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What can I do to better ride my big mover?

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  • #21
    I am also smaller (five foot two). Re dressage, I do believe us smaller folk need to ride a bit differently to keep up with the movement. A good reference video would be Debbie Mcdonald riding Brentina.



    I find if I try to absorb the movement with my thighs, that works a better than concentrating on the "sitting" part. If I think of stretching down the back of my calves to my heels, that works better than trying to weight my heels.

    Letting go of shoulder tension helps, re ride with one hand on reins and doing arms circles or stretches with other hand at sit trot, or loose reins and do shoulder shrugs.

    Part of it imo is pyshcological...as you noted the big movement "feels" scary and explosive, even though the horse is not doing anything disobedient. Rather than trying to contain and limit the movement to what feels safe, try to trust it and go with it. My horse is not big and he's not a WB but he has big, rolling, bouncing movement and can bounce you right out of the saddle, so it's been a work in progress!

    I read the book by Debbie Mcdonald...a former pro on the h/j circuit, she wrote she had to spend six months on the lunge line when she transitioned to dressage. I love her quiet seat and leg. She does seem to be absorbing more of the movement in somewhat active shoulders...the movement has to go somewhere. Short folks have less "leg" to absorb the movement so perhaps absorbing it in the shoulders and allowing them to move more is the best solution? Still trying to figure it out.
    Last edited by Countrywood; May. 12, 2013, 09:58 AM.


    • #22
      When the bigness of gait feels overwhelming is it more vertical loft or ground cover?
      chaque pas est fait ensemble


      • #23
        I have just recently been able to sit my big horse's extended trot. It has taken a lot of time and work, but now it doesn't seem so bad!! For a long time I really thought I'd never be able to do it though!

        I think part of our recent success is that he has gotten stronger to stay through and carry himself more so he doesn't want to lean on me or fall apart if I make one little movement on his back, so that helps a lot. He's starting to carry me, instead of requiring my help to stay balanced with every step. I don't think there is anything in particular I did that got us here, besides normal good dressage work every day and giving him the time to build up the strength. He's just turned 7 and I've had him about 2.5 years now, and he's a 17 hand ottb. I think big, leggy horses just take longer sometimes to be able to control their own bodies and put on the muscle to stay through and carry themselves.

        The other significant change I made lately is that I started running, stretching, and I increased the amount of sit ups I do. I thought I was fit before, I ride 2-3 horses a day, spend hours walking laps around the arena while I teach, and have an exercise ball instead of a chair in front of my computer so I spend a fair amount of time on it. The running and stretching has made a HUGE difference in my riding. The other day I did 4 miles in 43 minutes, and it made me work pretty good but I won't run so fast/long that I am too tired to go ride after and whatnot. It's taken me just over a month to get there (so I was relatively fit to start with, my first run was a 10 minute mile but I didn't have the stamina to go much further), running 2-3 days a week, and it's just in the last week or so that I've seen my riding take a BIG step forward.
        Gallant Gesture "Liam" 1995 chestnut ottb gelding
        Mr. Painter "Remy" 2006 chestnut ottb gelding
        My Training Blog: www.dressagefundamentals.com


        • #24
          I also suggest some lessons with a dressage trainer. If you can get some time on the lunge line, that also may be beneficial.

          Have you read Centered Riding? There is a lot in there about specific imagery to help you find the motion and drape your body.

          I've never tried it, but I know many people find pilates to be very helpful. I would think, though, that you might need a bridge between a pilates instructor and someone who has diagnosed what you need from a riding perspective.

          In hunters, the focus is on having a tight leg; in dressage, the focus is on draping the leg. You can't hold yourself on with your leg, especially not when you're small and riding a big horse. As an event rider, I've had to learn to switch between both kinds of leg, which has made me an infinitely better rider.
          If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


          • #25
            big movers DO become easier to sit when they are collected and through, for me. i am not sure what those of you are doing who do not find it so


            • #26
              agree getting some good dressage lessons.....

              i will say the following you need to align your body over your horse center of gravity in such a way that you can absorb the movement... anything tense or forced wont help.

              think about just relaxing and allowing the movement to flow thru you while remaining upright and over his COG.

              you do need strong core but a very flexible back as the back is the absorption mechanism.

              good luck!


              • #27
                Have you read Centered Riding? There is a lot in there about specific imagery to help you find the motion and drape your body.
                , although reading didn't help me until I took a clinic with a really good Centered Riding instructor. I take as many clinics with the instructor as I can...I always get something else out of it. Just reading the book, I could get behind the kinesthetic awareness principles, and the idea of creating balance...but a lot of the imagery seemed a little hokey. Once I had the clinic for context, I realized that the images (like the "growing tree") were really just triggers, easy reminders of a feeling of balance/connection.

                I have two big-moving horses. My Thoroughbred makes my Warmblood feel like a luxury car in comparison. He has a huge long stride, bizarre amounts of vertical "oomph" and is really skinny/slab-sided... even at 16.2hh I have trouble draping my leg around him, because he kind of falls away under my long legs. For about three years I struggled and struggled, not only could I not sit his trot, I could barely stay on him over fences (enthusiastic bascule) and he sometimes seemed to teleport out from under me at the canter. I fell off all the time. Sometimes more than once a lesson. I fought and fought to stay "still" to the point where I actually rode him without my lower leg touching him AT ALL. My instructor kept droning on about "core strength" but the reality was that I had more "strength" than any rider she'd ever coached...to my own detriment. I was fit and strong enough to hold the unnatural positions and fight against this horse...I could actually "hold" an impression of a sitting trot for one round of the arena. Thighs of steel. I could hold what I thought was "2-point" WITHOUT MY LOWER LEG TOUCHING THE HORSE. To his credit, he put up with all this nonsense and was eager to go, every lesson.

                Anyway, I had a break from the sainted Thoroughbred and during that time I took my first few Centered Riding clinics on the warmblood. The huge revelations for me were:

                1) your lower leg needs to touch the horse. This is non-negotiable. The inside of your whole leg (both legs, actually) needs to touch the horse.
                2) you need to move to appear "still" or "quiet" because the horse is moving...the only way to appear "still" is to synchronise with him.
                3) the horse's movement has distinct lateral (left and right) components...you need to unclench your center so that your two halves can receive the movement independently

                Also, I've had many "helpful" people give me advice on riding that Thoroughbred. They usually shut up when I get them up on him. He's hard to ride. End of story. No matter how fit and collected he is, most regular people look like sacks of potatoes the first time they try him. They give me a lot more credit from that point forward...I don't look like a sack of potatoes all the time on him, which is a lot more work than most people assume.

                Regarding your height, it may also be true that this horse just doesn't fit you very well. That's ok too. My Thoroughbred doesn't fit me very well...but I was able to learn how to ride him a lot more effectively. It was worth it, because taking those lessons over to my warmblood (who does fit me) I find the lessons a lot easier to implement. I don't have to work quite as hard. Taking the initial Centered Riding on the warmblood might have helped too, because he fit me, I wasn't starting with too many marks against me, it was easier to learn...so when I took the improvements over to the Thoroughbred, I had a pretty solid idea of what I needed to do.
                Lifestyle coordinator for Zora, Spooky, Wolfgang and Warrior


                • #28
                  Originally posted by chisamba View Post
                  big movers DO become easier to sit when they are collected and through, for me. i am not sure what those of you are doing who do not find it so
                  There is a world of difference between "easier" and "easy", which is the term you used in your first post.
                  Proud COTH lurker since 2001.


                  • #29
                    Originally posted by Lost_at_C View Post
                    There is a world of difference between "easier" and "easy", which is the term you used in your first post.
                    hahaha, okay, fair enough, easier ... mea culpa


                    • Original Poster

                      Originally posted by Petstorejunkie View Post
                      When the bigness of gait feels overwhelming is it more vertical loft or ground cover?
                      It is both, depending on what I am asking of him. If I add leg with more rein contact, and ask for a little collection, he can give me quite a bit of vertical loft. Softer reins=he covers a lot of ground.

                      A good portion of his movement comes from his personality. When I school at home, I prefer to have one of the horse's ears back on me, but had to change my expectations with this horse, he is always looking at everything, and very excited about EVERYTHING, but he is always listening, and even if he is looking at something outside the arena I can trust he will still quickly listen and respond to any cue that I give him. Our rides go like this: I get on, and ask him to walk. He says "YEAH! We are going to WALK!" I say, "let's trot", he says "YEAH! We're going to TROT!" I say, "Ok, halt" he says "YEAH! HALT!!" He just puts 100% into everything that we do, and the excitement and energy transfers to his movement.

                      Gallant, you and I have very similar workloads and activity levels; your post and all the others advising pilates, yoga, sit-ups, and running, have convinced me to start upping my fitness level and diversity.

                      Countrywood, I laughed a little when I read your post. In my original post, I thought about mentioning Debbie, as I was one incredibly lucky duck and had working student/groom position at River Grove when I was a teen. I trained mainly with her husband, but I idolize Debbie, her riding style, and her riding philosophy. I continue to study her quite a bit, as her height and body build are VERY similar to mine.

                      Thank you so much everyone, for your input. There is so much useful information on here that I will explore. If I can, and if you all promise to be kind to someone who has only trained projects and been without a formal lesson in while, I will post a video to easier explain how this guy goes, and get some feedback on my riding him. I ran into a good trainer/old friend at a schooling show Saturday and she's willing and able to take me for a few lessons this month, as well, could be very interesting...

                      I hope all of you lovely ladies had a nice Mother's Day, horsey moms too!


                      • #31
                        No one quite said this, but just in case this helps, there are definitely trainers in dressage who are more oriented towards developing a seat and who have more expertise in kinesthetics and biomechanics than what I would call a traditional dressage trainer might. (This is not to say that a traditional dressage trainer cannot help you, though!) If you can find a clinic with one of them, you probably can get a couple of very focused lessons that could help you quite a bit.

                        This is one of the problems that is really worth spending some resources on, because it will make a big difference in your riding and really can only be addressed in person, with someone able to direct you precisely in the moment. It will unlock a lot of other riding for you.

                        Good luck!
                        If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                        • #32
                          Originally posted by Gloria View Post
                          You say you are in good shape, very strong from doing all the barn work from stacking hay bales to cleaning stalls, but how strong exactly is your core? Barn works don't really build your core...
                          EXACTLY! Also a mom to a big moving, 6 year old who also struggled with her right lead. The biggest thing for me was pilates. Core work makes a huge difference to the point where my instructor can tell if I missed a few classes or not.


                          • #33
                            Im a whopping 4"10 and prefer the 16.2hh++ big movers! May or may not help as ive developed the skill as a compensation,

                            I ride 95% from my seat, learning to stretch out and use my legs is hard!

                            I can apparently engage my core in a way that im balanced without having to use my legs as supports, now i cant stand off a horse without falling over!

                            Work on engaging your core, relaxing into the movement with your lower body also
                            Working on his tempo helps alot too
                            Beyond the Ring-para dressage, training, coaching

                            Proud Team Four Star Minion! Renegade for Life!


                            • #34
                              A really good mover should be NICE to sit - it should actually feel like you're riding the horse rather than sitting on top of it like a short-moving horse does.
                              Although there are of course rules to "sitting" - and it's actually a long, hard process to learn to sit properly (especially if you're new to dressage and from the H/J world: I was new to dressage a few years ago (from jumpers) and I had a coach who was awesome at teaching equitation) - if you already know how to sit properly a big-moving horse should not be an issue. The only issue would be if said big-moving horse is not connected and is rigid through his back so you will be forced to bounce around on top. Given that you said he's a handful at shows and things, my guess is that this is mainly the problem. If he is tense he will be impossible to sit.
                              This is usually the problem when learning how to sit a big-moving horse's extended trot, I find: simply that the trot gets unconnected.

                              My 6 y/o Dutch/TB is quite a big mover: not necessarily bouncy but really long-strided. About a month ago when I started riding him the first time I rode in my dressage saddle and tried to sit I couldn't believe how bad I was (and I just spent 8 months riding GP dressage horses in NZ so it's not that I'm out of practice). I was seriously worried that I couldn't sit this horse's trot for some reason or that my saddle sucked or something. But it was simply that I was riding a forward, working, rising trot but trying to sit it. And that doesn't work so well. Now I've been working on a more collected sitting trot and it's a zillion times better: my horse is way more connected and through and his trot is the best it's ever looked! It's all just about relaxation and connection.


                              • #35
                                I find what helps me as well is counting the motion in my head (or aloud) and making sure I am with the motion instead of behind or ahead of it . Count one two for trot or one two three etc for canter, and see if you get behind or ahead of the count of his footfalls.

                                The counting also helps even out their gaits which helps us sit them better so it works hand in hand. My horse tends to tighten up and slow down in corners which throws me behind as he shortens his steps and then he has a favorite place on the circle to try to snatch the reins and speed up, so counting strides helps even it out.

                                Try breathing too along with the counting , we can be holding our breath and tensing up (one of my biggest problems)

                                Keeping my lower leg softly on him helps too and helps me feel his stride before it reaches my seat.


                                • #36
                                  hehe it sounds like i could have written this about 3 months ago! My best advice is to work up to it, start slow, do lots of transitions and lateral work and as both of your balances improve add the energy. And yes sit ups! Lots of them! Best of luck to you! You have my sympathy!
                                  -5'5 riding 17.3


                                  • #37
                                    O and good advice given to me once is to move your hips as if you were hoolahooping! Like someone said above its a lateral movement so your hips need to move independently! Again good luck!


                                    • #38
                                      I've ridden a few big moving horses and totally agree with chisamba. Big moving horses need to learn they can take small steps just as smaller moving horses should be able to have extensions. It sounds like the horse should be more through. These horses are a pleasure to ride when through and can feel very uncomfortable and have other issues (like picking up canter leads) when not. You need both flexibility and strength to stay with their movement. Particularly with large movers, if you are too loose in your body, you can begin to have lower back issues. A lesson (or few) with a dressage trainer that focuses specifically on the biomechanics of the rider may be very useful for you (with this horse in particular). Sometimes, you can find that just correcting one or a couple of small things in your own position, seat, or how you are using your body can make a big change for the horse.


                                      • #39
                                        I also have a young, big moving, forward horse. In our case I think the forward has a larger effect on my position than the big moving. Besides the advice of strong core fitness, I was also recommended to really have him listening to my seat. Lots of half halts, transitions between gaits and within gaits. All off the seat with hand only as needed to reinforce the seat. When (key word of when) I can get this I truly feel like I am riding him. When he is forward and not listening to my seat I feel like I am being taken for a ride. When he is listening to my seat he is softer and adjustable, and then I can work with the big moving. I hope this made sense.