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KISS theory with Horses

Keep It Simple Silly

Why do we overcomplicate things? Overthinking a situation and putting too much pressure on ourselves and our horses.

Today I had 50mins between appointments so decided to spend it with a special horse called Dee, who is owned by one of my lovely local clients. Despite it being cold, the sun was out and I was determined to go through one of the exercises from the online course Heal Your Horse.

This particular pattern is one of the magic 10 exercises that targets and improves postural strength and stability. The name of the exercise is the Square, a very simple pole set up (only 4 poles) that offers a variety of patterns which can either be done inhand from the ground or ridden.

Dee is a beautiful honest sensitive chap that has previously competed at quite a high level in eventing and dressage, however this winter he has had a quieter time. I have ridden him a few times now over the past few years so I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of his body mechanics and personality. Due to his age and previous training Dee finds it very easy to move his body sideways and in some ways he can use this against you, for example if you slightly alter your seat bone or ask for straightness!! His “body movement pattern (BMM)” is to lean on the right rein and sit against my right leg, which makes me ask for more inside right bend, however he then turns his quarters left and blocks through the ribcage on the right! Because I end up focusing on this BMM, as the rider, I end up almost second guessing him by asking for the opposite to what he wants or I try exercises that can soften the ribcage as part of our warm up.

Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't! I’m sure you can relate. There is absolutely no magic cure or one rule to training horses, there is however always time for play through being curious and slowing everything down!!

Going back to the Square exercise, I brought Dee into the arena (already tacked up) and instead of getting straight on him, I picked up from our last inhand session (only 4 days ago) and stood in the middle of the arena with him. Before I asked for any question that meant he had to move his body, I simply stood in front of him and placed my hands around his poll (between his ears) and applied a light touch with circular motion. Dee recognised this from our previous session and immediately started lowering his head and neck, closed his eyes and for a few seconds and we stood there in silence. I then moved to his left front leg, picked it up and very gently started moving his shoulders in 3 circles to the left and then to the right, before doing a postural sway test (both exercises can be found in Heal Your Horse). I repeated this exercise with his right fore and then went back to asking him nothing and just watching his behaviour.

My intention with the exercises above are subtle activation exercises which help prepare and support the body for work, however before I asked for any activation I wanted relaxation for both him and myself.

Relaxation for both the horse and rider is the core foundation to any form of groundwork and or ridden work and when it is achieved it will catapult your horse’s performance.

After the activation exercises we moved onto the square exercise inhand.

Don’t ask me why.. I just went with it!

Dee is around 16.2 hh and has a fantastic walk, so covers a lot of ground quickly and in some ways when you ride him or do inhand work with him, I feel that he uses this against you to not keep straight and either falls through the left shoulder or over bends through the head and neck. What was interesting about the square exercise today, was he slowed his pace down and took smaller steps around the square and when I asked him to stop and halt, instead of falling through the shoulder and over bending (something he did in the last session), he just halted straight and lowered his head and neck again. I did the same on the other rein before getting onboard.

This was where the magical moments happened and the theory Keep it simple silly hit me!

When I presented him to the square exercise ridden, he never rushed, he approached it straight, slowed down his pace and strides and almost took me around it! I’m finding it hard to put into words, but I’ll keep trying…

As the rider, I was doing very little!

Compared to normal, where on reflection, I realised that I am actually asking and doing too much on board to keep him straight and slow him down. Yes, of course I was aware of the exercise and consciously asked him to walk on the outside of the poles, however the lightness, relaxation and sensitivity was all Dee.

For 50 mins we stayed in walk , however when I got off him, I felt happy, relaxed and like we had achieved a massive milestone together. Dee looked so relaxed and present.

Reflecting back on the session, made me really aware that I put so much effort and expectation on doing “a lot” of exercises and movements when I’m riding, however less is sometimes more and the key to our relationship is relaxation.

If you are interested in any of the exercises and or activations mentioned above, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Or visit the link below to purchase the course Heal Your Horse. An online course that gives you the solutions and exercises to developing and retraining your horse’s posture.

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