Adjusting Strides

I read a really interesting article a couple of weeks ago, but haven`t had chance to experiment with it until this week.

The article was abut the importance of leg yielding when showjumping. This sounds controversial, but basically the article showed how you can gain space between fences without jeopardising your technique as the horse will still be perpendicular to the fence so will make the oxer more easily.

This makes sense, because you are riding a diagonal, so have a greater distance to travel so you should comfortably fit in more strides. More than just collecting your canter will, anyway. I`m sure everyone`s ridden that exercise when you canter through a related distance counting strides, and then have to increase and decrease the number of strides in between. This is the advanced version!

The first time I used this theory was yesterday morning in a dressage lesson. We`d played around with poles and cavaletti and I had a bit of time left at the end, so I tested her leg yielding ability.

I put down two short poles, about five canter strides apart, and askekd my client to trot over the centre of them to begin with. Then I asked her to come off the left rein and trot over the most left part of the first pole, and then leg yield to the most right part of the second pole. This exercise was made all the harder by the lack of jump wings, so my client had to use her leg closest to the edge of the pole to support her horse, so he didn`t skip around the end. They had to step quietly over the pole so their rhythm and balance wasn`t upset and they had enough time to leg yield. This is harder than it looks but my client managed to ride the exercise in trot on both reins. It was a good test of accuracy for both horse and rider, and their leg yield had to be straight and consistent.

Later that afternoon I was schooling a horse and someone had kindly left out a beautiful arrangement of  poles for me to work with, and two were a perfect five strides apart. So I cantered over them a couple of times, shortening our strides until the gelding rode six strides easily. Next, I tried cantering a leg yield between the poles to get seven strides. He found it quite hard, and I managed to leg yield into six an a half strides. We tried a few times on both reins, before admitting defeat by that seventh stride. I could see how the exercise is useful though, and our canter work improved. To finish off the exercise I cantered through the related distance in four strides.

This got the geeky part of my brain thinking. If those poles were twelve foot long instead of ten foot, could I have fitted in an extra stride? If they had been further apart, could I have managed it? With Pythagoras` theorem, and some trigonometry I`m sure it would be worked out – but I wish I`d measured the distance between the poles and the exact length of the poles so that I could do some homework.

Following on from this theme, I taught a young girl on her new pony tonight. We have a slight problem with the brakes. The pony has them, but is forward going and my rider isn`t committed enough to riding a balanced gait. As the pony tends to accelerate around jumping courses I have been trying to drill it into her that she must keep the canter under control on the flat. 

To accentuate my point, I laid down two poles five strides apart, and asked her to canter over them, counting her strides. The first time she got five strides, and the pony accelerated. So I asked her to go again; she got four strides. By now, the pony was really excited for the poles, and my rider could see how she needs to calm down the canter and keep the lid on it. On both reins she balanced the canter and rode an economical five and six strides through the poles and then she worked on her canter on the flat after, and I think she learnt an important lesson in keeping a lid on the gaits – and listening to me when I tell her to slow down! Giving a set goal, i.e. a set distance and a set number of strides, helped commit my little rider to achieving her goal – and to also see the results of her work. I`m hoping to continue to improve the quality of her pony`s trot and canter with similar exercises next week, and to use poles too.

All in all, two simple poles can be really useful in teaching a horse and rider to adjust their gait and improve their balance, as well as improving the communication between the two. I`m looking forwards to trying the leg yielding between poles/jumps with Otis soon.

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