(I need to get saddle fitted, so I just ride bareback with my Paint at the moment... I'm suspecting saddle issues for both of us.)
Today, as we came to our designated turn I cued for bend as usual, going on her preferred side, and she ended up reaching her forelegs out far and couldn't quite maneuver herself neatly with her forelegs out of line of the back legs, so she stumbled and caught herself, then going along like nothing happened. We were having a good ride, no speeding, focused.
She's stumbled every now and then when she is distracted. I had only given the same cue I had been working with for weeks. I do have to be careful not to over-bend her on the right, but in doing so I admit I haven't done much lateral on that side and so haven't made much an effort to strengthen her right hind. I think I switched her condition so that she is stiffer/stronger on the left and weaker on the right than originally! I had been doing exercises on both sides, honestly, but spent more effort and more intensity on the left, and asked for less on the right.
I plan on contacting the chiropractor, I already checked her back myself today and her legs three days ago, and keeping an eye on her movements. I have a lesson scheduled next week, til then I'm on my own, the trainer is very hard to get a hold of.
My guess is that even though on her right she tends to become faster and I still find weakness in her right hind, I should start asking for the same effort on both sides equally, and do more in-hand work so she doesn't have to rebalance my weight with hers to accomplish the lateral exercises. Sound good? Any input specifically?
Without knowing more about your horse's training, how you are establishing bend, and what sort of lateral work you plan to do, it's hard to offer any specific training advice.
However, as someone who's had a wobbler, I thought I should put it out there that stumbling, lack of coordination, and hind end weakness can be signs of neurological deficit -- you may want to ask your vet about a neurological exam.
Based on this and your other post, it seems like your mare may just need to develop more strength and self carriage, and become truly on the aids. This requires support from the rider, so be sure that you are using active, supportive aids and not just momentary "cues" - you need a steady contact and an ability to create energy from the hindquarters and direct it with the hand and seat. Once you have those basics established, then the straightening work can really begin - and that will continue for as many years as the horse is in training.
What lateral work have you been doing? If only leg yielding, be sure it's done on a circle as otherwise it's of very limited use for strengthening. In actual fact, frequent transitions and changing length of stride would perhaps be more appropriate exercises at this point. Also don't leave out hill work and long slow hacks!
Last edited by Lost_at_C; Oct. 31, 2013 at 09:13 AM.
What do you consider a stumble? An actual trip of a magnitude that could dislodge you, or simply a hiccough in the forward motion?
The first could have a serious reason, as for example something creating a physical problem, the second is a moment's hesitation because of a shift in position that the rider isn't even aware of, which to the horse causes a mis-cue.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
About 4 weeks ago we started doing shoulder-in work under saddle after 2 weeks Dressage in-hand which then we worked on a "false" piaffe/passage by verbal and touch cue to lift/flex hind legs and ask for lower pelvis, worked on rein back-walk transition, leg yield on a circle, shoulder-in on a circle, some shoulder-in against the rail, long and low, and trotting poles. The only significantly long/steep enough hill nearby is up the neighborhood road, it's a good slope the goes half a mile until leveling out, there is a dirt/grass shoulder on either side the horses round here travel on. I'd like to start making use of that.
I have her do her infantile "piaffe", for lack of a better word, at a walk, though I've been getting her to trot at the cue in a way that has her shorten her steps, tuck her pelvis, and flex a bit with the hind legs for about five seconds. In-hand lateral work is usually at a walk, with brief, controlled trots, but I can get a leg yield while lungeing for a third of a 20 meter circle. I'd been doing bending with her by putting my inside leg on, pressure the inside rein toward my outside shoulder, and holding the outside steady to ride into it, since July, but really started doing it often and for significant lengths of time since mid-August. I focus on keeping my position, no leaning, with my core very strong to help her. It was HELL on my back and stomach during July and most of August, which is why I didn't do much work in canter til this month and didn't ask for more than 10 strides of bend or leg yield at a time in July and early August.... I couldn't take holding her with the outside rein and my upper body for any longer than that. Now, not tight reins or anything, but a lot of work on my part through the times she plowed on her forehand and moved out of balance with a hard, stiff step. I was glad I took a break for in-hand work in September... I know if I'm stiff and sore, she will feel it.
Her trot really transformed into something nice and now I prefer sitting to posting. So that much improved; she feels more together and less choppy for trot. Canter is still a lot of work on me, as she prefers to gallop and drag along with the momentum of her forehand, and when brought slower threatens to break into a trot, so I have to keep both my legs firm and my core working.
So mostly trot, a little canter, and more walk is what we do. We just started lengthening and shortening stride, after practicing downward transitions and the cue for reinback2walk, I'm trying to get the same thing that happens when she walks from a rein back to our shortening2lengthening; a nice push from the hind. I suppose if I keep practicing reinback2walk she will eventually give that big push every time, but right now it's really timing-specific, I've got to have her think she will downshift, then when a hindleg has just lifted, drive her forward, to get that thrust.
What I consider a stumble would be that she misses a step with her hoof, and drops a shoulder down for a second, figures out where to put the hoof, then pulls herself up and moves along. Not enough to throw me off, enough to change my position so that I tilt backward in response to feeling weight come down in front. All fairly slow and not as if a trip that is quick and excites the horse. The ground, keeping in mind, is not level out in the pasture we were riding, there are some gentle dips in the ground that are bowl-shaped, and some rises where the moles have dug tunnels. I would think she could have stumbled over a molehill in the grass, if I hadn't felt and seen her forelegs go outward and forward so far.
Certainly saddle fit or lack there of can create performance issues and good fit can very much alter a horse's way of going. Working locally or long distance via photos can be helpful in assessing if there is an issue.
Generally, we recommend shimming asymmetry as opposed to flocking the saddle asymmetrically due to the consequence of potentially limiting future development in that area. While a shim can easily be removed as development occurs, flocking is a little more challenging and time consuming.
To be honest, it sounds like you're trying to run before you can walk. The problem with asking for movements that demand more throughness and carrying power than you've got is that it can often lead to gait impurities. That may or may not be what's happening, but it's definitely something to look out for.
I started using the hills by the residential roads; there is a stretch of land that leads up by about 18ft between the road and a brick wall bordering a community, just wide enough to trot a circle on at such a degree of slope (I would guess 20 degree, the steepest area at a corner was probably closer to 30). The stretch goes out to a mile, having a little ditch in the middle further on between the wall and the road, and then levels out flat for another mile. There is a road that goes over a hill only an 8 degree incline, levels out at the foot of the hill, at the top slopes down again at a smaller incline to level out over 10 yards. I rode her yesterday over all of it for about 30 minutes, equal time on all the slopes, and she did well. She felt really good, I had her walk out for a while to visit neighbors first and she was yanking at the reins, even when slack, to get going. I think she likes being out of the same pasture day in day out and getting to hack out on the road. She felt really engaged and drove into my hands, between trotting on the asphalt road and going on the grass by the road, it feels like she is more upright and powerful, like she isn't slouching down or pulling along.
I practiced different rein lengths and figured out the best place she wanted to be with her neck, and let her trot freely up the hills and half-halted every step down the steeper hills. She had a tendency to speed down the hills, so I sat up/shoulders back and squeezed my fingers every step down, with my legs on, and she went very nicely... and would follow up with a faster, big trot step on the leveled ground right after in a proud way with her ears forward. Well, we're getting somewhere! She even made her transitions better, doing them quickly, easily, and with the weight on her hind end and without a fuss. The only other thing that did give me trouble was that she did not want to halt. She could walk very slow and short with a long and low frame, but would back up when halted by the road and toss her head around.
I think if I keep doing that hill and road work a few times a week, she should become better balanced and muscled for our Dressage and other Eventing work. Seems like it's not just for her, either; my leg was taking a workload, I felt like jelly when I dismounted later!
Is it alright to trot on the asphalt 2-3 times a week? Should I do it less? Her front is shod, the hinds are bare and tend to grow out quick. She only has front shoes due to a tendency to have a vertical crack on each toe (no doubt helped by how she likes to load on her forelegs... the cracks used to be worse when she plowed on her forehand most of the time.)
So I don't understand why you would be using indirect rein rather than outside leg at the girth and inside leg back slightly to hold the bend and outside rein for support as well as your shoulders turned slightly in the direction you are going. The inside rein should be able to have some give to it and should not hold or create the bend no matter the movement.
If you're not cantering there's no reason to be asking for your horse to do such difficult movements like half steps. You should never work one side MORE than the other, if you want to develop one side to be as strong as the other work both sides evenly and the one side will catch up to the other as the work gets "easy" for the strong side.
I would stick with trotting up the hill in a bit of a longer frame allowing the horse to stretch down and lift the back up and then walk down in a more collected frame asking the horse to engage the hind end and sit a little but not more than would be asked of the level you would compete. I would also no be doing this on the road but on the side of the road and if there isn't enough room on the side of the road, or the side of the road isn't fit for riding on, I wouldn't risk my horse.
If you haven't already explored this, look at Marijke de Jong's Straightness Training site. She has a course that guides you through a progression of lessons that correct asymmetry. Lots of information including the biomechanics and explanation of why the excersises help the horse's balance and straightness. It's a great resource.