy and slick. I am very lucky that there is a very steep slope in his pasture where there is a creek the horses have to cross to get to the grass. He goes up and down that hill at least 4x a day coming in and out from feeding. The rest of the pasture is rolling hills. I have noticed a difference since moving him to this barn that he is stronger than he was because of that hill in his field.
As I read this, I know you don't want to press his hind end too much, but some of the exercises, particularly lateral, will help strengthen it (as you noted with turns on forehand and hind). I'd suggest doing some lateral work in hand. Like leg yields on the wall. I'd build up from basic yielding of the hind end on the ground - crossing inside hind leg over outside as he steps, to the leg yields on the wall, then work these undersaddle in the walk. Then try shoulder fore, then as you get stronger, shoulder-in and haunches-in. Done with an eye to obedience, not perfection, and with input on what is too much vs. a good workout for the hind end, the classical training approach would really help. The articles on GM's latest clinic noted a lot of shoulder-fore/shoulder-in work!
I'd also get some ground lines and play with ground-driving. There are some good books and videos out there on it, I have an ancient pamphlet by Sylvia Loch. I don't have the 101 Dressage Exercises book (have the jumping) but might be some beginner moves in it worth trying. Changes through the middle of the circle with just a smidge of leg yield as you go the new direction could help strengthen the hind end as well. And if he doesn't know how to back - there's an easy target!
Do you have a massage therapist? The one I use gives me ideas on exercises for stretching and strengthening muscles in my riding and stretching in hand - my mare strained her hind end a bit in muddy pastures. There's also some books out there for just arena exercises - one by Cherry Hill, I think. But they are more geared to less-experienced riders. Still, might have some fun ideas for rehabbing. Good luck!
Thanks for the suggestions I will try the lateral work in hand and will definately be working on backing. I do have the book 101 Dressage Exercises and most are above what he can do. It's also hard with such a small ring I don't have enough space for some of them. I am currently looking for a better massage therapist that can give me some suggestions.
(I read through your linament topic) a good equine therapist should be able to show you some massage & stretches & exercises to work on but you likely need weekly, then biweekly, then monthly appointments - figure out your budget & then talk to various therapists & see what responses you get
Ask if you can watch them working on another horse & use that to choose the best fit for you & your horse.
Also have someone (preferable a very experienced trainer) show you how to lunge to strengthen his areas of weakness (lunging does NOT just happen on a small circle you can walk with him & use the whole arena) - if you're both fairly new to lunging, then start at a very basic level & arrange lessons as needed.
How about some short, light poles that you can transport in your car.
Poles that are too lightweight unless you have some way of securing them can be very dangerous. PVC pipes, for instance, just skitter along if the horse touches them and he could have a wreck.
Wood poles can be had locally in 4in diametre (light weight) or 6in diametre (not so light weight), type of wood & "kiln dried" also affect weight - there are people who will argue the use of hollow pvc poles (wrapped in duct tape perhaps, I don't recall...)
Of course I can't imagine why some poles can't be stored along the outside wall of the indoor etc...
I can use poles on the weekends in both of the outdoor rings. I can't keep any poles in the ring because they drag all the way to the wall so there is no space to store them. I'm not sure if keeping poles in my car is really practical because my dog is always in my car. I was hoping to find other exercises to work on since hopefully I only have two more months of dark cold weather. We do have lights on one outdoor so as long as the ground isn't frozen and it's light enough for me to safely walk to and from the ring I can use that ring.
I am comfortable lunging, he is voice command trained and I do move with him and use almost the entire ring. My only hesitation is that he tends to stay heavy on his forehand without someone on his back to encourage him to use his hind end. I usually lunge him a couple times a week before or after I ride just for something different for him to work on.