Friday, July 15, 2011

When you're not a natural, what'dya do?

I'm riding Ri-Ri solo, and the challenge is riding my youngster without a ground person to help. Two problems:
  1. We start every session like he has a flat tire, and with the hotter weather I have to "do a lot" to get him moving with any energy at all--forget supple and swingy. 
  2. Ri has a "fatal attraction" to the end of the indoor with the big door (close to the barn).  
In my teens I used to clinic with Jimmy Cantwell, a marvelous instructor and trainer (hunter/jumper). He  was innovative in finding simple exercises that help the less-than-perfect rider have success, and that helped the horse "figure things out" without the rider doing anything dramatic.  Jimmy's techniques would be hard to recount, but here's a simple example from my past life: if a horse is running out to the left repeatedly (jumping),  lay a pole across the left side of the jump. It may not fix the underlying problem but every jump establishes a good habit and confidence -- and it's better than having a battle.

I appreciate instructors who find ways to help you and your horse achieve a goal by being clever--and by letting the horse figure it out. I thought of Jimmy today when I set up an exercise that diminished both problems mentioned in the first paragraph. What exercise, you ask?

  1.  Find two cavaletti poles.
  2. Put the cavaletti on the quarterline, down the long side, at the end of the ring with the open door, where he drifts.
  3. Trot Ri around on a "rectangle" at that end of the arena, and go over the cavaletti away from the open door. 
 The first few times going through, he stared out the door and drifted as usual, but he was taken by surprise when we turned into the cavaletti. The first few times were a bit sticky.  After that, though, and he grew interested in what was happening inside, not outside. He focused more on me, let me prep him so that he was lifting his shoulders, and bending, sitting down more. By doing the "rectangle" instead of a circle I took advantage of his improved balance, and we got some practice turning some nice corners.  Both of us were a whole lot happier.


  1. Good exercise. Distracting Riley in the right way from what was distracting him in the wrong way was excellent. Well done.

  2. Very smart! I love doing things like that where a little forethought and creativity help solve the problem vs getting into a big nagging power struggle. So much more effective imo.

  3. Wow, what timing. I just posted on COTH looking for arena exercises related to popping shoulders/drift. I thought of one since posting...a more elaborate version of what you did but on a similar theme. Here it is; I'm going to try it next week. You need six poles.

    On the centerline, about ten/15 meters in from the short side rail put two trot poles.

    On the quarter line, about fifteen meters from the trot poles, put two poles side by side about 4 feet apart to create a chute.

    On the rail, near the corner of the other side of the arena from where you started, put two trot poles.

    Turn down the centerline, trot the two poles, LY to the chute, straighten and go through the chute, LY to the final two poles. I like this because you get to work on both LY off the inside AND getting the horse very straight to get through the chute. The exercise can be varied by changing rein after the shoot and going through the final set of trot poles on the other rein, requiring a small and precise turn.

    I love exercises that do the heavy lifting. Much better than nagging (a prob I get into often enough!)

  4. Let's hear it for creative solutions - Woo!

  5. I am a big fan of setting up cavelletti, ground poles, cones, anything to make the work out more interesting for me and my horse. For example, my horse has a really bad habit of cutting corners and drifting in on a circle. Using cones saves me a lot of energy from constantly nagging him to move away from my leg. He sees the cones and he suddenly understands much better where I want him to place his body. Makes us both happier.

  6. I have the EXACT same problem! will try your idea tomorrow, makes total sense! don't know who gets tired of the nagging first, me or my horse! i think it's a tie!

  7. I used to ride with Jimmy Centwell too - he was a brilliant clinician :) I think he'd be quite proud of this


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