Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Scales Of Training: Rhythm & Relaxation/Suppleness/Losgelassenheit

What I find most interesting in the whole training of horses is how you can create a wonderfully athletic horse via precise, patient and well thought out training process. 
Although I am still nowhere near the level I want to be at one day, the only true training satisfaction for me comes from schooling the horses in that correct way. 
The reason I am mentioning it is the mad ginger creature I am riding at the moment. That little mare really makes me think how important relaxation is in the training process. The mare is so tense and stressy that it is impossible to do any positive work with her. 

Considering that the muscle must be relaxed to be conditioned effectively and that horses only truly learn when mentally relaxed it seems Dr. Klimke may have been right putting Losgelassenheit (Relaxation/Suppleness) above Rhythm on the Scales Of Training.

The aim is that the horse’s muscles have tone and are free from resistance and joints are loose and do not tighten against the riders aids. The muscles that are really important are those over the top line from the hind legs over the quarters, loins, in front of the wither and up to the poll. The test of whether a horse is supple and working ‘through’ the back and neck is that when the rein contact is eased as in a free walk) the horse wants to stretch forward and down and not try to hollow and lift his head

Rhythm should be both: 1. Regular, that is correct for each pace. In the walk there should be four hoof beats – in a marching time In the trot two hoof beats – the legs move in diagonal pairs plus a moment of suspension when all legs are of the ground. In the canter three hoof beats – only one diagonal pair move together and there is a moment of suspension 2. The same tempo (speed of the rhythm) and this should have a pronounced beat to it. The horse should not speed up or slow down whether going around a corner or on a straight line, lengthening his strides or shortening them.

All this in mind I decided to at least start the process of finding out the ways to relax the stressy pony. My view is that to get to know the horse you have to ride it as many situations as possible and I personally like hacking out for this purpose. The mare hadn't really been hacked out as far as I know simply because her flight instinct is rather strong but I much rather be run away with in the open than in the arena. So off we went for a little walk on Saturday morning. It wasn't the most relaxing time for me as she likes to surprise the rider but I was really pleased with the end result. Walked her in the woods and open fields for about 35 minutes and she calmed down noticeably. 

Vid. Relaxing the Mad Ginger Mare

We went back to the paddock to do some trot work and although she was still running way too fast and wasn't reacting to the aids as she should, her whole attitude changed. It's funny how you can actually feel the different sort of 'running away' - she let me ride her in much longer outline, kept her neck lower and felt looser and softer through her whole body. 
This plus she didn't come back onto me with her neck in response to my half-halts which was my biggest problem so far.
She has a rather thick jowl and her salivary glands/parotid glands are large (basically look like constant puffiness behind the rim of the jowls) - the way she carries her neck means that when she flexes at the poll they must be getting uncomfortably squeezed. This might be partly because of her conformation but most likely from pulling on the reins which brings her jaws against her neck (the problem is she is so incredibly strong that when she was ridden by teenagers the only way to stop her for them was to keep pulling). 
All this considering, for now I would like to get to the point when she consistently carries her neck lower with an angle between her jowl and the throat open. Once her topline gets stonger and lifts the atlas joint she should be able to carry her head cleaner off her neck. Without this she is just working like a camel, bulging her very strong underneck muscles and powering forwards like a little train. Hopefully once she relaxes she will start taking reins forwards in transitions rather than come back onto rider and behind the vertical. I try not to pull at all and give her time when asking for halts and downwards transitions by just passively resisting through my seat and hands. She did some pretty good halt transitions with this method (taking the reins forwards and down).
I reckon the biggest challenge will be to break the pattern of her behaviour as when she "panics" or start "running" her brain seems to switch off...
The mare has an amazing engine but it's almost like putting a F1 cylinders into a Renault Clio = control problems! 
I am hoping that by showing her the way to relax and control her own power I will be able to direct her energy in a much more positive way.  
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