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A Piece of Cake or a Day at the Office? Building Confidence in your horse.

Sun, 01st Mar, 2015 -- Kerry Mack

Kerry Mack and Pzazz in the CDI-W - ©Derek O'Leary

At Mayfield Farm we believe that the relationship we have with the horse is important. Being responsible for the early training of a horse is a responsibility and a privilege. We hope to give the horses a series of lessons or experiences that build up in overlapping layers. We hope to build the confidence of the horses until they find the work just like a day at the office. Routine. A piece of cake. Easy.

When you are training a horse first you have clear idea of what you want to achieve. Then you can work out the steps to get there. Make the steps as small as possible when you explain it to your horse. The smaller the step the easier it is for him to succeed, be rewarded and develop confidence. Repetitions of these small steps will help him find it easy, both mentally and physically. When the first step is a piece of cake, EASY and like a day at the office, ROUTINE, then you can add the next step.

So for some examples. Lets start with lengthening and shortening the stride. This very basic gymnastic skill is shown at its most extreme form in the Grand Prix Special, which is part of the competition for individual medals at Games. This test has repetitions of the transitions from passage to extended trot and back again. Most of us like this test and enjoy riding it. Of course years of training go in to developing the horses balance and strength so that he can enjoy this too. The training starts right from the beginning with the 4 year old, newly under saddle. The 4yo understands that legs mean go and reins mean stop. So we build on this, gently and in a way that builds balance and strength. At first we ask for very small transitions within the trot and canter. Trot a little bigger, back to the normal trot. Just a few steps at a time, and only asking for the smallest amount.  When he makes a reasonable attempt REWARD him by taking pressure off. He goes forward a few steps, you allow him to come back. Make it easy by asking for A SMALL DEGREE, FOR A SMALL TIME.

Same at canter, a small lengthening for a few steps asked with the legs, and a small amount of rebalancing by coming back to the normal canter. Ensure the horse is asked to do this in self carriage by keeping the neck long and by releasing softly within your fingers immediately after he comes back. Of course he will find it easier to do this at trot than at canter as the balance is more stable in the two beat trot with two diagonal legs on the ground at the time. The three beat canter, with  a moment of suspension is naturally harder for him to achieve balance. So you will need to ask for smaller amounts for more repetitions to achieve balance. The repetitions work just like repetitions of lifts at the gym. You build strength by repletion of small to moderate loads, not by just lifting a large load,which is more likely to lead to injuries. Always start by making the pace bigger, put energy in. Then ask for shorter steps. This is easier for him than shortening first. It is easier to shorten the stride back to his normal pace than it is to find a shorter stride he is unfamiliar and unbalanced in. A PIECE OF CAKE. The reaction that he needs to your aids and the reaction he needs in his body are the same as if he was making more collection, so he can practise the reaction in the easiest way, until it becomes A DAY AT THE OFFICE.

As he builds balance and strength in these small transitions you can make the transitions bigger, and the steps both more extended. The same principles apply. A small degree and a small time. Don't start with the whole diagonal line that is asked for in a test or a workout, or that you want on your jumping course. Keep the Training scale in mind. Remember that RHYTHM is the first thing on the training scale. As he does these little transitions keep the rhythm the same. If he isn't keeping the rhythm is is likely that he isn't building his balance, he moves his legs faster and runs to keep his balance. This is not gymnastcising the horse. To ensure the SUPPLENESS keep him long, his muscles stretched. Stretch him with some bending (more on this another day). Pay attention that the CONTACT is elastic and friendly like a conversation, that he is not balancing on the rein.