Road to Bronze 2017 Aug. 1-7, 2017

From my journal:

Date: 8/3- 7/2017

Minutes of Training: 60

Horse: Monarch

Goal: Coaching with Susan; overall goal to improve engagement through asking Monarch to step under his belly with his inside hind leg. We began by focusing on releasing the base of the neck to increase his stride and thrust. Then we worked on fluency through change of direction- walk and trot.

Methods- be specific, give details: warm-up: release base of neck with a suppling inside rein on long side and adding inside leg at girth asking Monarch to bend and move his barrel to the outside of the bend in the corners. After each release, I rode him forward into the contact.
Trot- same work in walk. As he stiffened on the long side, take Monarch into a supple circle- 20 M at first and smaller as he became more supple. then back on long side. Be vigilant to catch the horse beginning to stiffen, so correction can be quicker and more subtle before he loses suppleness. Avoid a big correction by giving many small suppling aids.
Aids to supple- Support neck with outside rein, bringing inside rein away from the neck. In the beginning, this required resting my inside hand on my knee. Later, the supple aid was much smaller. In the bend- circles/corners, put inside leg/inside spur on before opening inside rein. (Goal is to teach the horse to release as soon as he feels the inside leg, before the inside rein is needed.) As soon as the horse releases his neck, bring both hands together and ride forward into the contact. Feel for the difference the horse gives in each rein. The stronger the hind end becomes, the more even the contact will be.
In the walk-trot transitions, the horse must keep neck long and relaxed as he pushes into the bit through the hind end.
Part Two- fluidity and strengthening: begin a circle in walk or trot. Keep inside leg on to encourage the bend in ribcage and step of inside hind to step under and over. Feel for the horse moving laterally, as in a leg yield, as he steps under. Support with a suppling inside rein as needed. As we approach the center of the figure 8, change the bend with new inside leg/spur. Supple as needed. If horse takes most of the circle to change the bend, do another circle before asking him to change the bend.
Exercises- 10 M connected circles down the centerline A-C in walk. 20 M connected circles down the centerline A-C in trot. 20 M trot serpentine- begin at A in both directions, so work is equal on both hands. Leg yield zigzag rail to centerline on both hands. Leg yield zigzag centerline to quarterlines on both hands. Halfpass zigzags. Work zigzags in both walk and trot- aim for fluency and engagement

Reflection: After training for the past 3 days, I realize that when Monarch gets tired, he loses rhythm and fluency. This takes great strength and needs to be built slowly and consistently. Monarch needs lots of rest when he is working deeply. Intersperse work with straight and forward in first position along the rail and big circles.

Next Steps: Continue the work for the next several weeks. To prevent injury, do cavaletti and hillwork to continue the work with variety to prevent injury and boredom.


8/7:  same

8/6: strengthen hind end for increased engagement and fluency

8/5:  goal 1-improve suppleness- release tightness at base of neck;  goal 2- strengthen both hind legs to improve engagement for reach and thrust.  When asking Monarch to step under his belly in bending movements he loses rhythm because of lack of strength to step so deeply.  This will be our default goal for the next several days.  Increase supplements to help build muscle & improve recovery.

8/3:  coaching with Susan- (see journal entry above)

8/1: calm, straight, forward  comments about today’s training: this classic goal from the Old Masters became the default goal after Monarch decided there were multiple wild cats and mountain lions lurking behind every bush and shadow just outside the arena.  When he wouldn’t supple out of his tension from the saddle, I switched to longe work.  This was a safety decision, and a good one.  Discretion  is the better part of valor.  I was able to remount at the end android him safely calm, straight, and forward.  When a horse is tense, it is impossible to straighten him, and he is never on the aids or in front of the leg.

7/30: rider- position and effectiveness of aids/horse- engagement



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.

measuring sticks

measuring sticks

building the grid

building the grid

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.

walk grid

walk grid

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.

trot grid

trot grid

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.