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Lesson Two
Working In - Why We Need To do It Right.

All athletes need to warm up their  muscles before working in and this includes your horse.  Stretching the back and muscles increases the flow of blood  and produce more oxygen in the blood stream . We must effectively warm the muscles up prior to introducing more blood into them.

It's important to know why you do this and equally important to know HOW TO DO IT !!

An athlete that is insufficiently worked in risks injury when asked to perform and the same goes for your horse. You cannot expect your horse to walk, trot and canter and jump if he is stiff in his back. and his muscles are cold and his blood lacks the necessary oxygen levels to perform the tasks you ask of him.

The following exercises are used to supple  and stretch your horse prior to commencing the  more serious stuff.

Girls  (or Boys ) "On Top "

When you first mount your horse, make him stand still and wait for you to ask him to move off. This is important as it establishes a basic ground rule right from the start . You are in charge - not your horse.

Madame Ginger Bits always tries to tear off into the sunset the minute I get on her back. I always get off her again, take her back to the mounting block and make her stand until I am ready - she is getting better at this, gradually.  Always use a mounting block if you have one -it is far kinder to your horses back and it does not drag the saddle over and unbalance you and the horse.

(Being vertically challenged myself, passing my BHS Road Safety test was a challenge - I find it hard to mount anything over 14.2 from the ground !! )

When you first get on your horse, make him wait quietly before asking him to move off from your leg. At this stage , have your horse on a long rein.

You may only be in walk but this first "free" walk is still important - it must be brisk and it must be forward. The horse must obey the leg aids to go forward, the reins are long and you are using your driving aids to maintain the forward movement. 

In the first corner or circle and by pushing from your inside leg, ask your horse to bend  into the shape of the circle or bend  and take a feel of the outside rein and at the same time, soften your inside rein. As your horse accepts the outside rein, allow your hand forwards a little but keep a contact. 

The horse should follow your hand forward  and at the same time, move down. The aim is really to make the horse's poll( top of his head) come below the height of his whithers . This allows the horse to relax and stretch through his "top line" and his back. By stretching down, we are encouraging the horse to arch his back upwards in order to achieve our "humped-back bridge" so he is comfortable carrying our weight and we are comfortable sitting on him.

Ride lots of changes of rein to stretch the muscles on both sides and when you feel the horse is obedient in walk, move up to a rising trot and do the same exercises . This part of the working in phase is complete when you sit down and the horse's head stays down and remains down and the pace is even in tempo. 

When the horse has accepted this way of going, you can progress to taking up a rein contact going from a long and low outline to being arched in his neck and engaged behind - this can mean returning to the walk.

You Might Get Problems - You Have Ride Through Them !!

When using your legs to "ask" for length bend through his body  and neck, if the head comes back up and the back stiffens, it's important  not to get tense your self but to just encourage the stretch by driving the horse forward and at the same time, encouraging the downwards  bend. 

A tap from the schooling whip can always back up your leg aid if your horse is slightly reluctant. If the horses head comes up and the back stiffens, do not worry so much as this is your chance to put the horse back down again which gives you loads of valuable practice in doing so. 

Take up a contact on the reins only when the horse is forward off the leg and moving down .I tend to take the contact up gradually by degrees so that I don't get MGB bringing her head up and stiffening through her back which defeats the purpose. It's important to remember that taking up the contact must be backed up with your leg and seat aids. 

It's no use taking up the contact if you don't then put your legs on as the horse will stop and run backwards. It's also no use taking up the contact and then not allowing your hand to move forwards with the motion of the horse because this will block the  very possibility of  forward motion. 

When the horse accepts the contact and moves down into the bit, you must be prepared to offer your hands forward into the contact - this is your horse's reward for obeying your instructions - you have taken a bit of pressure off by allowing your hand forwards.

The rein contact is vitally important - the contact must be even in both reins and the reins must not be too long or too short. Reins that are too long may mean that you will compensate for the unnecessary length by pulling them backwards or across the neck to shorten them. 

Too short and the forward motion will be blocked and the horse will stiffen and come off the bit and the back will go hard and tense and all your work will be  undone. You must practice taking the rein contact up without disturbing the horse and I do this six or seven times throughout our training sessions using a halt transition. 

The first one can sometimes cause tension until the horse knows what you want and eventually, you will be able to stand with your horse on the bit, waiting for the signal from your legs to move forward and on. Even a gentle half halt in the halt stance will now put my aged old beast in a position with her nose eighteen inches off the ground and listening for the next signal to move. The walk to halt transition will indicate to you what the walk to trot one will be like,  ie.  if it's bad, then the trot one will be even worse.

Moving off from halt is very important (all transitions are critical really). The horse should never get tense and throw his head in the air and stiffen his back and neither should he plough on through the pace in a rolling unbalanced motion. Even during the loose rein phase of the warm up, the horse must be forward in the motion but this does not mean he must also be FAST !!

A fast walk at this stage is usually a very unbalanced walk and you must be able to hold the horse in an even four time rhythm between your hand and leg - this is not as easy as it sounds. Walking  is very hard to do properly   which is why in a dressage test ,a great many marks are to be gained  from teaching your horse to walk well. 

The half halt is used to slow down the walk and re-balance the horse's weight  onto the hind legs (the engine) . A half halt is generally achieved from squeezing the outside rein for two seconds whilst driving your horse into the outside rein with your inside leg. It's important also  to sit straight and down in the saddle, brace the back and to hold your legs close to the horse's side in the motion. You must be able to do all these things in a miniscule amount of time and it ain't  easy !!

One of the reasons why it is so important to work slowly in walk is that any problems encountered in walk will be magnified in the trot and impossible in the canter . Walking slowly and well, will encourage your horse to take more weight onto the hind legs and re-balance himself. Riders who find it hard to "sit" well on their horses will find this kind of slow work will help them to establish better feel and more control.

One of many reasons why riders don't sit well is because they are nervous of what the horse may "do". Another reason could be because the lower leg is too far forward in the saddle and the rider's centre of gravity is not directed properly through the head, hips and heels. 

Many saddles have a tendancy to push a rider's legs too far forward or offer no support at all. This is generally true when riding "school " ponies and horses where tack has to fit the pony or horse but cannot possibly be suitable for all riders. Sadly, this sometimes means that it's impossible for many people to even begin to feel what on earth I am talking about !!

Be Patient !! Be Kind !!

Never get rough, tough or angry with your horse or you will destroy his trust and faith in you (herd leader) to guide him through his exercises (and his indeed, his life )

The working in in walk , takes me roughly 15 minutes (yes, 15 minutes in walk - I know it sounds like a lot) and another 10 in trot before I even contemplate the serious schooling stuff. Sometimes, it takes me only ten  minutes and five respectively - it very much depends on how quickly we have established our communication levels and how either of us are feeling .

All horses and people are different so the only rule is that there are no rules - the only really important    thing is that we must never work a horse from "cold" and expect it to work well or safely.

Next lesson we will look at how the position of the rider affects the horse's back and it's ability to move.

If you have any questions, don't be afraid to contact me via World of Horses and I will either answer them  myself or use one of my  very clever BHSI friends to  help answer them. The Boss holds the BHS Order of Merit and Small Boss has a degree in Equine Science - these people know a thing or two and both compete regularly.


Remember - YOU ARE NOT ALONE !!!


I am a little down at the moment which accounts for my unusual lack of humour. MGB has had COPD indications for some time and at the moment is unable to work or compete. She has shown quite a resistance to the high pollen count this year and is very wheezy and snotty and "heavey" despite high doses of Ventipulmin and anti-biotics. Although my lovely Vet has told me that we will get her better, it's a long haul at the moment and I have nothing to ride  !!(Arghhh- I am going mad here !!).

If anyone would like to email their horse to me, I would like something about 16.2; to 17.2 hands, Chestnut, gelding or mare, age immaterial preferably ex-Grand Prix -

-hang on, there's a message coming in - Oh No - Oh WOW !!  - It's only Anky van G offering me Bonfire for the summer!!

(Well, I can't ride but I can still dream eh!!)

Kick On Guys & Gals

Karry Gardner
To send your email question to Karry please click here
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