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We at Hesteyri Horses have been exploring wehorse.com, a website which allows access to many videos from top trainers around the world. Consider it YouTube for horse riders, a rider can get lost in hours of footage for a small subscription. The site even recommends relevant videos from the one you’ve been watching, which is very handy.
We’ve been focusing on the 'Connected Riding System' series by Peggy Cummings this week, which starts with ‘Philosophie and Seat Analysis’. There is a small demonstration early on in the video of how when we lead a horse we tend to pull to start them, and also pull to stop. It shows how there will be more balance in the horse if when we ask them to move off we place our hand against the cheek, and when asking them to stop we bring our hand under the chin. The video suggests that habitual bracing and tension patterns can limit our ability to feel ‘at one’ with our horse, because we are blocking their natural movement with our body. Later, it is shown that tension through the back and hips can lead to the movement of the horse being restricted and stumbling, whereas once the rider makes a small adjustment an improvement can clearly be seen. Peggy talks about the ability to lift her leg up and down to stimulate the ‘engine’ of the horse, and how important an active leg is, without being much effort. At this point, she also displays how important the positioning of her body is to the bend of the horse – as she rotates her body in a direction, the horse will look that way. The style of the video features Peggy talking some of the time, but often there is a voiceover, which we found really helps the videos to be understandable at all times.
This is a nice example of horse and rider balance. Cash is using his hind end nicely and maintaining an outline without being behind the vertical. Although Meg’s position is slightly forward, her lower leg is underneath her and she is allowing the horse’s movement.
Next, Peggy looks at different riding styles; riders sit in different positions resulting in a lack of balance. One example in the video is a young rider who is behind the vertical line with a hollow back and pelvis pushed forward; this Peggy calls the ‘arched equitater’ and the pressure of such a tense back can lead the horse to raise the head. The next is a rider who sits on his pockets, called the ‘pocket rider’; he is also behind the vertical with his upper body, his pelvis shifts forwards and his hips are blocked so he cannot follow the movement. The horse will likely reflect this posture by also being behind the vertical. The third example is of a rider with overly flexible loins, whose pelvis follows the horse back and forth. The hypermobility disengages her from the horse, so she loses the correct aids and communication with the horse, and Peggy calls this type of rider ‘gumby’. This was really interesting, and definitely made us think more about the ways we rode and what our little niggles are, although I like to think we are generally pretty well balanced in the saddle.
As you can see, although Rosie is trying very hard in this picture, she finds it hard to use her whole body as she is tight through her ribcage and a little bit lazy from behind. We are trying our hardest to counter this by maintaining our balance and working on rhythm and suppleness.
At the end of the video, Peggy starts to show the riders how they can analyse their balance and connection. The first test (of the seat) is to hold onto the mane; riders who are not balanced will feel different muscles bracing, and will tend to pull on the mane. Secondly, Peggy gently pushes on the loins of the rider and is easily able to change her position in the saddle, showing the pelvis is not in a neutral position. She also pushes on the upper chest region, and this creates tension in the lower back and hips if the pelvis is not neutral. Fourth, Peggy tests the response to lateral pressure, and finds a small amount of pressure on the forearm is enough to nearly pull the rider out of the saddle, again showing the pelvis is not neutral. Next, taking the leg backwards tests how restricted the motion through the hip joint is. Lastly, we can look at the foot’s positioning in the stirrup; the rider can only absorb the horse’s movements easily and gently if the stirrup is behind the ball of the foot. We found this slightly less interesting, but still useful, and I think it will be particularly interesting to think about some of these tests once we’re doing a little bit of coaching again.
The second video is about exercises for riding in balance. Peggy begins the video sat on the edge of a chair, she finds a balance point and from there practises moving her body forwards and backwards by very small degrees, something that’s very easy with a neutral pelvis. Breathing exercises can also help, Peggy puts her hand on her ribs so she can feel it expanding and contracting as she breathes. The next exercise she does whilst holding onto the back of a chair; she has an assistant to hold up one leg, and once properly balanced the helper can swing the leg backwards and forwards without disrupting the balance. Once standing, Peggy tests her volunteer’s balance by pushing down on one arm. The volunteer can feel a lot of pressure through the side Peggy is pushing on, but once she softens her knees and her back and looks at a point on the horizon she finds it much easier to stay in balance. Peggy then demonstrates how this would affect the contact down the rein and it would become more elastic the more balanced the rider is. She also shows that it becomes easier to carry heavy weights when the body is in balance and the weight is distributed evenly throughout the body. We found this part of the video interesting, but a little bit elementary. Even so, we understand how important it is for the fundamentals to be in place, so recognised the value of this section having been included.
Lucy has had an injury in her pelvis which, although completely better now, has encouraged her not to use her hind end effectively. You can clearly see here that her hind end isn’t underneath her as well as it should be, and also that Lauren could be sitting with her pelvis slightly further forward in order to not block the movement.
There are also a number of exercises to be done in the saddle. Peggy says that many women ride with their seat bones in the wrong place. Checking the legs can move freely and shifting the seat bones until they can do so is a good test. Another exercise is to raise the knees to a jockey position, and this stops the back from being hollow and tense. A helper can then apply pressure to the centre of the chest, which the rider should meet ‘as if it were the wind’. When the helper gently removes the pressure, the rider will feel free and light. Another way to achieve this is to blow gently and imagine following the breath forwards. An additional exercise is called ‘little buoy’ and the upper body moves gently backwards and forwards as if bobbing on waves, which should be fairly easy to do if the pelvis is neutral. Likewise, it should be easy to move the legs up and down if the body is in balance. The ‘wiggly whip’ test is turning the upper body from one side to the other whilst holding a whip horizontally in your hands. Peggy also says that if you’re a rider with a tendency to collapse you can imagine being stretched upwards with a zip up the front of your top. Lastly, laying the hands on the thighs and turning them to the outside will relieve the tension in the shoulders. We liked the idea of visualisation to achieve ‘free and light’, and the ideas Peggy has introduced so far in the video series are helping us to think more about balance leading to ease for horse and rider.
Boss has a tendency to be strong and on the forehand. You can see here that Lauren is slightly braced throughout her body and needs to open and relax her shoulders and arms. We have been doing a lot of lateral work and serpentines to achieve that ‘free and light’ feel.
The third video is called ‘Nervous Horses – Case Analysis and Exercises in Hand’ and uses Paul, a 10-year-old warmblood, to show an example of a tense horse. Throughout the demonstration, Paul is alert and looking around, and is not using himself and working from behind as much as he could be; he is on the forehand. Whilst the rider is trotting around she slides her hands down the reins away from the mouth, which is to help him to bring his head a little lower and relax. Peggy then starts to work the horse from the ground. She gives her first impressions of him; that he likes to raise his head and is quite heavy in the hand when she asks him to slow down or stop. The first exercise she does with him is leading him in serpentines, asking him to bend towards or away from her, and finding that the changes in direction are difficult for him, and he raises his head and changes his pace to compensate. She then does what she calls a ‘cheek press’ which is where she has one hand on his nose and another on his cheek and she asks his nose towards her whilst pushing his cheek away. He is unable to keep still when she does this, and Peggy finds that one side is tenser than the other. She then goes into the ‘caterpillar’ where she pushes on the muscles in his neck whilst encouraging him to move towards her with the lead rein. This helps Paul to lower his head and encourages him to stretch downwards.
We like to do a lot of groundwork with the horses too, here is Mila bending nicely through her body on the long reins.
Next in this video, Peggy shows the exercise ‘shoulder delineation’ where she repeatedly rubs down the line of the shoulder, from the top of the shoulder blade to the point of the shoulder blade. She then shows us the ‘shoulder press’, where she applies pressure to the shoulder with one hand and maintains a contact with the head collar with the other, she then releases the pressure slowly. After this she uses the ‘wither rock’ where she shifts the withers from side to side, changing the horse’s balance; Paul finds this really relaxing. She returns to the beginning of the exercises and finds him much more relaxed and bendy, with a much lower head carriage. We really liked these exercises and found much of the work intuitive and in keeping with how we would naturally work a horse on the ground.
In the next video, Peggy is preparing to ride Paul, and completing the same serpentines in tack, leading him from the noseband of the bridle to maintain the same close contact. She then checks the saddle and finds that it is too tight, which could be blocking his shoulders, so changes it for a wider fit. She starts his ridden work with serpentines also, to improve Paul’s balance and flexibility. Whilst doing this, Peggy changes the rotation of her body to the inside and outside, to improve connection with the horse, she calls this ‘pepper mill’. Another exercise she uses to encourage relaxation is ‘combing the reins’ as she rotates the body. Paul doesn’t respond to the combing of both reins as hoped, so Peggy switches to combing one rein at a time. Peggy gives Paul a training programme combining the exercises she has been doing with him on the ground and in the saddle. Again, these exercises were really useful, although I did think there was an element of plain good riding, and that the videos in some places made it sound as if once a rider did all these things they were naturally able to achieve a nice contact and shape, without making comment about ‘feel’, and I personally felt that becoming a rider isn’t maybe quite that simple!
Dreamer is a four-year-old ex-racer and is right at the beginning of the retraining process. At the moment, all she wants to do is go fast, and as you can see she is slightly inverted through her back and neck. Lauren is trying to stay light and balanced, and encouraging her to start bending correctly.
The last video is about a good warm-up on the ground. Peggy starts again by doing a serpentine with the horse. When she notices some tension and difficulty bending she does a leading exercise where she slides her hand up to the halter and pushes his head away at the same time as pulling the other hand in the opposite direction. Then she combs the lead rein. She also uses the caterpillar exercise whilst combing the lead rein with her other hand. Next, she does the cheek press with contact in the line, and then combs the line again. She also puts increasing and decreasing pressure on the poll area. This encourages the horse to lower his head and begin licking and chewing. She repeats this down his neck and on his shoulder.
This series of videos was an ideal watch for anyone looking to establish a more harmonic, lighter feel with their horse. The website has access to these videos and many more, an ideal companion to us all as we have a little more time on our hands!
Watch the trailer for this video series...
Head over to the wehorse site now to see how you could benefit from their fantastic training tutorials > https://www.wehorse.com/en/