Exercise Boots

Otis wore protective boots for all forms of exercise, but in the last couple of years I’ve done a complete U-turn on my approach to leg protection.

It started when I was doing in hand and lunging work with Phoenix whilst heavily pregnant. She was barefoot and a clean mover and not in hard work. Plus I could hardly bend down to put boots on her. Then I just progressed to riding without brushing boots.

I put them on when we jump or go cross country, but as she’s still barefoot and shows no signs of knocking herself I haven’t used boots or bandages for the majority of her work.

My reason for moving away from leg protection was mainly the research that was coming to light about the problems caused by boots warming up tendons and having a negative effect on their tensile strength.

And I was quite happy with this simpler approach to riding, and confident in my reasoning. Until recently.

During lockdown Phoenix has progressed in her flatwork and is now working on collection, half pass in trot and canter, walk pirouettes, as well as doing direct transitions as the norm. I’ve recently started doubting my logic. But it’s a minefield nowadays trying to find the right leg protection.

The big downside to leg protection is that it heats up the legs so reduces rge functionality of the tendons. So boots need to be as lightweight and breathable as possible. However, the lighter the material, the less protection the boots will provide.

I wrestled with the pros and cons for each argument but finally decided that I’d never forgive myself if Phoenix knocked herself whilst dancing, causing a wound that would have been protected by lightweight boots.

The expert guidance on the subject of leg protection now is that they should only be on for the minimal length of time, should be as breathable as possible, and the legs should be cooled as quickly as possible after work. I also learnt a lot about the type of boots. A lot of dressage wraps are marketed as “supportive” but in reality, they offer very little support. And you don’t necessarily want support because if you restrict the movement of the fetlock the forces are transmitted to another joint in the leg, which could cause more injury. In terms of protection, boots either provide an armour like protection to stop injury from sharp objects, and others dissipate shock forces of a strike or impact. No boot does both forms of protection. For my situation, I want softer boots which won’t stop wounds from sharp objects but will reduce the effect of a knock as Phoenix is learning to dance Valegro style.

I’m still very much on the fence about using leg protection on a daily basis, because it isn’t a straightforward decision as we were taught a decade ago, but owners and riders have to weigh up the benefits of providing protection with the effect of heating up and weakening the tendons. And once your decision is made there is the challenge of finding the boot which provides a sufficient level of the correct type of protection whilst reducing the heating effect.

Learning Styles

We all know that there are different learning styles for people – visual, aural, verbal and kinaesthetic – but do horses have different learning styles?

I enjoy working with horses, and learning what makes them tick so I can get the most out of them.

Some horses can be shown a new movement, they do it, and then you can perfect it for the rest of the session. Others need to stop and study the question, before  attempting it. Others get stressed over a new concept and need to be drip-fed the concept.

I`ve worked with one interesting cob recently, and it`s been quite insightful as to how his brain ticks. Now I feel like I can tailor lessons so his rider gets the most out of them.

We`ve had problems with the rideability of the arena, given the weather conditions, so instead of ridden lessons we`ve done some in hand work. When they bought him last year and tried lunging him, he just turned to face them, not understanding. Now, however, was the perfect time to teach him.

When we first tried to lunge him a few months ago he did trot out on a circle, but was quite tense about the whole thing and stopped at the first opportunity to stop and face me. This time, we decided to take it back a step.

Seeing as the horse was clueless about lunging, I presumed that he had been long reined in the breaking in process, so just after Christmas we took the long reins up to the frozen arena, and attempted to long rein.

This, the horse understood. He set off straight away, walking purposefully and responsive to the reins and my voice. We had a play with the long reins, walking circles and changes of rein. He was very happy with this arrangement, so towards the end of the lesson I stood to the side, and we made a step towards double lunging.

The horse had accepted these baby steps, so we started the next lesson with the long reins but rapidly moved onto the double lunging. I needed a lot out outside rein to keep the horse out on the circle, so this lesson was spent teaching the horse that he needed to subscribe a circle around me, without stopping, and without turning in. Through the session the outside rein was needed less, and became the emergency “Quick, he`s turning in – stop!” so that he learnt there was no point trying to turn in. Again, this was baby steps but we both felt that the horse was less anxious and understood the concept.

The following week we progressed to double lunging but with the outside rein becoming obsolete. We didn`t do too much because there was a feeble attempt at snow on the ground. We finished that session with some in hand turn on the forehand.

Last week we started when we had finished the week before, and when the outside rein was obsolete again we tried lunging with just one rein attached to the cavesson. One of us needed to start him out on the circle, but once he was walking, with the lunger in quite a driving position, he walked a circle around us quite happily. The lunger had to be on red alert to notice the slight falter in his stride that preceeded him turning to face them, but he definitely seemed to understand the concept of lunging. This horse seems to be quite sensitive, and although appears confident; he seems to lack confidence in new things. The idea needs to be introduced, and then left for him to mull over before trying the exercise again.

Changing the rein will take some practice, but now that the weather is warming up it will be interesting to introduce trot on the lunge.

We saw this learning style in this horse when we introduced turn on the forehand to teach him to move away from the leg. Under saddle the first time, he got very tense and tried to run through the bridle. However, after a couple of tries in hand he seems to be happier with the movement, so again I’m looking forwards to revisiting this exercise under saddle. I`ll introduce all new concepts in this trickle feeding way, and I think it will greatly help his education.

Can you think of any horses who have slightly quirky learning styles, and how would you manage this?


Teaching Leg Yielding

Leg Yielding is probably the first lateral movement you will teach a client, so it`s really important that you, as an instructor, explain it succinctly and clearly. I`ve done it a few times recently, and each time I find I miss out, or don`t explain an element sufficiently, so I`ve done a bit of research to collect my thoughts.

I usually begin a couple of lessons before, introducing the idea that the horse moves away from the leg, not just forwards. So I often spend a few minutes spiralling in and out on circles. I don`t tell them about leg yielding, I just work on keeping a consistent contact, checking that they are not pulling their horse round, and that they can use their legs independently. I sometimes tell them, if I don`t think they are already aware, that the inside leg isn`t always the one furthest away from the arena fence. This is usually a mind boggler, especially when combined with the words “counter flexion”. Cue me attempting to bend my body in demonstration.

The next time I see the client, and am planning to introduce leg yield I start off with the circles, spiralling in and then out, and then explain what leg yield is. Put simply, it is when the horse is moving forwards and sideways at the same time, producing a diagonal movement. It is a suppling exercise, and teaches the horse to move away from the leg. Likewise it teaches the rider to use their legs independently. At this point I usually suggest they YouTube “leg yielding” to get a visual interpretation of what they are aiming for. Two good ones are below. If there is a suitable livery or client nearby then I ask for a demonstration.


It becomes a little bit more complicated when trying to explain to the client about how the horse`s body is positioned – i.e. bent slightly away from the direction of movement. Then I move on to explain the aids for leg yield, and help the client position their legs. A lot of people swing the outside leg back wildly and wonder why it`s ineffective. We then discuss how the horse`s legs move, almost crossing in front of the other leg.

I use the riding school horse`s natural inclination to drift to the track, by starting to leg yield from the three quarter line to the track. Initially I find that most clients almost just turn their horse towards the fenceline and walk on two tracks. This is when I remind them that the horse needs to stay parallel with the fenceline. When the horse turns it means there is a problem with their rein contact. Too much outside rein and the horse turns; not enough outside rein contact and the horse falls through the outside shoulder and curves their body. This is usually my sticking point because the client struggles with the rein contact. I can also see that it`s pretty difficult when learning something new because you don`t know what to feel, so you can`t tell if it`s right or wrong, and you aren`t necessarily pressing the right buttons. We usually have a few attempts, while I`m telling them which buttons to press and how to correct themselves. Sometimes the client can be seen sliding to the inside in an attempt to push more with their inside leg!
Another common mistake, is losing the forwards impulsion, the client curls themselves into a ball, applying tension on the rein, and losing their seat aid. This encourages the horse even more the fall through the shoulder and curl themselves excessively round the inside leg. If this happens I send them off into trot to get some impulsion back and to reassess their horse`s rhythm.

After a couple of lessons or attempts, I hope that my client will have a light bulb moment. Either they feel the sideways step, or the correct feel down the reins and pressure on the legs. Usually this means that their aids become a bit more subtle and the leg yield becomes smoother. Once this is established in walk we progress to trot, by which time the horse is usually predicting the exercise and rushing to the track, so I revert back to spiralling in and out on a circle. Except this time it is leg-yielding out. I then ask the client how their outside contact feels. Hopefully it is more secure!

Another exercise is leg yielding away from the track, but it is usually very difficult for the client to set up counter flexion, or at least keep the horse straight coming out of the corner, so I don`t tend to use this when learning leg yield.

We can also discuss how the horse`s trot feels before and after leg yielding. I taught with a lovely, but green, horse last week, and in the trot work we did micro-yielding. That is, moving him around using the leg a step at a time, coming out of the corner, and it just unlocked him! He started stretching and lifting his back. Last night`s client found her horse`s trot more active and he was more alert. Eventually, clients come to understand how being laterally flexible can improve their way of going in straight lines, and circles, and them onto jumping. Hopefully by this point I now have their full attention and we can move on to shoulder in and studying the horse`s straightness a but more, and utilise leg yield into their warm up and improving the horse`s way of going.untitled3

Further Reading:
http://www.dressage-academy.com/schooling-tips/leg-yield.php http://www.newrider.com/Library/Riding_Tips/leg_yield.html