All is progressing well with Lakitos. Over the months he has been with us, he has become very relaxed and trusting in his environment. Under saddle, there have been great strides forward. His trust in me as a rider has grown to the point that he is more concentrated on his work, and less concerned with his surroundings. On the occasion that he is startled he may do as little as take a tense step or two, or at the most, “scoot” for a couple of strides before settling back to work and focusing on the rider. As a result, we have been able recently to concentrate more seriously on our training.
Our primary ambition at the moment is for me to gain a more consistent control of the haunches. As I have mentioned before, going left on turns and circles, he tends to cross his left hind leg under himself and to the right, and stiffens his right side, powering through the right shoulder. This causes a tendency toward over-flexing left (a tilting of the head with unlevel ears), a heavy stiff ccontact on the right rein. Any attempt to fix this from the front (hands only) results in his opening his mouth, crossing his jaw and dragging the rider to the right (no longer a circle, but an oval). It is possible to regain control by making a right flexion, keeping the right leg on, and then back to the left flexion. These flexions supple the neck, which he has stiffened, but more is needed to obtain a consistent, long-term solution to this problem of laterality and balance.
An exercise I use often in my daily work, performed both at the walk and the trot, is renvers to shoulder-in, going left. (This post will deal with problems and work to the left. I will concentrate on the right in another post.) This exercise helps in several ways. First, it develops a good response to the diagonal aids, the left leg and the right rein. For Lakitos, who is a left handed horse, this diagonal is the most difficult for him to handle. By developing a supple right flexion, supporting him with my right leg, I can move his haunches and ultimately stretch the left (short) side, allowing him to relax and supple is right (stiff) side. Once he is responding well to the renvers, I then transition to a shoulder-in left. Having achievewd a relaxation of his right side, I am able to stabilize his haunches and effectively bring his right shoulder inside the track. Out of this response to the aids, I can either turn or circle without resistance. As with all horses, a loss of balance results in a return to the stiffness and crookedness, but that is the point of training. At this early stage, we might have to return to the exercises described above to restore the suppleness and balance. In a more fully trained horse, this correction can be done within a stride.
Another exercise we practice, which can be a little more challenging, is a left circle with counterflexion (12 – 15 meter circle left, flexed right). The difficulty here is to control the haunches, to prevent the left hind from driving him through his right shoulder and out of the circle. Or at worst, turning right rather than making a circle left. Again, done correctly (and patiently), it stretches the short side and supples the stiff side (releasing the obvious tension). The most noticeable result to the rider is a “flattening” of the right side, giving a place for the leg, and a softer response to the right leg and rein aids. Also it fills in the “hollow” of the left side. The rider feels centered over the horse, with each leg having the ability to lay flat against the horse’s sides. And ultimately it results in a more correct left bend, where the horse moves with “four” legs under him and a good balance.
It is important to remember we are developing muscles as well as teaching the horse. Patience is key and as riders we need to be conscious of the fatigue level of the horse, both physically and mentally. Lakitos is a horse full of energy with a tendency to rush his gaits. Therefore, I ask him to wait and to perform his exercises slowly and with concentration. He responds quite well, and shows a nice work ethic. As a result I always try to stay aware of his state of mind, as he shows mental fatigue, and rarely physical fatigue.
Another phase of our work to the left is half-pass. Though Lakitos is a strong horse, he is easy to “push” sideways. The difficulty is to get him to carry himself in the half-pass from his haunches rather than pulling himself from the forehand. At this point, I often will perform a turn on the haunches, sometimes raising my hands to ask that he does not drop his withers. Out of this positioning, I can ask for the half-pass. If I feel he has started to “slide” sideways rather than carry himself, I might immediately go into a shoulder-in, rebalance, and continue in half-pass. If he has gotten too strong for me to effectively rebalance him, as sometimes happens, I come back to the walk, perform a turn on the haunches, or half-pass in the walk, and then continue in the trot.
Throughout all of these exercises, the emphasis is on developing control of the haunches, either by moving or stabilizing them.
And of course when you can control the haunches, you can develop good responses to the diagonal aids which serve to supple and ultimately straighten the horse. This work also helps to develop an even rotation of the haunches. This can be seen by a supple rolling effect when the horse trots, with his tail swinging calmly equally to both sides. Viewing the trot from the side, you would look for even diagonal strides.
Finally, understanding that the control of the haunches is a consequence of suppleness of the sacro-illiac joint, through the action of the posas muscle, we also school trot work over cavelleti. Done properly this work facilitates the engagement of the hindquarter resulting in an easier rotation of the hip. Of course, this all contributes to a better control of the haunches.
For Lakitos, consistency is paying off as he is more even in his diagonals, he starts to rototate his hips more evenly and with more fluidity. Successful development of the haunches of course provides a more secure balance for the horse, and as a result he is more confident, trusting, and therefore calm. And for the rider, the horse is much more comfortable to ride and easier to control. A positive for all.