The key to dealing with the heat and keeping the horse interested in the training is introducing variety. I can offer my horse variety without sacrificing his conditioning and training. Today I set up cavaletti, based on the Klimke book of the same name. I currently have Ingrid & Reiner’s book, which is a new edition of Reiner’s classic book. The book is updated for jumping. For my purposes, I wish I could find my old copy, as I want more directives for dressage. This edition will still give you guidelines. Cavaletti improves balance, muscle, and activity from the hind end. It teaches the horse to relax his neck, arch his back, and seek contact.
I set up two grids, one for the walk and one for the trot. Since Monarch knows about cavaletti and trains 2nd and 3rd level, I set up the maximum number of poles- 6. If your horse is new to cavaletti, or is not in good shape, start with 1 pole and build from there. The Klimkes give ballpark distances for each gate. I made measuring sticks for Monarch’s gates based on suggested distances. This made building cavaletti go more quickly. As you can see, 3′ is Monarch’s walk distance, and his trot is 4’6″. Having 2 measuring sticks makes the building of the grid even faster. Mark the trot on one side and the walk on the other side.
My cavaletti were made from simple garden fence rails, about $1 each and scraps from fence posts. The fence post scraps are 2′ – 3′ long, with 2 small wood scraps screwed into each post. The distance between the scraps is the width of a rail. The fit is quite snug, so if Monarch hits a rail, the cavaletti grid stays in tact, and he does not stumble on a loose rail. Training can continue, as I do not have to unmount to reset the rail. This set up is easy to build and easy to store.
Since I am short on posts, if I build both a walk grid and a trot grid, I set up the walk grid with alternating sides raised. This keeps Monarch stepping high through the walk grid. Because there is no moment of suspension in the walk, hence little impulsion, Monarch had a tougher time with the walk grid. Because of his tendency to knock a rail in the walk grid, I will experiment with distances next time I set them up, to see if the issue is with the height of the grid or the distance between rails. I suspect that 3′ may be a bit long for him now, and that we will need to work into that distance. I am working to improve his walk, as he does not take big, free walk strides. This summer through stretches and training, I have improved the walk, so that he now tracks up. With concentration and diligence, I can encourage him to overtrack by 1/4 (and sometimes 1/2) of a hoof print. I am hoping that the cavelleti will also help with this physical training.
The trot height and spacing was perfect. Monarch produced a lively trot with much suspension and never knocked a rail. The Klimkes recommend omitting a rail, so the horse learns to keep the rhythm and stride even when one rail is removed. I liken that idea to removing the training wheels on a bicycle. Because 6 is the maximum recommended number of rails in a grid and one rail is omitted, this type of grid needs only 5 rails.
The cavelitti created a challenge for my horse, which kept his interest on a hot day of training. After a thorough warm up, focusing on confirming rhythm, encouraging suppleness, and creating contact, we worked in the grid for about 25 minutes. It’s best to quit when your horse is very smooth through the grids, before he gets bored, tired, and/or sore. This work is much like pilates for the rider, so he is really using his abs to raise his back and thrust with his hind end. Finish the ride with a good cool down on a loose rein, with lots of stretch and a long neck.
It’s turned hot in southwestern Colorado. My horse gets extremely lazy working in the arena to develop good conditioning through schooling dressage figures. At this time of the year, to keep him happy, I plan to do other activities to keep his mind fresh. Then when we do dressage, he is far more willing to work with energy. In the coming weeks I will post alternate activities Monarch & I are doing to keep us interested while pursuing our path of harmony.
A trail ride is always great for the horse’s mind, as well as for conditioning. The trail teaches the horse to be clever with his feet. In Colorado, the mountainous terrain allows us to build aerobic capacity through hill climbing, as well as to develop hind end strength on the descents. Getting out of the arena, with other horse buddies piques my horse’s interests, especially because he has many friends that he only sees when we plan rides or group training. Open country exposes horses to a wealth of stimulation, teaching the horse to trust his rider and himself when approaching new sights, sounds, and smells.
CAVEATS: Of course bring plenty of water, a first aid kit, rain gear, your cell phone, and some food. In the high country on a summer day, it is best to be mindful of afternoon storms. Plan to leave by 2 or 3 pm to avoid lighting. Bring plenty of fly spray, as the black flies are relentless. (Be sure to practice at home or in an arena having your horse stand quietly while you sit on his back and spray him. Then when he’s very bothered by a swarm of black flies on the trail, he will willingly let you spray to give him some relief.) Always ride in long sleeves- no matter how hot it is. If you run into a swarm of biting flies, you will rue the day you left your shirt at home. Beware of trails open to motorized dirt bikes, especially single tracks. I had a scary encounter today- stay vigilant! If you need to, explain to cycle riders their responsibilities to sharing the trail safely.
Imagine a horse so sensitive and timid, it took two years to load into a trailer…who when finally loaded shook the whole rig- truck & trailer, with his trembling fear…who unloaded after his first ride drenched in sweat from the trauma of being taken for a short ride to a local barn. Now this horse hops into his trailer without a lead rope.
Imagine a horse so sensitive and timid, he could not leave the safety of his arena to be ridden without jumping out of his skin at each new sight and sound. Who couldn’t go on a quiet trail ride down the road because he shuddered in apprehension just seeing a cow or another horse on the next ridge. Now this horse takes me into deep canyons to find ancient petroglyphs and high mountains to admire the alpine vistas.
Imagine a horse so sensitive and timid, he could not go to any horse shows, even the local Pony Club show- a small, low key affair without the bustle and high strung energy of large recognized shows. His insecurity at being taken from the safety of his home and his barn buddy reduced him to a panic-stricken bundle of electric nerves. Now this horse uses his therapeutic sensitivity to heal others from trauma. (See Violet’s Story, beginning Nov. 26, 2012, http://equitherapy.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/violets-story-part-1/ and continuing through many posts in this blog.)
Imagine a horse so sensitive and timid, he could not pick up a foot for cleaning, stand tied for grooming, or tolerate hoses & sponges for a bath. Now this horse will lift a foot with the light touch of one finger on his leg near his hoof; will stand for hours whenever he is asked, loves grooming and bathing, and will even play in the sprinklers in his pasture or arena.
Imagine a horse so sensitive and timid, he could not put a foot in water, much less cross a bridge or stream. Now this horse eagerly enters a running creek and stops midstream to drink and play, despite the rest of the horses heading down the trail without him. Just last week, we took a ride into Dry Creek Canyon with 2 other riders. An hour into the ride, one horse spooked and unseated her rider. Excited, the mare headed back down the trail where the rigs were parked. The other rider, an experienced outfitter & guide, took her horse to find & retrieve the spooked mare. Monarch & I stayed with the fallen rider. He was left alone, in a deep canyon while his trailer buddy and the other horse went back in the direction of his rig. He waited patiently with us for their return.
Monarch was a horse that could go nowhere for the first 10 years of his life. Many people sell horses that need so much time and careful training. Instead, by giving your horse understanding and empathy; fair and logical training; a variety of experiences; and always the benefit of the doubt, you will form a deep bond. Your horse will do anything you ask of him.
I raised Monarch from a beautiful, black baby with a white star on his forehead. Now he is a magnificent white dancer, progressing in his dressage training. I never planned to buy him; I was looking for an older horse that I could ride upon purchase. Yet, Monarch choose me, as he laid his beautiful head on my shoulder and asked me to take him home. As I struggled to understand what he needed through the years, he taught me as much about horses, (their ways, their needs, their mode of communication), as I taught him about ground manners, trail riding, and becoming a dressage partner.
Monarch is Lipizzan. His sire, Favory Bora, was born in Piber, Austria, and he was imported from the Spanish Riding School of Vienna to Florida by Gary Lashinsky, producer of the “Dancing White Stallions.” Today his breeding, his intelligence, and his sensitivity show in his talent for dressage, his aptitude for therapy, his common sense on trail rides, and his gentlemanly manners on the ground. He has become an ambassador for the Lipizzan breed, and currently for my art show, “HIGH POINT, the Art of Showing Horses.”
Last night we took him to “Main in Motion,” a weekly celebration which my hometown of Montrose holds each Thursday, May-October. Main Street is closed to all traffic. By 5:30, the street is jammed with people experiencing the festival air of warm weather, live music, street food, vendor & community service booths, preschool activities, dance troupes, climbing walls, jumping palaces, rappelling rigs, a small kiddie train, and artist demos. Monarch gave delight to many people as he stood to be painted, patted, and photographed. The comments ranged from how well behaved he was, how beautiful he looked, how he connected to people, how long he stood without acting restless, to how unflappable he acted amidst all the balloons, crowds, paint.
He was more than a gentleman; he is an ambassador. An ambassador to the Lipizzan breed, to my art show “High Point” where painting horses means more than just creating a painting of a horse, and most importantly, he is an ambassador to the idea that horses are wise and sensitive souls. If we are to be their keepers, we need to give them our empathy, our understanding, and the time they need to come into their own.
It’s been a challenging spring bringing my Lipizzan back into training after having the winter off. The big take away lesson for me is that I can’t count on an “open” winter, even in these times of global warming. I need to line up an indoor training space because inevitably my arena WILL freeze, and the work I can do will be limited. I found some exercises focused on winter training based on limited footing. Since I found these after I got my arena thawed and cleaned, I will put these into use next winter. The exercises focused on the base of the Training Scale- RHYTHM at the walk. In the meantime, I also discovered some SUPPLENESS/RELAXATION work I can do in the winter to keep the 2 foundation elements in place when riding is limited. (I can get a 3 day/week riding slot in a beautiful Cover-All arena that stays quite warm, even in the bluster of a stormy day.)
Because we didn’t have the indoor this winter, I was traveling so much, and I didn’t have the winter exercises, I gave Monarch the winter off to hang out in the pasture and just be a horse. While he probably enjoyed his long winter vacation, it was quite difficult for him to come back after so much time off. We had to start back at the very beginning in March with Rhythm, just like a green horse. (Click on the Training Scale to enlarge to read the directives below the labels.) It wasn’t so much that his rhythm was compromised by a lack of balance as a young horse newly saddled would experience; instead he lacked ENERGY & TEMPO. His regular, even rhythm was so slow, it was not effective. Without energy, nothing can happen.
To rebuild strength and stamina, we did lots of groundwork, (long lines, in hand, longeing, etc), as well as work under saddle, with lots of rest breaks. It was slow, careful work……at times frustrating because I had to maintain a sense of foresight in my goals, instead of getting impatient. We began working with Deb Hindi again, and she helped to clarify that sense of vision: where we needed to be to get to where we wanted to go. Consider the TRAINING SCALE as your roadmap as you travel along your path to brilliance.
Happy Mothers Day to all Moms
Originally posted on Horse Listening:
On this Mother’s Day, Annahi (proud mother of two) wants to share her sentiments with the world. Here are the words I imagine she’d say if she spoke.
Dear Little One,
Who arrived just a short few hours ago:
Welcome to the World.
Stand up and mark the earth with your hoof prints.
Breathe the scent-filled air through the flaring nostrils
That will one day feed your muscle-rippled body as you
Bound boldly atop sand-filled rings and
Grow big and strong,
Learn your leads and laterals,
Engagements and changes.
Above all, carry your human with pride, dignity
Find your mutual-grooming friend,
The one who seeks you out for each good morning rub
And a peaceful shared nibble from the one hay pile.
Drift away from the herd if necessary but
Enjoy group togetherness, as it is the pleasure of life itself.
May you find…
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