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Falling apart downhill

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  • Falling apart downhill

    After many months of sporadic lameness, my new-to-dressage Arab gelding and I are finally starting to get some real riding done. I am working periodically with a trainer, who is awesome, but my budget does not currently allow for lessons/training rides more than once or twice a month so most of the time I am on my own.

    The outdoor arena we usually ride in has a fairly significant slope so that it does not become a sodden mess during the rainy season (i.e., all year except for three months during the summer). My gelding is coming along nicely in terms of maintaining tempo and straightness on the level or going uphill, but he totally falls apart downhill. He rushes, loses straightness, and then seems to have trouble negotiating turns while in this state. I know this is probably due to a combination of fitness and inexperience issues. I can give him a half-halt before we start going downhill to remind him not to let himself fall down the slope but I don't think it's really addressing the problem.

    Is this type of problem typical of green (to dressage) horses, and what is its cause? What exercises (under saddle or on the ground) are useful for addressing this problem?

    My gelding has a nice "go" button and is more likely to sort of fall over his feet running in general than he is to poke along if he's not ridden actively. He has all-day turnout every day in a large pasture with a long low hill, which has improved his fitness level quite a bit over the past few months. I ride him at least three days a week. I have taken riding lessons almost my entire life, but he is my first horse and the first one I've had any real hand in training.

    Thanks for any advice!
    MelanieC * Canis soloensis

  • #2
    transitions, Tellington Touch

    How are your horses' halt transitions on the flat, walk to halt, trot walk halt?Practice those on level ground to get the half halt "through"Many horses have difficulty going downhill; epeecially those with arthritic joints I would find a TTOUCH practitioner should be/ are several in your area; to work with your horse on the ground; They can also teach you how to exercise” train him from the ground; so that he is more uphill “ That will then be easier when mounted; ; from your description I am not certain he understands what you want him to do;
    breeder of Mercury!

    remember to enjoy the moment, and take a moment to enjoy and give God the glory for these wonderful horses in our lives.BECAUSE: LIFE is What Happens While Making Other Plans

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    • #3
      Years ago I competed an Arab in CT, and yes, dressage was a challenge. If your guy is like mine was, he's "forward" but it's all front-wheel drive, no push from the caboose. To make matters worse, Arabs tend to be rather stiff-hocked anyway, with hind legs trailing. Arthritis complicates it further.

      I would reccommend lots of lateral work. As you come to your downhill section, push him into a leg yield, that should get his hind end working. I'm actually doing the same thing with my young foundation QH (the equine equivalant of a steer) and he has gotten significantly lighter and more balanced.

      Don't despair, it will come in time! My arab was able to score in the high 60s lows 70s at the peak of his career.
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      • #4
        body wrap

        I've just reread your post again! a TTEAM "body wrap", stretched out ace bandage "figure eighted" around the horses' body gives the horse a much better sense of their body; helping them to go straighter; again, do this unmounted first so, he does not have to deal with balancing a rider as well as himself These wraps can be amazingly effective
        breeder of Mercury!

        remember to enjoy the moment, and take a moment to enjoy and give God the glory for these wonderful horses in our lives.BECAUSE: LIFE is What Happens While Making Other Plans

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        • #5
          I'm an eventer-turned-endurance rider, so I have a little dressage background. I'm sure some more experienced people will chime in, but I just wanted to put my two cents in, since I do some dressage work with my Arab.

          I ride in a large grass arena that is not completely level, and when we first started working in there, he would completely fall apart at the trot at every slight downhill. As he learned where each spot was, in typical overly smart Arab fashion, he even started to anticipate the fact that he wouldn't be able to hold himself together.

          I think what eventually solved the problem for us was two-fold. In the arena, I would work him in lots of circles -- they didn't have to be small ones, just enough to have a bend, so that I could get him on the outside rein and do half halts. It also made him concentrate more. Lots of circles, lots of changes of bend. The second half of the solution was doing hillwork as part of our endurance conditioning. Once he learned to self-carry on the downhills (trotting downhill, balanced, on a loose rein), that confidence transferred to the arena as well, and he stopped anticipating disaster.
          RIP Victor... I'll miss you, you big galumph.

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          • #6
            (I know nothing about the TTouch stuff CA is discussing, except for it having a reputation for being incredibly effective. It sounds worth checking out for you!)

            Our land is probably not as sloped, but is slightly sloped, and I can feel the difference. It has actually greatly improved my horse's balance and self-carriage overall, but at first was tricky.

            What I did was downward transitions (balanced, not letting him fall on the forehand) prior to the downhill side. This will also make him think "use backend, slow" instead of "rush on forehand." I would use half halts to get balance as we went on the downhill side, and ask him to really balance and do an upward transition just before we got to the end of the downhill. By really preparing him for it, I was asking him to hold himself up properly and work, but not for as long as if we were doing it for the entire long side. We did a lot of trotting and cantering diagonals because it wasn't quite as sloped that way, which helped considerably, too.

            Are you able to turn out in this sloped arena? Allowing the horse to play in there on its own helps them figure out balance without human interference. Longeing does as well.

            Because of your horse's history of physical problems, as you do this I would be very careful of any signs of discomfort. Sore muscles can happen and put stress on previously injured areas. He may compensate for soreness in joints or hooves in a way that you don't see lameness and he develops sore muscles, too. Just be careful, as it's our job to be good stewards for our horses and some amount of soreness from learning something new is likely.

            Overall, it should help your horse's balance and strength, but at first you may continue to have struggles! I have seen some extremely fancy Arabians, and I don't buy into the belief that they trail their hocks out behind them - some have that natural tendency and some don't, but they usually can learn to lift their backs and get stronger. I would definitely be learning/doing some baby leg yields and shoulder fore - the sideways work strengthens them, too, and uses muscles in a different way which they need to strengthen.

            Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!
            Originally posted by Silverbridge
            If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by BigHorseLittleHorse View Post

              I think what eventually solved the problem for us was two-fold. In the arena, I would work him in lots of circles -- they didn't have to be small ones, just enough to have a bend, so that I could get him on the outside rein and do half halts. It also made him concentrate more. Lots of circles, lots of changes of bend. The second half of the solution was doing hillwork as part of our endurance conditioning. Once he learned to self-carry on the downhills (trotting downhill, balanced, on a loose rein), that confidence transferred to the arena as well, and he stopped anticipating disaster.
              This.

              I have an almost identical sounding situation to the OP. All I can say is that its taken over a year, but we can finally find some balance on the downhill to the point that I CAN do hillwork, both up and down, at more than a walk without feeling like we're going to die.

              Lots of transitions and anything else you can do to strengthen that hind end and engage it. Also, lots of bending lines, lots of lateral work if you're there in your training.
              Here Be Dragons: My blog about venturing beyond the lower levels as a dressage amateur.

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              • #8
                Also, make certain that you are not contributing to the problem. Make sure you remain vertical to the ground and not tipped - even slightly - forward. Not even your head.

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                • #9
                  I also find that doing a downward transition is helpful with a horse that is anticipating the downward slope. Our grass arena has a very minor slope but at first my mare would get strung out and quick. A few weeks of doing quiet trot-walk-rebalance-trot-walk-rebalance-etc down the sloping side taught her to really listen to my half-halts and sit instead of plow ahead. I also think that all of the other suggestions above are really great exercises and may be even better suited for your situation, just thought I would throw in my experience with the issue.

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                  • #10
                    first of all i want to say that this is just a normal part of training and that nothing is wrong or unusual.

                    horses have to learn how to negotiate the world with a rider on their backs and this can take time and is the entire point of dressage.

                    the first thing i would do is not do many straight lines.... i would work on the downhill slope mostly in circles and bended lines which will give him a chance to rebalance on the even/u[hill slope before having to negotiate teh downhill portion.

                    over time increase his time on the downhill slope as he increases his balance and ability to negotiate it.

                    dont allow him to build steam... ie do not do lots of straight lines.

                    if you are careful you will see improvement over time.

                    also be SURE you are not leaning forward and adding extra weight to the forehand and also be sure you are not asking him to travel on the forehand by lowering his neck too much.

                    good luck

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                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Thanks VERY much for the advice. Danny isn't exactly an FEI candidate but he doesn't trail his hocks either. He tracks up nicely (and has the bell boot wardrobe to go with it). His balance, however, is definitely a work in progress. The slope is on the short side of the arena so there isn't much space to do much of anything, especially at speeds faster than a walk. I think I will try downward transitions before getting to the slope, either trot/walk or trot/walk/halt to mix things up. I do find that I need to mix things up constantly anyway because he either starts anticipating (not in a good way) or he gets distracted. (I found the thread about "alert" horses to be very interesting.) I will be VERY careful not to lean forward at all.

                      I can't turn him out in the arena, but the pasture he goes out in every day is basically one long hill. I do think that being out there has improved his fitness a lot. His back, which is a bit low, is a completely different shape than it was when he came off of stall rest.

                      Thanks again!
                      MelanieC * Canis soloensis

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