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Straightening Exercises & Amateur Training Tips?

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  • Straightening Exercises & Amateur Training Tips?

    My mare and I have finally gotten to the point where we are working on straightness. She is solid in most of 1st level and has some 2nd level exercises down (shoulder in, travers, counter canter circles). She can give my trainer good lengthenings but she dumps the shoulders when I'm riding.

    We're now working on straightness in most of my lessons so I'm getting a better idea of what's missing and where she's crooked.

    When I'm facing the mirror I can see the crookedness and fix it. When I'm not looking at a mirror I have a much harder time feeling it if she's slightly crooked. I only have mirrors on one short end of the arena. I try to avoid riding directly on the rail unless it's serving a specific purpose (like keeping her from stepping wide with the outside hind leg).

    What are good, specific exercises I can do that will assist with straightness?

    My rides have just recently changed from spending 45 minutes of the ride getting my horse properly on the aids to now we actually get to "train" for 20-30 minutes. With this change my new struggle is learning how to be an effective trainer at improving my horse rather than improving myself enough to competently ask my horse to do exercises she already knows.

    I will spend 15-20 minutes in warmup and get everything I've asked for and then I'm thinking "now what?" I can certainly think of things to do but at this point I might as well be pulling suggestions out of a hat. My trainer has given me a couple things to work on but I'm trying to figure out how to plan the true training part of my ride once warmup is over on my own.

    Anyone else go through this and how did you handle it? What are your favorite sources for finding new training exercises to try (besides COTH of course!)?

  • #2
    A lot of lateral work which trains both of you. At the walk and in hand. Honestly if the horse is crooked you don't have first level nailed. And if it takes 20/minutes to get the horse "on the aids" then you also have a problem. And straightness and balance are part of warmup.

    Comment

    • Original Poster

      #3
      I'd say it takes 20 minutes to take my horse from standing in the pasture or a stall to a horse who is equally supple (as she can be ATM) both directions, on the aids etc.

      Things I normally do during warmup to accomplish this:
      -10m figure eights at walk and trot
      - renvers and travers at the walk, sometimes on straight lines, sometimes on a circle
      - rising trot with frequent changes of bend and direction, throwing in small pieces of leg yielding along the rail and 3 loop serpentines
      - tear drop shapes both directions at walk and trot
      - leg yield zig zags at trot
      - shoulder in at the trot both directions

      Do you think I should do all of that in less than 20 minutes? She is certainly not perfectly straight 100% of the time while performing these movements but it is something I'm actively working on and correcting as much as possible.

      I take the time do these things to reaffirm where we are as a pair on that particular day before moving on to new things. If we are struggling somewhere in one of the things I listed above, I work on that.

      I never said I'd nailed first level. I only stated where we are so I wouldn't get suggestions that are beyond us.

      Comment


      • #4
        True straightness is actually pretty far up the training scale - I don't think it's something you need 100% confirmed until you start the changes and half steps. Of course you'll get dinged on your centerlines if you are not straight, but the rest of the movements until Third generally have bend or allow for a shoulder-fore to create straightness. The only moves that require a completely straight horse are the tempis, piaffe, transitions between p/p, halt, and reinback.

        I would not pick on straightness at the walk due to the lack of impulsion. I think the easiest place to feel lack of straightness is in transitions, so I'd just be doing a ton of those on the quarter line and figuring out where the horse likes to stray in her hips and shoulders. Do lots of halt-trot-halt and trot-canter-trot. Doing several rein backs on the centerline can show you where the horse likes to get crooked in the hind end. Working on straightness, you'll also probably find which rein doesn't have 100% honest connection, so you can start working on that now too.

        As you are already doing in your warm up, make sure you have independent control of each hip and shoulder as well as being able to swing the barrel each direction.

        Comment


        • #5
          My definition of warm up is walk trot and canter , the initial trot work asking for a stretch down, in order to engage the top line, initially I walk though, then trot , my warmup may include transitions with in the gait at all gaits. It is only then that I get into serious work, such as lateral work, concentrating on keeping the pace, and correctness. I seldom run through a whole repertoire before getting to new work, at which I might spend no more than 10 min.

          Then we go to cool down mode.

          I feel your "warm-up" is overly ambitious.
          Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

          Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by TequilaMockingbird View Post
            I'd say it takes 20 minutes to take my horse from standing in the pasture or a stall to a horse who is equally supple (as she can be ATM) both directions, on the aids etc.

            Things I normally do during warmup to accomplish this:
            -10m figure eights at walk and trot
            - renvers and travers at the walk, sometimes on straight lines, sometimes on a circle
            - rising trot with frequent changes of bend and direction, throwing in small pieces of leg yielding along the rail and 3 loop serpentines
            - tear drop shapes both directions at walk and trot
            - leg yield zig zags at trot
            - shoulder in at the trot both directions

            Do you think I should do all of that in less than 20 minutes? She is certainly not perfectly straight 100% of the time while performing these movements but it is something I'm actively working on and correcting as much as possible.

            I take the time do these things to reaffirm where we are as a pair on that particular day before moving on to new things. If we are struggling somewhere in one of the things I listed above, I work on that.

            I never said I'd nailed first level. I only stated where we are so I wouldn't get suggestions that are beyond us.
            OK, this sounds like a much better foundation than I'd assumed. I do see a lot of riders at this stage who have never done lateral at the walk, and only think of it as something to be added at the trot when the next test requires it. Apologies!

            Comment


            • #7
              Taking 20 minutes under saddle from the pasture or stall to the horse's current state of training seems quite reasonable to me. There's a reason we "warm up through the levels." Even FEI-level horses don't start their warm up in an FEI frame or state of balance.

              Here are some good exercises that help with developing straightness:
              -Think of keeping horses body consistently between the channel of your aids (leg, leg, sit bone, sit bone, hand, hand). You should not feel horse more on one leg or hand or sit bone than the other (that would be a clue that horse or you are not straight!)
              -Ride on quarter lines and center lines with a clear destination.
              -Set up cones and ride between them (including on four points of a circle)
              -Incorporate transitions and still attend to straightness through the transitions (many horses will tend to get crooked or lean into one transition or another).
              -Explore counter movements as you are ready (counter shoulder-in, etc.).
              -Ride squares in walk (more advanced horses can ride in trot and canter). Steer the shoulders.

              Comment


              • #8
                Another thing to focus on is rider straightness. Sometimes we aren't as straight as we think we are and that transfers to the horse.
                Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are.

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Thank you for your comments.

                  Rider straighteness is something I'm working on. My trainer is big on rider position. I may get to clinic with Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel soon. I'm not expecting her to give me new revelations in regards to what I can improve. But I think she might have a different way of explaining things that could make a difference.

                  I don't necessarily do every single one of these exercises every time I ride but I do at least 60% of that every time. I usually wait until the end to do canter unless it's a short one or it's cold outside. Doing too much canter too early in the ride is a good way to run out of gas early in a hot, humid climate.

                  I have done squares at walk and trot. Canter would probably be too much right now. I will keep this exercise in mind.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by TequilaMockingbird View Post
                    Thank you for your comments.

                    Rider straighteness is something I'm working on. My trainer is big on rider position. I may get to clinic with Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel soon. I'm not expecting her to give me new revelations in regards to what I can improve. But I think she might have a different way of explaining things that could make a difference.

                    I don't necessarily do every single one of these exercises every time I ride but I do at least 60% of that every time. I usually wait until the end to do canter unless it's a short one or it's cold outside. Doing too much canter too early in the ride is a good way to run out of gas early in a hot, humid climate.

                    I have done squares at walk and trot. Canter would probably be too much right now. I will keep this exercise in mind.
                    Hopefully you will get a chance to ride with Felicitas. She is amazing and has really helped me in terms of working on straightness with my mare, even with only having the opportunity to ride with her a few times.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Instead of your warm up being a set routine (unless your horse needs a routine to be sane), think of what you are trying to achieve in your warm up. Every day I come out and my goal is to make my horse quick off the aids, supple, and forward so I try to feel what my horse is giving me from the get go and improve on it. Some days our warm up set is 5 minutes and sometimes it is 10 minutes. It all depends on how he is letting me in and what kind of a day he is having. The goal is to spend as little time as possible and still do a good job of warming us both up.

                      Some exercises I use in warm up:
                      I usually do leg yields away from the wall/all the way across the diagonal because that makes him upright in his shoulders. I also really like counterbending on a 20m circle, making sure to keep the shoulders up with my true inside leg (don't let him fall to the true inside just because he is counterbent). I use shoulder fore at the canter to get his inside leg up and under him and get more jump in the canter. If he is feeling really stiff, I'll incorporate the "tortellini exercise" which is, on a 20m circle, SI, straight, push the haunches around (leg yield on the circle away from your inside leg so their nose is pointing towards the inside of the circle), straight, travers, straight, and repeat. Just gently bending his body until he loosens up. I want him moving easily between the diagonal aids at my cue.

                      I've found straightness to be all about shoulder fore/shoulder in, and NOT chasing the haunches if you are on a wiggle worm. Chasing the haunches gets you nowhere. Also, riding two legs to two reins like railroad tracks helps me.

                      You have to ride in what you want, not what you don't want.

                      Hope that helps some!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I do a lot of what I call horse yoga. Keep in mind that I have a torn ankle ligament awaiting surgery, and a big draft cross horse that is built to get up and short in the neck.

                        We do a LOT of walk lateral work in anything from regular contact to a little deep to forward/down/out and back again. Lateral work starts in leg yield to leg yield loops. From there its shoulder fore/in to walk/halt/walk maintain SI, to transitioning from SI to shoulder out along one wall and haunches in to haunches out on the other. Sometimes its SI down the long wall through the corner to HI along the short wall. Then shallow loops of leg yield off the wall and shallow haunches in/baby half pass back. If I'm riding this well, the positions flow and she starts asking for more and more stretch from her back loosening and working. I keep an eye that the muscles in front of the withers are working and what we work on depends on what is tight/difficult.

                        Then its a fair amount of work on serpentines with uphill transitions at the centerline walk/halt/walk, trot/halt/trot, more transitions in shoulder in walk/trot/walk and the reverse. The better it gets, the more we work on straight instead of SI. Canter work around the outside trotting the corners and picking up the opposite lead for each wall. Serpentines with alternating loops of canter and trot.

                        Well, that's what it was before the rains of fall doom started. Now we're in winter hacking mode but there will still be much of the same walk work in the field, in our hackamore.
                        The stories of the T-Rex Eventer

                        Big Head, Little Arms, Still Not Thinking It Through

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