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Exercises/ tips to combat tension, stiffness, and being "locked up"

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  • Exercises/ tips to combat tension, stiffness, and being "locked up"

    My new project horse is a 6 year old OTTB. She is as sweet as can be, really a nice mare. I've been working with her since the middle of September, and we've been doing quite well, considering that I'm a student and have less time than I'd like. Due to general lack of training (aside from Run Fast), she's very stiff under saddle -- doesn't know how to bend through her rib cage; tends to be on the forehand; leans around corners instead of bending if she has a choice.

    I've brought along horses with similar (and worse) issues before, and I'm working with my coach whom I trust and adore, but I thought the wisdom of COTH might provide a visual or exercise that might help.

    The problem that's come up is that I'm really tensing up while riding. My inside leg is getting short, I'm sitting on my outside seat bone (I think, in an attempt to keep her from falling in so much), and I'm being very ineffective. It's a bit of a vicious circle: I ask for a bit of bend, she resists and tenses, and for some reason I am curling and locking myself up -- my inside leg looks insane on video (different computer or I'd share). I know I should respond to her tension by making myself even more relaxed, and that my inside leg is totally useless when it's curling into a ball, but it feels like I'm hitting a bit of a brick wall.

    A very small part of this is the saddle. I hate it, but she's not my horse, and we don't have a different one to fit her yet. I am loathe to blame equipment for my shortcomings though, so if you've worked through something like this, please share!

    For what it's worth, on my own mare and mother's gelding, I'm managing to stay soft and centered -- even through moments of resistance. My lower leg could use a bit of work, but in general, I have a reasonably good position.

    ETA: I should mention, she's been off the track for a number of years. It's unlikely that she's experiencing pain etc. that would be limiting her right now -- she's been recently very thoroughly vetted

  • #2
    I hope to hear other responses about this.

    When I try for SI in my horse's stiffer direction, I repeatedly use lots of inside leg and soon end up with a near-cramped leg that is stuffed up into my hip joint (so it feels), and I'm positive I am not being clear to my horse at all. I try to walk around without stirrups to get my leg to come back down to earth, but I'm usually stuck for the day.

    Comment

    • Original Poster

      #3
      Ha! GimmeQs -- Today after my ride on the little (17hh!) girl, I hopped on my mare and did nothing but walk without stirrups for 20 minutes, trying to get my legs to work properly! (Of course, they behaved themselves right away, prompting my coach to say "okay, now just do that on the other one!")

      Comment


      • #4
        When I was teaching I had many tense riders come my way because I only taught adults. One thing that helped some was an old, yoga exercise. Start at the top of your head or your heel and conciously relax one set of muscles at the time. Up or down your whole body. You can do this lying in bed or even driving. another is to concentrate on your breathing. In through the nose out through the mouth. Think relax, relax when you breathe out. If you are tense, of course, the horse is tense. I know you may have heard these exercises before, but try them for a week or so. It may help.

        As far as the saddle. Can't help you there, other than to ask if you've tried your own saddle on her? Why would the owner object if it fits correctly?
        Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"

        Comment


        • #5
          You've got to take the training back to where you both can be relaxed and are set up for success. If that's riding without stirrups at only the walk, or a different saddle, or in hand, or on the lunge .
          www.destinationconsensusequus.com
          chaque pas est fait ensemble

          Comment


          • #6
            On my rather tense OTTB who can tend to get "locked," as well, I do several things. First, I sing. It sounds stupid, but I belt out a song at the top of my lungs - children's songs work particularly well as I tend to know them well and they are easy to sing. Row row your boat, etc. My "eyes on the ground" person says she can see him visibly relax when I sing.

            Second, I slow and control my posting at the trot. This is difficult when he begins to race, but necessary, and this is where my weekly lesson comes in. Takes a lot of pilates .

            Third, I do flexions. Slow posting, a little flex inside, a little flex to the outside, and soon he's sighing and chewing. Streeeetch my legs down, Streeetch my core uppppp. Those are my visualizations, and reeelax. I do the progressive visualizations that CFFarm recommends as well - particularly relaxing my shoulders, arms, and hands, because if those get tense it will transfer through the bit and to his mouth.

            He has gone from a rather hot mess to a very nice horse in a short time with this. We have a LONG ways to go still, but this is helping ME not fall apart while we work on it. Now if we can apply this to an AWAY situation we'll be doing just fine!

            Comment


            • #7
              BEND IS YOUR FRIEND! Straightness is closer to the top of the training scale for a reason, LOL! Ask the horse to bend around your supportive inside leg, and not just the head and neck. Put your outside leg back and be sure the haunches are also wrapping around that inside leg. When you feel the horse release pressure on the inside rein (because they are properly bent in the body) be sure your inside hand stays where it is (don't bring it back to regain a contact.) Let her realize the bend will bring her a release. This will help her release her jaw, neck, and sides. When she releases that inside rein, that is the moment to play a little with your outside fingers to teach her the concept of inside leg to outside rein. As the horse progresses you will not need such an obvious release on the inner rein, but the inner rein should always feel gentle.

              Comment


              • #8
                it sounds to me like there is missing foundation at work.

                horses aren't born knowing how to be supple and soft... tensing up is a reaction to being out of balance and possibly being unsure what the rider wants.

                my suggestion would be to start at teh bottom of the training scale:
                Rhythm and relaxation.... just ride her forward on big (20 meter) circles, bended lines and straight lines. work on getting her to go nicely forward from your driving aid - not yet worrying about where her head and neck are, if she is bending etc.

                be sure to give on the heavier rein so the contact is even. Just by doing this she should start slightly bending on the curved lines.... over time you can make the circles and bended lines smaller, and add in changes of direction (ie serpentine's) .... if you are doing this correctly over time she will learn how to balance on the bended lines and this will equate her being more upright in turns.

                i would not attempt shoulder In or any advanced work with this horse yet. perhaps leg yield and turn on the forehand but this horse isnt ready yet for more challenging work.

                you might get one of the basic training books by klimke because it is all laid out very clearly.

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  mbm: Definitely no SI or any lateral work with this girl yet! (The poster below me mentioned SI issues with her horse ) This is a definite "holes in foundation" issue, because she's really got no foundation! We're trying to lay one! We started in September at a little beyond square one, i.e., we didn't have to back her, but aside from that, everything is new: moving off the leg, steering, etc.

                  For me, this is a new situation in some ways because in the past I've either worked with rehab situations, like my own girl who knew w-t-c, but had a whole host of crazy issues to work through. Or, I've worked with green as grass babies and started totally from square one. This girl presents a little bit of both sides: totally new to this kind of work, but with her own issues re: stiffness and tension from former track training.

                  Thanks for all the suggestions so far We'll be working on breathing, centering, and reeeelaxing at each step of the ride. That, I think, is the key for this situation. I'm accepting "sorta" relaxed and "sorta" straight at the walk, and then moving on to trot work... when I think it out, it's no surprise that the work is going downhill as we move through the paces!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by kashmere View Post
                    ...she's very stiff under saddle -- doesn't know how to bend through her rib cage; .."


                    ... My inside leg is getting short, I'm sitting on my outside seat bone (I think, in an attempt to keep her from falling in so much), and I'm being very ineffective. It's a bit of a vicious circle: I ask for a bit of bend, she resists and tenses, and for some reason I am curling and locking myself up -- my inside leg looks insane on video (different computer or I'd share). I know I should respond to her tension by making myself even more relaxed, and that my inside leg is totally useless when it's curling into a ball, but it feels like I'm hitting a bit of a brick wall.
                    Hi,
                    oh my, it does sound like a vicious circle, doesn't it?

                    there are a couple of things that stood out to me in your post: the bending through the ribcage part - horse's spine has very little lateral bending ability in that area! the "bend in the ribcage idea" comes from the horse shifting his barrel over. don't get frustrated by trying to do the impossible!

                    here's a very simple suggestion: if/when you feel yourself locking up - STOP! seriously. Chances are the problem is not so acute at the lower gait (or halt) or maybe a wider corner? So stop, regroup, correct your weight, relax - if your coach (sounds like centered riding?) can "tap" the bottom of the foot (bubbling spring point) to relax your leg - if not, put yourself through the steps she uses to let go of the leg tension.
                    Then start again... I have this strange idea that when things are going really badly for the rider - there's a strong chance no-one is learning (or enjoying) anything!

                    ok, now for the mechanics.... if you choose to use your inside leg to bend the horse (I will not go off topic and get into any alternative ways here, as that is not what you asked...) - so, if you choose to use your leg to bend the horse - maybe a helpful step would be to make sure your horse understands. So stand on the ground beside her - hold your reins doing whatever they do when you ride - and apply pressure (if you need both hands on the reins, you can put your hip into her side, or you may need a helper).
                    I can hear the comment: "yeah, but my outside leg isn't there to keep the haunches...." well - you could put her next to a wall. or get a helper.
                    The whole point is - simplify. Think from the horse's point of view. Make sure she has some means of telling when your leg means go forward, when it means go sideways and when it means move your belly over but keep turning towards the pressure... sorry I have no suggestions how to do that....

                    if your horse understands on the ground - another helpful thing will be that you will see that she can do it! Then repeat the steps from the saddle - bend at the halt, proceed to walk, the moment things go wrong - stop, bend again etc... not suggesting that is the way you ride from now on, but it is an interesting and helpful exercise and certainly will evict the tensions from your body!

                    An important point here: anytime you hold a pressure with your lower leg for more then a second, your body will lock up - especially your pelvis, chances are you will stop breathing etc. - try it now in your chair: push your foot really hard against the floor - what happened? to your seatbones? your breathing? even your vision? (soft/hard eyes) If you happen to get the same result as me, and you agree - then you may want to use your leg "in spurts" - don't hold/increase pressure - instead repeat and re-enforce. just a suggestion... either way - keep focus on what happens in the rest of your body and make up your own mind about what works for you.

                    Lead your horse on a circle on a loose lead line - how does she handle the corner then? remember that the bend follows the line of the arc - if you drew your path in the sand - ex: 20meter circle - draw the 3 meter segment that your horse would be on - notice how little "bend" there actually is!!! If you are riding corners as a part of a 10meter circle - do the same experiment - with a stick, draw your path in the sand, then look at the part equivalent to the length of your horse - the front of it is where the nose would be, the end is where the tail would be.
                    Do some critical thinking of your own...

                    have fun with this and enjoy the learning this horse is helping you with!
                    Zuzana

                    http://www.ridebetter.ca

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      btw, not sure if i said this in an earlier post - but if you are looking to get your horse to bend, use bended lines to get bend - not your leg.

                      if you ride bended lines correctly (ie letting go of the heavier rein so the contact is EVEN) the horse will bend.... but you need to do baby steps.... 20m circles with maybe some spiral in to 15m and back out to 20m to teach her (softy) how to use her body correctly....

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        We were actually working on bending lines yesterday! Great minds...? I think my description of bending her with the leg was misleading. I mean to describe bending her around my inside leg, using the rein pressures mbm described, i.e., asking for bend, releasing into even rein pressure, rewarding like a fool when she softens! Of course, it works much more effectively when my leg isn't curling into oblivion, but I have high hopes that just re-asserting the power of basics, walking, and breathing (breathing! novel idea!) will help us back on track.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Zuzana Schrammova View Post
                          Hi,
                          oh my, it does sound like a vicious circle, doesn't it?

                          there are a couple of things that stood out to me in your post: the bending through the ribcage part - horse's spine has very little lateral bending ability in that area! the "bend in the ribcage idea" comes from the horse shifting his barrel over. don't get frustrated by trying to do the impossible!

                          here's a very simple suggestion: if/when you feel yourself locking up - STOP! seriously. Chances are the problem is not so acute at the lower gait (or halt) or maybe a wider corner? So stop, regroup, correct your weight, relax - if your coach (sounds like centered riding?) can "tap" the bottom of the foot (bubbling spring point) to relax your leg - if not, put yourself through the steps she uses to let go of the leg tension.
                          Then start again... I have this strange idea that when things are going really badly for the rider - there's a strong chance no-one is learning (or enjoying) anything!

                          ok, now for the mechanics.... if you choose to use your inside leg to bend the horse (I will not go off topic and get into any alternative ways here, as that is not what you asked...) - so, if you choose to use your leg to bend the horse - maybe a helpful step would be to make sure your horse understands. So stand on the ground beside her - hold your reins doing whatever they do when you ride - and apply pressure (if you need both hands on the reins, you can put your hip into her side, or you may need a helper).
                          I can hear the comment: "yeah, but my outside leg isn't there to keep the haunches...." well - you could put her next to a wall. or get a helper.
                          The whole point is - simplify. Think from the horse's point of view. Make sure she has some means of telling when your leg means go forward, when it means go sideways and when it means move your belly over but keep turning towards the pressure... sorry I have no suggestions how to do that....

                          if your horse understands on the ground - another helpful thing will be that you will see that she can do it! Then repeat the steps from the saddle - bend at the halt, proceed to walk, the moment things go wrong - stop, bend again etc... not suggesting that is the way you ride from now on, but it is an interesting and helpful exercise and certainly will evict the tensions from your body!

                          An important point here: anytime you hold a pressure with your lower leg for more then a second, your body will lock up - especially your pelvis, chances are you will stop breathing etc. - try it now in your chair: push your foot really hard against the floor - what happened? to your seatbones? your breathing? even your vision? (soft/hard eyes) If you happen to get the same result as me, and you agree - then you may want to use your leg "in spurts" - don't hold/increase pressure - instead repeat and re-enforce. just a suggestion... either way - keep focus on what happens in the rest of your body and make up your own mind about what works for you.

                          Lead your horse on a circle on a loose lead line - how does she handle the corner then? remember that the bend follows the line of the arc - if you drew your path in the sand - ex: 20meter circle - draw the 3 meter segment that your horse would be on - notice how little "bend" there actually is!!! If you are riding corners as a part of a 10meter circle - do the same experiment - with a stick, draw your path in the sand, then look at the part equivalent to the length of your horse - the front of it is where the nose would be, the end is where the tail would be.
                          Do some critical thinking of your own...

                          have fun with this and enjoy the learning this horse is helping you with!
                          This^

                          I work a TB 11yo raced for 7 years off the track for 2. He was stiff at first. Do the carrot treat by giving him a carrot on either side and each time asking him to stretch farther.

                          Remember - easy does it - you can't get suppleness in a day.

                          Practise your head and neck bends at the halt. Reward when she gives you just a little. Do large circles in the arena and large serpentines - remember large. She'll supple little by little.

                          As she supples - your aides will become lighter and you'll stiffen less. This will take weeks - no hurry.

                          Try lunging with the lunge rein snapped onto the girth and threaded through the snaffle ring of the bit. Large lunge circle and just lunge this way for 1 or 2 days per week for 15 - 20 mins tops. This is asking alot from her but it works - if you don't abuse it and reward her when she starts to relax into it.

                          Do what you can to find a saddle that you are comfortable in and that fits her. Comfort is the key to relaxation.

                          Have fun - conditioning a horse is a wonderful project but you must think of them like atheletes and go slow. Make sure they are happy. Reward her her efforts by going on a slow relaxed trail or a ride around the premises.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            i also suggest starting on the ground. there are some good Clinton Anderson, Parelli, whatever floats your boat exercises to teach your horse to move each piece of her body when pressur is applied.

                            the most important thing is to release the pressure when you get even a small response.

                            same thing in the tack. consistent rein contact is also important - not to the point that she's leaning into your hand (this usually means the hind end has stopped working), but so she knows you're there.

                            teaching the half halt at the walk when you're relaxed can also be valuable.
                            www.TackMeUp.com
                            'What's in your trunk?'
                            Free tools for Trainers and Riders

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