THINK EQUESTRIAN - Equestrian  & Performance Coaching
Equestrian Coaching
Hilary French on Elvis
Scales of Training -Straightness 
A horse is considered to be straight when its forehand is in line with its hindquarters whether it is on a straight line or on a curve. Straightness is necessary for the weight to be evenly distributed over the 2 halves of the body. Most horses are naturally crooked in the same way humans favour their right or left hands. in addition, as the quarters are wider then the shoulders this further encourages crookedness especially when working against a wall or fence. For this reason, riding the horse in a slight shoulder-fore position, to bring the shoulders more in front of the inside hind leg, but without increasing the bend in the neck, is a method to develop and improve the strength and straightness of the horse.
We try to develop straightness so that the weight is evenly distributed and therefore that there is not excessive wear and tear on one side and this also allows equal and optimised forwards thrust. In addition the development of straightness also helps develop the suppleness of the horse and ensures an even contact on both reins. A lack of evenness to the contact is a clear sign that the horse is not straight and needs to be addressed before the unevenness becomes a habit.
In the novice horse it is important to focus on the evenness to the contact and to encourage the horse to work straight forwards into the outside rein rather than to rely on too much support from the fence or wall of an arena. This is why , once the horse starts to become confident with the rider that using the inside track and straight lines away from the wall are important

Straightening the horse is one of  the never ending tasks that faces a dressage rider and needs constant attention. It is a requirement for the development of correct collection. When the horse is straight then the hind legs will push exactly in the direction of the centre of gravity. The restraining aids will also then pass through the horse correctly via the mouth, poll, neck and back to the hindquarters and they will act on both hind legs equally
 

 
Kim On Late O'Leary - Winter Championships  
Understanding the movements- halt 
It is easy to over- focus on the horse being square in the halt whereas there are many more important areas to consider. The halt is always required on a straight line in tests as it is fairer to the horse to expect him to be straight and square on a straight line than on a curved line. Straightness and evenness in to the contact and acceptance of the engagement at the level of training of the horse to produce even balance over each foot and straightness in the body and forwards thinking self carriage are the most important elements. The directives at Preliminary level are that the horse should be fluent and through the body in the transition and should be balanced and relaxed in the actual halt.
 In order to prepare for the halt then the horse need to be supple through the frame through developing the half halts- these should never be ridden with a backwards feel to block the reach of the hind legs. This can best be achieved by riding transitions within the paces as this requires the rider to ride forwards before asking for the smaller steps so the half halt is ridden with forwards thought.
The aids for the halt are the same as for the half halt except that the hand aid is non-yielding in the halt. How strongly the aid needs to be applied depends on the stage of training and the level of understanding of the horse and rider. Ideally it should be performed with the lightest of aids. It is important that the rider yields the contact immediately that the horse responds to the halt aid rather than after the horse has actually come to the halt. The rider needs to keep the horse lightly on the aids so that it can move off again effortlessly at any time directly into the required pace.
The horse should be balanced, preferably four square with weight evenly on each leg (eg not resting a leg), should be in self-carriage and should be in front of the leg- it should give the impression that the horse is thinking forwards and is in enough balance to move off at the slightest aid. If the halt steps backwards with one or more legs then this is usually a sign that the rider’s hands have remained too fixed in position instead of yielding. It is usually a  mistake to try to make the horse move legs to stand square as it can teach  the horse to fidget in the halt . By improving the straightness and evenness to the contact and the strength of the horse behind through developing engagement then the quality of the halt will improve.

 


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

 Dressage to Music -Part 4 

In tests from Medium level upwards the judge is required to mark the degree of difficulty in each test and this carries as much weight as the choreography. The trick is knowing the difference between what is difficult and what is not allowed- any prohibited movements carry a 2 mark penalty in non-FEI tests and elimination in FEI tests so beware! The judges are aware that there has to be a  correlation between the technical and other artistic marks and the degree of difficulty mark as the degree of difficulty is more about the success in performing the programme. When the minimum requirements for the basic level of movements in a test of a level are performed then the Degree of difficulty mark will be around 6. As an example, in a medium test it is permitted, but not expected, to perform one counter change of hand in trot- done well this can be awarded a higher degree of difficulty. However, it is not permitted to perform more of one change of direction  and if the rider performs such a movement (for example two counter changes of hand) then the mark for both half passes will be 0 and 2 marks will also be deducted!
The pirouette is another example as to where to take risks, no rider should do more than 2 consecutive pirouettes in a Grand Prix or more than 1 pirouette in an Intermediare 1 as this would  cause elimination but there is nothing to stop an Inter 1 rider from doing 1 pirouette, ride 3-4 steps forwards then do it again as this would be difficult to do well. A way to put in the degree of difficulty in half pass could  be to make the angle steeper than usual for the level. Also doing a highly collected movement from an extended  can be a degree of difficulty (for example from  extended canter into a pirouette but going from collected to extended is not considered a difficulty.
However the most important thing is to do whatever you plan to do, very well, much better to do a simpler but very correct test than to do something tricky that fails miserably!
 


 
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Rona Willicott of Sound Schooling with Flynn
Goal of the Month:Seeing your horse

We all think we know our horses, how they move, their strengths and weaknesses but how often do we reassess them? This month take time to rediscover your horse so that you can plan your work programme to tackle areas of weakness.
Firstly watch your horse in the field-how does he move? Is he naturally energetic/playful/easily spooked/confident/lazy. Does he move easily over uneven ground or does he struggle with his balance ( proprioception will be a topic in future months)? Does he show a natural uphill balance? What is his natural head and neck position ? Is he a leader or follower? How can this affect your ability to train this horse?
Secondly watch the horse in the stable. Look at his musculature -is it equal on each leg, does he stand straight and evenly over all 4 legs, does he have more build up on one shoulder or another, where is his muscle lacking, is he carrying too much fat anywhere, are his quarters even from behind, does he carry his tail in a relaxed and straight manner? Decide if any of these issues need professional assistance from a physiotherapist or chiropractor or similar or advice from your farrier or vet. Consider how you can improve any of the other issues and make a plan
Finally watch the horse either loose schooling or being lunged (easier not to be the lunger) -watch from both the inside and outside, look how the horse naturally uses itself in all paces and particularly in the transitions. Does the horse step well under his body or does he trail his hocks in the transitions. Are the steps even on both sides on both reins or does one hindleg always step shorter or perhaps just step shorter when it is the outside hind? Does he step naturally straight or is there a deviation to the inside or outside
By doing all of these things on a regular basis you should start to identify the areas of development and have a more objective view of your horse. Make a note each month in your journal that you can look back at or better still take photographs and compare them. The message is really know your horse as a dynamic creature and not just the original image

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