THINK EQUESTRIAN - Equestrian  & Performance Coaching
Equestrian Coaching
Hilary French on Elvis
Scales of Training -Collection 
Gymnastic training is not just for dressage competitions but to produce a horse that is useful, ready and  willing as he finds it easy to perform. To enable the horse to achieve this, the weight must be distributed as evenly as possible over all four legs. This is difficult as the horse is built in such a way that there is more weight on the forehand than the hindquarters, Add to this the rider sitting just behind the shoulders and the weight distribution is even more unevenly placed. The hind quarters were originally designed for producing forwards thrust (which we will look at in a later article) but by improving the balance makes it safer  and more comfortable to ride, helps it to keep its footing and to help prevent lameness from excessive concussion of the forelegs.
In order to collect, all of the joints in the hind leg must bend more than the horse does naturally. This flexion (or articulation) of the joints is not just restricted to the hocks but also the stifle and in the hip. This enables the whole of the hind leg to step further underneath the horse’s body towards the direction of gravity. This means that the hindlegs starts to take more weight, lightening the forehand  and producing more freedom to the movement of the foreleg

As a result of this the steps will become shorter & higher, the horse feels more uphill with greater expression and cadence

Kim On Late O'Leary - Winter Championships  
Understanding the movements-rein back (Sept/Oct 10/Feb18)
The rein back is designed to test and develop the suppleness and submission of the horse and the ability of the horse to “let the aids through”. In addition, by making the joints of the hind legs and quarters bend more, it helps to develop collection. Many people are cautious about using rein back as they fear it may become an evasion for the horse, but correctly done it is quite taxing so not an easy option for the horse.
The horse steps back in clearly defined diagonal (2 time) steps, calmly, the rider able to control each step in a straight line. The feet should be picked up cleanly, never dragged along the surface, and the strides should be of equal length. Whilst, at the start of training the number of steps is not important, as the horse progresses the rider will wish to finish the steps with the horse in halt which will require the horse to take a half step (which counts as a full step in a dressage test) to finish standing square.
Before starting the rein back the horse should be standing straight and preferably square, well “on the aids”  with weight distributed evenly .if a square halt is not  achieved then , at the early stages it is important for the rider to be aware which of the horse’s legs are where so that they can adjust their aids as necessary. The rider firstly uses their weight and legs as if to send the horse forwards then slightly lightens the seat without leaning forwards. Next the rider takes the legs slightly further behind the girth to prevent the horse moving his quarters sideways, As the horse responds and makes as if to step forwards, the rider feels on the reins- slightly more pressure should be placed firstly on one leg & the opposite hand and then the opposite way so that diagonal aids are used to regulate the rhythm. As the horse responds the rider should slightly lighten the asking hand without causing the horse to swing the head from side to side

If the horse steps towards one side then  the rider should check their aids to make sure one is not stronger than the others. If the horse starts to rush backwards then the rider should sit tall and push their coccyx into the saddle - kicking the horse will  only make the horse rush back more quickly. As the Horse becomes more supple then the rider can use the schaukel (swing) where the horse takes 4 steps back, followed by 3 steps forwards and then, without halting, 3 steps back. This is an excellent suppling and collecting exercise 

(by kind permission of Ian Barr Images- see links)

 Home Gym for your horse (1) 
It is important to help your horse to improve his mobility and suppleness in as many ways as you can. There may be times when you do not have access to a  manege or you cannot ride for some reason so it can be useful to get into the habit of doing some work in hand to help the horse to develop more suppleness and better musculature. Secondly passive stretching for the horse can be very effective on a regular basis and can be done in the stable. The third element of the home gym is the use of trotting poles either when riding or on the lunge. The fourth beneficial tool of the home gym  is using massage.
 A simple start is to make the horse move away from you in the stable, taking control of the head and neck  (with the horse in a bridle or head collar) then using your hand on his side  encourage the horse to step his inside hind leg across and in front of his outside hind whilst keeping the inside front leg still - this is the same as a ridden turn on the forehand and make the horse stretch through the whole of his hindquarters, Repeat from the other side
Moving outside, a good exercise for developing the Quadriceps muscles, which support the stifle and (when correctly developed) allow the horse to “sit behind”, is make the horse walk backwards up an incline. Start with 3-5 steps then slowly build up to 3 sessions of 10 steps each time. At the other end of the horse, using a very light stick on the front of the foreleg just  below the knee then lift the stick higher to encourage the horse to stretch out each front leg in turn. This will improve a lateral walk and relax out through the shoulder. Lift the stick a little higher each time, after the lightest of touches and keep it parallel to the ground

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Rona Willicott of Sound Schooling with Flynn
Goal of the Month: Still v Moving Images

Many riders now make use of video technology to be able to assess how they and their horse are progressing. This is a valuable tool and it is helpful to use this facility on a regular basis so that you can review your progress and see the same view of you and your horse as a judge does. Remember to take the videos from different places around the arena- look at your centre lines, the medium trot and lateral works looks from the both the short and long sides. This is particularly important when you are designing your dressage to Music choreography, as at Regional and National competitions there is usually a  judge sitting at B or E
However it is important not to forget the value of still photographs. Digital photography means that it is both cheap and easy to take hundreds of photographs that you can view on your PC screen. Most of these photographs are not necessarily ones that you will want to keep, however they can very often show some of the less flattering issues that surround your work. It is very hard to take a good still photograph as it seems to highlight any small (or large!) shortcomings that need to be addressed. Take a good look at the photos- how secure and correct is your position? Does the contact stay supple and through the body? Does the horse step consistently under his body with a lowered croup?
Beware that you do not become disheartened by the photographs- as I said earlier it is much easier to take a poor still shot than a good one but use them to give you some areas to develop further
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