How many of you go to pilates classes to improve your core strength and your riding fitness? Quite a number I am sure. But how many of your horses do pilates as well? Horse fitness and relaxation is all about bending, stretching, circles and poll, and many of these exercises can be done on the ground, in your stable, in the field, or anywhere. You need no special equipment, gadgets, or clickers - just a willingness to listen, relax your horse, and mutual trust.
And over the course of years, the more horses you have, the more problems there are to solve, and the greater knowledge your horses are teaching you. Such is the case with us and our horses - once we started to pen our eyes to what they are telling us, the more we learnt and the more we have been able to help them.
Here are some of the exercises that we use on a regular basis to help in a fitness, relaxation and training regime:
A friend of mine once gave me a life-saving piece of advice. Never get on your horse with his head in the air! This was after I had been bucked off and dragged half-way down the drive - both horse and rider lost any mutual trust at that time, and it has taken years of training, tips and techniques to build up a wonderful lifelong friendship and mutual love and respect.
Horses are always looking for a 'strong' passive leader, and get stressed and spooked when they do not have one, so we as their owners and riders need to fill that role. In short, we need to raise our game in a gentle but firm way to become their herd leader, and this has to come from our body's energy centre, our core energy - they in turn will recognise the strength (or weakness) of this core energy and respond accordingly - you can still have a good core energy, and ride or train in a gentle, calm, passive manner. So these exercises will help you to connect with your own core energy.
No. 1: Never get on your horse with his head in the air! Lower the poll!
Easier said than done I hear. No, not really - To get your horse to relax the poll simply ask him to lower by pressing repeatedly on the poll and gently pulling nd releasing on his halter. Gradually his head will go down, lower and lower, until it is lower than the withers. His eyes will close, and he will start licking and chewing, or even yawning, releasing any built up pressure inbhis tense body.
Another way is to gently massage the area behind the ear and just down into the neck under the mane, round and round. After a couple of minutes he should lick and chew, release his poll, soften his outline. On many horses there are other very soft and sensitive areas on the neck, by the withers, on the front chest, or even on the front of his face - you will find the relaxing trigger points on your own horse, so keep exploring! Your horse will teach you! But remember - the poll is the key to many doors in riding and inhand work.
No. 2: Always be in charge of his feet!
If you watch a herd of horses in the field you will find that one, often the dominant mare or gelding, will gently and easily move the feet of one or more of the other horses. Simply by walking towards the shoulder, putting the ears back a little, stretching out the neck, and putting her head into the place of the other horses head. It works every time! So you can try this yourself - walk up to the front shoulder of your horse when he is in the field, and carry on walking straight into him - if he doesn't move before you touch him, he will certinly move when you give him a little push. The next time he will turn his shoulder away from you - you are in charge of his feet in this case.
Now try it in the yard or his stable. With a halter on and standing on his left gently pull him towards you with the line and release when he crosses the outside front foot across the inside front foot. Now try the other way - either swap sides, or gently push him across by his nose and he will cross his left front across in front of his right front. This will help him release his poll, relax and do as you ask, thus increasing his respect for you - you are his herd leader now. It's amazing how something so small can make a huge difference to your relationship both ridden and on the ground.
No. 3: Move the hind quarters over by pointing just behind the last rib!
With a halter on, hold the line about 75cm from his head, on his left side, and apply just a tiny bit of tautness in the line to slightly bend his poll towards you. Now facing his rear end gently touch him just behind the last rib, and bend towards this point with your head towards the same spot. He should move his left hind across underneath his body in front of this right hind. This is a good lateral stretch, and will help to flex his muscles in this area. Stand on the other side, and repeat with the right hand side. Eventually you will be able to do this with only a finger point and stoop of the head towards his last rib! A simple exercise, but so rewarding!
…………….to be continued