I’m sure everyone who rides is aware on some level of the need for flatwork. But I think hunters and jumpers are often guilty of hacking around to exercise their horses legs, rather than actually building muscles and good habits and exercising their horse’s brain during flat rides. I’m certainly not pointing any fingers, because I’ve been guilty of this quite often; I find myself doing this most often on reasonably quiet and well broke horses.
But flatwork between jumping rides is even more important to your jumping than the actual jumping rides. Sure, you get to practice finding a good distance, and holding your position, but those are things that you can practice and improve on the flat as well. So all of that being said, I made it a point this week to really ask Val for more and to push him–albeit gently–to do more and carry himself better.
Tuesday we did do a jump school, but with a heavy focus on the flat. We took our time warming up doing a lot of walk-halt-walk, practicing a loose swinging walk, not a tight walk that was anticipating the trot work. He had to bend both ways, move off my leg in both directions without losing forward momentum, and do both shoulder and haunches in. Once he felt flexible and relaxed we moved into our trot work. Leg yields at the trot are really difficult for Val to figure out mentally, so we didn’t push this too hard, but we did everything else at the trot again, along with trotting out, and compressing into a nice sitting trot, and then trotting out again without getting excited or losing contact. From there we moved into a canter and practiced carrying a decent pace, but riding up into the bridle and not evading the contact. Finally we added in one single with a halt after.
The single was the whole exercise. We alternated between left and ride with two different types of turns. The left turn was a nice normal turn with room to make it tight and handy, or wide and sweeping. From the right there was really only one track that was going to get us straight and to a reasonable distance, and we had to wrap right around a jump and make a very shallow turn. This was almost identical to an exercise we did at the clinic. The first few times Val wanted to rush the last few steps, and I stayed patient with him. We halted on the backside, and stood calmly without my holding him in place. He had to stay standing while he was patted, and then we walked out of it. Then we would pick up the other lead and do the same thing. Off of the right, Val curled around my leg really nicely, and the jump started coming up really nicely. To the left–which is his weaker lead–he wanted to either bulge or cut in on the turn, and we really had to work on keeping his shoulder on the right track. It took several tries, but he finally did this quite nicely as well. After doing that really well we walked and then did some stretchy trot since I had asked him to do a lot of collected work.
Once he figures out what we’re doing Val is really good at stretching long and low, and he knows that this is usually his time to wind down, so it helps him relax knowing that we are in the wind down part of the ride. Horses are creatures of habit and that can certainly be used to your advantage in something like this. Ie. stretchy trot = take a deep breath.
Wednesday was a day off and then Thursday I really asked him to work hard. We added in turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches, and while we first did it at the halt, we worked into doing it at the walk, then trot, and we did the turn on the haunches at the canter as well. We warmed up nice and slow again to get him supple and listening to my aids. We kept our whole hack to the top third of the arena, almost like a dressage ring, and this helped Val stay more focused on what we were doing.
I also really pushed the issue of leg yielding at the trot, and I did have to remind him to keep up with his hind end with a little tap behind my leg. He was upset for just a moment, because I never have to discipline him in that way, but he got over it fast, and figured out what I wanted with much less fighting. We did a ton of canter work, mostly asking him to carry himself nicely again. Almost all of our work was in a more collected canter, with a lot of turn on the haunches and circles to get him more flexible since his canter is often stiff. Right got better, and surprisingly he gave me a very nice left lead canter almost the whole time. We again ended on a stretchy trot and he was tired by the end, but still happy and pleasant.
Since this has turned into a novel already, Saturday’s flat and Sunday’s VERY rewarding jumping school will be in a later post. As an aside, anyone notice the blog’s facelift? I’m still tweaking but I think I like it.