by Lorraine Jennings
Is the thought of winter already getting you down? Don’t let it! Winter is miserable enough on its own without you making it any worse! Accept the fact the weather and the ground conditions won’t be on your side and use your time more wisely this year.
Instead of looking at the next five or six months in a negative way see them as a blank canvass. Now you have time to tackle that niggling problem you keep meaning to work on. What is your horse’s worst fault? Lack of energy? Attention? Is he more off the bit than on it? Whatever his problem you have the whole winter ahead of you to get it sorted. You won’t need to plug away every day for six months. Just once a week, every week will be enough to keep you both focused – if you’re consistent.
Habits and problems take months to develop. They won’t go away overnight. Decide what it is you want to work on this winter – not this week. Keep it simple. Look at the cause of the problem, not its end result. It’s easy to focus on one technical niggle when actually the problem is far more basic. Look at these three groups of schooling problems. They may seem different at first glance but they all have a common cause –
- Are your horse’s canter transitions less than accurate?
- Is he reluctant to step over when you ask him to leg yield?
- Does he rush in canter?
- Do you feel as if you have his entire weight on the end of your reins in a downward transition?
- Does he spend more time off the bit than on it?
Would any of these be a problem if your horse was using his hocks and balanced? What looks like a problem with lateral work, a canter transition or hollowing can be solved if you get him working forward from your leg.
- Your horse is always leaning or pulling
- He hollows into canter
- He’s lazy
- He’s crooked into halt
- He’s tight in his back
Again you could be forgiven for spending a whole session working on square halts or canter transitions. You may think he needs to sharpen up to your leg aids. But how does he react when you tap him up with the whip? Does he buck? Think backwards rather than forwards? Slam the brakes on and threaten to rear? Could he be trying to tell you something?
Anyone of those problems can be blamed on your horse but take a look at your hands. Their position has a huge effect on your his ability – and desire – to move forward. If your hands are too low or fixed down on his withers your whole arm will be tense; giving him the feeling that the brake is always on. Is it any wonder when you tap him up with the whip once too often that he objects?!
- Does your horse fall in on a circle? Out when you turn?
- Does his nose tip to the inside on corners and turns?
- Do his quarters swing in when you slow down?
- Is he always getting the wrong leg or dis-united in canter?
- Do you find it hard to get him together or on the bit?
Anyone of these problems can be solved if you get your horse straight. Get his shoulders in control and you can put him onto any line you want. If his quarters follow the path of his shoulders he can drive himself forward. If he’s moving forward into a steady contact you can push him together and his back will round.
OK, so it sounds simple when you put it like that but knowing the cause of the trouble is only half the battle! Working on it and keeping your horse’s interest – and your own – is far harder. Which is where this blog comes in! Each listed problem is linked to a blog post that will give you different exercises to use to tackle its cause. That should give you enough to keep you busy.
The whole idea of a winter plan is to set yourself a long term target. That means get back to basics and work on the real cause of your problem. Take your time but keep it interesting enough to keep your horse inspired and by the time Spring comes round you’ll both be ready for action.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
In memory of Lorraine Jennings from School Your Horse