Flatwork exercises that EVERY horse can benefit from?
So when i'm not lessoning or just going on an easy hack/trail ride, I find myself not quite sure what to do while riding. I get into one of those "W/T/C a few laps in each direction then leave" ruts. Especially in the winter when my time at the barn is limited, I like to have a plan of what I want to do each ride.
Does anyone have any good flatwork exercises that every horse can benefit from?
Really quality transitions, between and within the gaits. This is something I've been working on a lot with my two lately - lots of leg, and expecting a prompt but quiet, fluid, relaxed change of gait. I've always been hesitant to do too many transitions with my horses (who are all the hotter type), as I thought that it got them anticipating too much. I've come to realize that they actually need more transition work, and that I need to focus on being very correct with my aids (rather than just brushing with a leg and allowing the horse to leap, for example), while also raising the bar for the quality of response I expect from the horse.
I don't drill them, but rather quietly incorporate many, many transitions into each ride. My horses are already going better for the effort, both in the quality of the transitions themselves, as well as the actual gaits. Initially, they did get hotter and anticipate more, but a quiet wash-rinse-repeat has helped tremendously.
I'm a big fan of leg yielding and shoulder in, as well as turn on the haunch or roll backs within all gaits. Cavaletti really help to make a flat school more interesting too!
Second transitions. My horse loves to power through the rider's hands, so we work on getting her to respond with as little rein use as possible. She doesn't want me pulling on her face? Then she better stop/slow/etc when I tell her with just my seat and a small squeeze on the reins.
We also work on getting good, prompt upward transitions. She needs to work on not leaping forward into a runny canter, so we do lots of transitions where we're only cantering for a few strides before slowing. For some horses, it might be getting them to start off in an energetic pace rather than poking along.
Make sure to throw in transitions that skip gaits, eg walk to canter, trot to halt, etc.
Circles, spirals, and serpentines. Good for bending/flexing/balancing. Or I'll take poles/fillers out of jumps and do twisty-turny obstacle courses around standards. Makes her listen rather than getting all, "I KNOW HOW TO DO A HUNTER COURSE MOM"
You can also always through poles/cavalleti in there too to mix things up a bit. A good one is setting up 2 poles for 4 canter strides, then trying to get in 3 or 5 strides. Sometimes with Fi when I can't jump her I'll just drop all the jumps down to poles and basically do the hunter or eq courses over the poles rather than jumps. It allows me to get in the driver's seat with her and really control her pace without having to worry about the fact that she'll be going over a jump and I'll need to give her her head a bit more. Distances can be a bit hard to gauge with poles sometimes, so I just do a halfseat the whole time rather than worrying about seriously getting up off her back since she's not jumping the poles (well she's not supposed to...).
You can also set up a gymnastic with just poles, again works on adjustability and coordination.
I like mares. They remind me of myself: stubborn know it alls who only acknowledge you if you have food.
Hannah B. Nana: 50% horse, 50% hippo
Fiona: can't decide between jumpers or napping
Not everything in the book is gold or useful for everyone, but it will give you lots of ideas to get through winter indoor arena phase (exactly when and why I bought my copy!). I found that I had done or was doing many of the exercises in the book, but a lot of them I'd sort of forgotten. Or I was doing the exercise, but not the way the book has you do it, so it gave me "tweaks" to some things. Also, by riding and assessing how beneficial particular exercises are or aren't, you can combine different ones together.
What I would when I was younger is I would learn a dressage test or two that were at or just above my level. Then I would ride them for practice. So the horse wouldn't start to anticipate what was coming, I would ride it side ways in the arena or on the diagonal making C and A in opposite corners. One of my arenas was really wide so I would ride it on one half and then ride it on the other half making transitions at trees and so forth (not right at the midway points). Sometime I would imagine that K and E were only a meter or two from each other just screwing with the dimensions of the imaginary "arena" I would create within the real arena. It make me get more used to not riding on the rail and make things more fun.
I was also going to suggest riding "squares", but yellowbritches beat me to it. It's a great exercise to teach the horse to keep their outside shoulder turning. Start at the walk and then work your way up to the trot and canter. This exercise really improved my horse's straightness and use of his hind end. As others have said, incorporate lots of transitions and lateral work into your rides. For a real challenge, try leg yielding off of the rail to the center line. It's harder than it sounds as many horses like to get "stuck" on the rail. Work on making your horses stride more adjustable by playing around with the collected, working, medium, and extended gaits. Remember, if you're bored then your horse probably is too. So go make it fun for both of y'all!!
My favorite exercises are transitions and ground poles. I do transitions between gates and within the gate. I do pole work at the trot and the canter. At the canter my favorite exercise is bounce, 1 stride, 1 stride, bounce.
I like to work on transitions. With and without stirrups so you can benefit from it to.
Halt walk canter
Those type of transitions, and if your horse gets mad, just let her work it out. Also ground poles and gymnastics.
Set up ground poles in a circle with 4 strides to each....so your basically just going in a circle with 4 strides per jump...then raise the jumps,
The horse i ride gets long, low, and heavy on the inside shoulder if I'm not careful. I was on vacation for two weeks and my trainer rode him a handful of times and since then i have STRICT orders not to make one lap of the ring without doing something- quarter line, turn, circle, transition, change of bend, leg yield, etc etc. Our ring is small, too! :-)
Usually i start thinking of my ride plan while grooming. That way I'm not taking lots of walk breaks to figure out my next action, and I'm not distracted from working on my eq and the horse's alignment either.
I also throw in so many changes of direction that it feels like i'd make us dizzy. It actually gets the horse a lot more interested in the work, and he perks up, gives better pace, and lightens up his forehand. Sometimes when the thought occurs to me, even if I'm in the middle of something else like a serpentine loop, I'll count to five and must have a smooth and square transition by then. That really surprises the old dude, he loves it (tb appreciates a break from monotony).
I also think about what I never do on my own without my trainer making me, and make myself do it at least once a week.... ie no stirrups, and two point without stirrups, etc. And when I start to feel done with that (tired, sore, generally over it), i make myself do another lap.
This isn't wholly related but I also go through my reminder cues during the day (bored at work, or while preparing dinner). For me they sound like: inside thigh outside shoulder, left elbow in, right hand higher (I'm so crooked), stretch the ribcage, head straight (i look too far into turns and it makes me unbalanced), lift the knees, hip points towards each other (engages my thighs), belly button in the middle.... I play these prompts in my head throughout the day, and when it's time to ride, I remember them better- which lets me pay more attention to the quality of ride im getting from the horse (and good eq makes for quality of pace/horse's self carriage!)
(A decidedly unhorsey) MrB knocks over a feed bucket at the tack shop and mutters, "Oh crap. I failed the stadium jumping phase."
(he does listen!)