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Hi Cherry,

My daughter has a 19 year old mare that looks really healthy and doesn’t even look 19 but seems to be having some issues. When she tries to canter the horse speeds up but doesn’t want to push into the canter or she will buck. If my daughter gets her into a canter she says it does not feel right at times and she suspects that maybe her arthritis is getting too bad. We didn’t start noticing the arthritis till a few months ago and she is now on joint supplements. My daughter is concerned and doesn’t want to force her into something that is going to hurt her and is wondering if maybe it is just attitude since she is very spunky. Do you have any advice?

Tammy

Hi Tammy,

Arthritis that shows up as a reluctance to strike off at the canter or lope or canter roughly or buck during the transition usually stems from wear and tear of the hind limb (most notably the stifle and hock) and the loin.

As you suggest, these behaviors can also be a result of a feisty or disobedient horse, but since you already know the mare has arthritis, in this case, you should focus on that.

You don’t say whether the joint supplements are helping – and what kind you are using.

As far as use – be sure the mare is thoroughly warmed up with walking and trotting before asking her to canter. Many horses warm out of their arthritis stiffness after 5-15 minutes of low level work.

Focus also on transition work which is any upward or downward shifting of gears. The more proficient your daughter is at other transitions, the better the canter depart will be.

Finally, be sure the mare is being ridden with enough collection so that she CAN canter rather than rush forward at the trot.

Refer to 101 Arena Exercises to help develop the things I’ve mentioned both in the horse and the rider.

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Help!  My nine year old paint mare Tardee has a very long stride especially at the trot, how do I slow her down and develop a jog?  She is very quiet and willing and I don’t want to stress her.  Thank you.  Deb

Hi Deb,

It is great that you have a quiet and willing horse and even better that you want to keep her that way. There is no reason why your mare won’t stay calm and sweet as you progressively shorter her stride and slow her down a bit. This is a very common goal and a question I’ve answered before on my website Horsekeeping, so I’m going to use those Q&As below here. Let me know if you have more specific questions.

Cherry

Slow Down

©  2010 Cherry Hill www.horsekeeping.com

Dear Cherry,

My horse is usually really good, but a few days ago he just started being really stubborn.  He’ll trot way too fast because I ask him for a jog for western pleasure.   And  his lope which I finally got down perfect 2 weeks ago has turned into a fast canter.   I don’t know what  it is from.  There has been a lot more flies etc. around that go on him and he hates bugs so do you think that maybe this  is causing it?  Do you think he might not be able to concentrate because he’s thinking about all the flies on him or something? I’m really confused and I have to go to a show this weekend and if he does this there we for sure won’t place!!! Please give me any suggestions that you have.

Mindy from Indiana



Dear Mindy,

I’m going to ask a lot of things quickly at first here so you can go through a list in your mind and so that other readers with the same problem (it is VERY common!) can try to find a reason for the quickness.

This first one won’t pertain to you because in your question, you say “he” so I am assuming your horse is a gelding.  However, for those of you riding mares, be aware that a sudden quickness or irritability during breeding season (April to October) could be caused by the mare coming into heat.  Heat periods usually last about 5 days.  If you have a fussy mare, try to work through it or give her a day or two off during her worst days.

Now for some questions that will pertain to any horse. Are you using fly spray?  Do you check your horse’s chest and the area of the belly just ahead of your horse’s sheath (geldings) or udder (mares) where the skin is very thin and a feast for flies?  Flies biting in these places can make a horse very tense while he is being ridden.

Could your horse’s back be sore?  A poor fitting saddle, dirty pad or cinch or a weak back can all contribute to a horse moving short and quick rather than long and flowing.

Are you tense?  If a rider is tense or nervous (in anticipation of a show, for example) the horse will pick this up right away and start moving quickly.  You need to take a deep breath, settle deep into the saddle and relax.

Here’s a technique tip.  When you want to slow down or “rate” your horse, that is shorten his stride or slow down his tempo, accomplish it with a series of half halts or “checks” applied at the moment of suspension.  During the canter or lope, suspension comes right after the leading foreleg lands and the hind legs are reaching forward under the horse’s belly.  At the trot or jog, suspension occurs twice during each stride as each diagonal pair lifts.  A half halt or check is a momentary “calling to attention” and just like the name implies, it is about half a halt!  You want to reorganize your horse by briefly applying your aids for a halt but releasing them before the horse actually halts.

When applying a series of half halts or checks to rate a horse, be sure you release after each successful reaction.  Do not be tempted to hold on to what you gain and think you can slow a horse down by constant pressure on the reins. What you eventually want to do is have your horse learn to hold a gait at a certain tempo “on the honor system” (dressage riders call this self-carriage) – that is, on his own without you holding his speed down via the reins.

Take care.         

Half Halt

©  2010 Cherry Hill www.horsekeeping.com

Ms. Hill,

Please help. I ride western. I am a professional Cowboy trying to become a horseman. I barrel race. I do not show. I purchased your 101 Arena Exercises to help me help my horses to relax, listen, loosen up, help them learn to use themselves and become more responsive I am not familiar with the term half halt and can’t seem to find a helpful definition in the book. My best guess was that it was a transition to a slower gait but in looking at the exercises this does not make sense to me. I know you are awfully busy but I’m feeling a bit desperate. For the sake of Reuben, Foxy, Sister, Miss Mess, and Hooch, Please help.

Respectfully,
Jodi Campbell

Hi Jodi,

It is great to hear from you and to hear of your goals. Have you read Exercise 14 “Half Halt or Check” in 101 Arena Exercises? It describes in detail what a Half Halt (or Check as it is called in Western riding) is and how to apply it. But it is such a good question and I’m sure there are some readers out there who don’t have 101 Arena Exercises, that I’m going to print an excerpt from that book below.

Before I get to the excerpt, though, here are some other ways to think of a Half Halt……a pause, a moment in suspended animation, a compacting of form, flexing in every joint. Although half halts are traditionally associated with dressage, they are used in all kinds of riding. Western riders “pick up” on the reins and “check” their horses to “rate” them or get them to slow down or get more rhythmic in their gaits. When a horse “falls on his forehand” he is traveling with bad balance and rhythm, so we try to energize him from the hindquarters forward and elevate his forehand somewhat so he can move in balance. When a horse is not in balance (heavy on the forehand) he first has to pick up his forehand and then turn.The more in balance a horse is, the quicker he can change directions (especially important for a barrel horse) and at a moment’s notice – he doesn’t need a lot of advance notice. Half Halts or checks help to balance and energize a horse.

The following is excerpted from 101 Arena Exercises:

A half halt is a preparatory set of aids that simultaneously drives and checks the horse. In essence you are “capturing” your horse momentarily between the aids. A calling to attention and organizer used before all transitions and during all movements as a means of momentarily re-balancing the horse, elevating the forehand, increasing hindquarter engagement, evening an erratic rhythm, slowing a pace, and reminding the horse not to lean on the bit or rush. A momentary holding (a non-allowing in contrast to a pulling or taking), immediately followed by a yielding (within one stride or a few seconds). This results in a moment of energized suspension with a listening and light horse. Once a horse has learned to respect half halts, they serve as a reminder that encourages self-carriage.

HOW TO APPLY A HALF HALT

The sequence, grossly oversimplified, goes something like this

1. Think

2. Seat, legs and hands

3. Yield

1. Mental message: “Hello, is anybody home?” OR “Attention!!” OR “Let’s get organized” OR “Let’s halt. No I changed my mind.”

2. An almost simultaneous application of the following aids with an emphasis on the seat and legs and a de-emphasis on the hands:

  • Upper body straight or slightly back with elevated sternum.
  • Deep, still contact of seat bones on saddle from flexed abdominals and a flattened lower back which brings seat bones forward.
  • Both lower legs on horse’s side at the girth or cinch. Light tap with the whip or spurs if necessary, depending on the horse’s level and response.
  • A non-allowing of appropriate intensity with both hands. The following is a list in increasing intensity of that non-allowing. Use only as much as necessary.
    • close fingers
    • squeeze reins
    • roll hands inward
    • move arm backward from shoulder
    • lean upper body back

3. Yield aids without throwing away what you have gained.

When do you apply the half halt? Long enough (a second or two) ahead of the transition or maneuver to allow the horse to respond but not prolonged (through several strides) or it will result in tension.

How strong a half halt should you use? Tinker Bell or Industrial Strength? Occasionally an industrial strength half halt is necessary to be sure it “goes through”. After using a major half-halt, confidently use light ones or half halts will begin to lose their effect for you.

THE ALL-IMPORTANT YIELD:

Often you should give more than you take. The timing of the yield is often more important than the driving and non-allowing.

Did you feel a positive response…even a hint of compliance? If you wait so long that you can feel the full effects of the half halt, it would be way past time to yield. The yield is what encourages self-carriage. No yield leads to stiffness and tension.

Should you use more than one half halt at a time? Sometimes it takes a series, one each stride, to accomplish the necessary re-balancing.

BENEFIT Balance, collection, essential pieces of the riding puzzle.Cherry Hill

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Dear Cherry,
I have a 10 year old quarter horse mare who has never been trained by an “excellent” trainer. She is a perfect horse on the ground and out on the trail. But I have noticed she doesn’t travel behind the vertical. She has her head pretty high up. I have no clue where or how to train her so that she is behind the vertical. I know this is causing her to have a very hollow back. It cant be very comfortable for her. I’m wondering if this is also causing some other problems with her, like bucking when I ask her to canter and rushing in the trot. Will a de gouge or Chambon help her? Please help me figure out how I can fix her. I love her so much and she is an amazing horse to ride. I just don’t want her to be uncomfortable. Taylor

Hi Taylor,

When a horse has a high head and a hollow back, that usually means that the horse’s hindquarters are not “engaged”. By that it is meant that there is not enough propulsion or energy coming from “behind” – the horse is trotting or loping out behind himself rather than up under himself with his hind legs, which causes him to be strung out and hollow backed and high headed.

When a horse is engaged and working energetically behind, he rounds his whole topline which raises his back ! Yeah !


So, you want to start working from the back to the front NOT from the front to the back. You want to work on developing more forward movement from the hindquarters.

You mention “she doesn’t travel behind the vertical” – well that is a good thing ! A horse in balance and working energetically forward will hold its head and neck in a nice balanced position with its nose approximately 10 to 15 degrees IN FRONT of the vertical – that’s a nice place for both you and the horse to have a back and forth communication.


So you want to work on forward, long and low exercises to strengthen her back and abdominal muscles and then slowly gather her up and start to collect her – but this will take months of training. Be patient and work for degrees of improvement. A good reference for you would be 101 Arena Exercises.

Look at the frame of the two horses on the cover of my book below – I looked through hundreds of photos to find these two which exemplify balanced working frames and as you can see, both of the horses carry their heads in front of the vertical.


I’m also going to provide you with some links to more articles on my website that talk about the phases of training and collection for your continued reading enjoyment and reference.

Best of luck,

Cherry Hill

The Phases of Training: by Cherry Hill

Your Horses’ Physical Development – The Early Stages: by Cherry Hill

What is Collection?: by Cherry Hill



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