If your horse leans in on corners like a Ducati motor bike or wonders down the fence line of the ring like a drunken sailor then you’re familiar with riding and handling a crooked horse. Just like humans, horse’s aren’t perfectly symmetrical. This shows up as stiffness, jarring movements and poor body carriage. (It can also be lameness, so make sure your horse is sound before you start training).
Like the majority of horses, Reannon, the Andalusian x Arab in the attached video tends to travel crooked. Nicole is teaching her exercises in hand to strengthen, straighten and supple her.
In 350 BC Xenophon was training horses in hand. In the Spanish Riding School of Vienna the young stallions were longed in hand for 2 – 3 months before a rider was ever placed on their backs. Their work in hand continued up until they developed ‘Airs above the ground.’ But you don’t have to be a pro to use these exercises to help your horse improve his or her movement.
This training is a gift to everyone passionate about helping their horses improve flexibility, lightness, straightness and balance. Even if you just warm up your horse with a little ‘horsey ballet’ before each ride you will notice a big improvement over time.
This is because working in hand teaches your horse body awareness and how to isolate and free up certain body parts such as the shoulders or hindquarters. The in hand work offers opportunities for stretching and strengthening muscles. The exercises also give you a chance to understand the movement of your horse and help her travel with greater balance as you ask her to step deeper under her body and shift her weight.
The video demonstrates Reannon learning each exercise. She’s been practicing them on and off for the past few months and although she’s not a pro yet, she’s coming along very well.
Things to look for in the video:
- Reannon’s steps free up as she practices
- Nicole sometimes changes the style of her cue to help Reannon understand the exercise
- Nicole stays off of Reannon’s head as much as possible and instead concentrates on cueing Reannon’s body
- When Reannon reaches further under her body with each step, her back comes up and she wants to stretch long and low with her nose
- Reannon increases her curvature around Nicole
- Reannon gives space around Nicole
- Nicole rewards frequently
- Nicole doesn’t drill each exercise repeatedly
Do a little bit of these exercises frequently and you will notice your horse is easier to adjust under saddle. These exercises also tone and strengthen your horse’s muscles. Most of these in hand exercises are targeted to cause your horse to step further under her body with her hindquarters, which brings the back up and builds up that topline.