Last month I taught my annual 3 day clinic at my farm, Market Street, in Frenchtown. I especially enjoy this particular clinic because I can share not only my teaching, but how our horses are cared for at Market Street. I am proud of my team and happy to show the standard we maintain.
I love the 3 day format, so I can gradually increase the difficulty from 1 day to the next. Progressive training. All of the horses and riders showed marked improvements! Some had huge breakthroughs,others subtle yet enormous. That is the fun of it for me. Riders really finding their center of balance with the automatic release. Teaching "feeling" and listening to the horses. Watching the horses change as I change the riders, that is amazing and rewarding!
Another reason I really enjoyed teaching this clinic was one of the top hunter riders in the world, trainer and horsewoman rode in my clinic, Louise Serio! (Louise is pictured doing my reins on one side of the neck exercise) I must say, I am honored that she would take the time to ride with me. Louise rode in the highest section on a borrowed horse. She handled all of the tough exercises effortlessly. That is why Louise is one of the all time greats, humble, still learning and having fun! Many other trainers could learn from her.
We are in the process of putting the 2015 Market Street clinic on Riding and Jumping Mentor and creating a DVD. Stay tuned for updates!
This month, I answer the RJM member question (with a little help from my friend Eros): I have a 6 yr OTTB gelding who is very unbalanced to the right. What exercises do you recommend to help better balance and strengthen himself on the right side so that he may be able to pick up the right lead. He is a big boy at 17 hands with very nice movement.
Adjusting Stride Length
Excerpt from Anne Kursinski's Ridng & Jumping Clinic
Once you have the basic tools for controlling speed and straightness, the next step to master is basic lengthening and shortening of your horse's stride length. I’m not talking about extension and collection here, but simply about developing your ability to get (and to know you're getting) a longer stride and a shorter stride - covering more ground or less ground with each of his footfalls. For this work, you may find it useful to have a helper on the ground to confirm and correct your impressions about how you're affecting the horse's stride.
This work will help you begin to develop a "clock" in your head - a sense of timing and rhythm, which you'll need to produce the consistency of pace so necessary in the dressage ring, on a hunter course, and going cross-country in combined training. Along with your basic gaits, such as your 4-mph walk and your 8-mph working trot, you'll work toward developing, say, a smooth, consistent 6-mph lengthened walk, a 10-mph lengthened trot, and a shortened walk that's rhythmic but with such very small steps that it's almost a halt.
To continue emphasizing the importance of "forward," begin with lengthening.
1. In the working walk, increase the feel in your legs with a "squeeze-soften-squeeze" sequence that almost asks for a trot, then softens, and squeezes again, in rhythm with your horse's steps.
2. Let your hips swing forward to follow the walk, as they should naturally do, while you close your legs and feel your horse gaining more ground by taking longer strides.
3. Yet your hands don't allow him to trot, nor do your legs push quite that hard.
4. As he stretches and nods his neck, watch this motion and allow your elbows to open and close, so that you follow with your arms but don't drop the contact. Don't smother him so that he can't lengthen, but don't let him trot. (Think of him as an accordion, expanding and contracting.)
Now that you've pushed your horse into a longer stride (make sure your helper on the ground confirms that you have), teach him to shorten his stride by using your retarding aids more than your driving aids.
1. With both hands, take more contact in rhythm with the stride, as if you're going to stop . . .
2 . . . . but keep your legs squeezing and softening to tell him, "No, don't stop. Stay active -- take a shorter step but don't stop, a shorter step but don't stop, almost stop but don't stop, almost stop but don't stop." Keep the movement rhythmic, so you get regular short steps, not choppy ones.
3. Keep alternating the length of steps you ask for - short, short, short, then working (regular), working, then long, long, long, and back again, in the walk and then in the trot and canter so that you feel the different lengths and rhythms and develop your horse's understanding of your aids. 4. In the posting trot, the moment to close your leg or increase your feel of the mouth is when your seat touches the saddle. That's the time when you can influence what your horse does with his inside hind leg. Applying pressure then will encourage him to stretch it forward into the print of the front foot and even beyond. This is the moment to apply leg pressure and say, "More active," or "Longer strides," or "Move over; get straight."
5. As you squeeze your legs, especially in the trot and canter, be sure your contact with his mouth is elastic, so that he can stretch into the longer stride. Remember that he can only lengthen his stride as far as his nose is poking out.
6. If he's over flexed or very short in the neck, he may throw his front leg forward, but his stride will still be short because he has to touch the ground at a point beneath where his nose is. 7. Then you shorten, the moment to increase your feel of the mouth is when your seat brushes the saddle in the "down" phase of the trot stride - when your horse's inside hind has reached forward and is meeting the ground.
This is the moment when I say, "Shorten your stride and lighten your forehand."
8. Then relax a little, and repeat the aid, taking with the same degree of pressure, at the same point in the next stride.
9. Shortening the canter will take a little more work because things will be happening faster. You'll probably need to take a little more feel because there's more power going into your hands at each stride.
10. .... but keep enough leg that your horse doesn't drop into the trot. In both lengthening and shortening, you and your helper on the ground should each see your horse's shape changing.
As he lengthens his neck extends, his nose pokes out, and his whole frame gets longer. Your helper should see the hind feet overstepping the tracks of the front and you should feel a little more thrust from behind (some people compare it to toothpaste being squeezed from a tube) and hear a longer time between footfalls.
As your horse shortens stride, his frame shortens too. His steps should become shorter without becoming mincing- there should still be plenty of activity coming from the hindquarters.
To develop your sense of your horse's pace and your own ability to produce consistency, do some experimenting. In a normal working canter, count the number of strides you get down the long side of your ring. Do it several times, and try to keep the number the same every time. Next, shorten his canter as much as you can; again, count the number of strides you get through several trips down the long side, aiming for consistency. Then do the same exercise with lengthening. Listen to your horse's strides. In each pace, try to make them as consistent as a metronome. With practice, as you get to know how his lengthened and shortened gaits feel and what balance of leg and hand aids produce them, you'll be able to choose and then maintain whatever rhythm you want.