Friday, August 29, 2014

"Pt 3 Restarting, Conditioning, and Great Exercises For Your Horse"

Howdy Friends,

In Pt 1 we talked about the importance of restarting a horse after time off and learned about the Top-Line release and relax exercises, which I like to suggest become a part of every horse care givers routine. In Pt 2 we looked at exercises for the body and front legs. Today we'll learn exercises for the hind legs and a few in motion exercises to work on posture, balance and connection to her feet. It's important to note, always do these ground tied so the horse is free to move. Have no hay or grass in your exercise area, you want them focused on you and their release. Do not discipline during exercises as that will short circuit any release. Be sure to watch for and allow sighs, licks and chews. Your horse may ask for a little walk to absorb these new feelings, walk them if they ask for a minute, then begin again.

All the exercises we've covered so far, I do in the order we are discussing them, and including the ones we'll learn today, the routine takes me 40 minutes. I recommend you do all of them every day starting at least 2 weeks before you restart a horse. Don't forget the carrot stretches. And continue the entire routine while conditioning, or restarting your horse. We'll talk more about that in Pt 4. I'm not a fan of lunging or round penning. I include neither in my conditioning, restarting or routine maintenance. I don't have a riding ring. I believe the best conditioning, physical and mental, for any discipline is on the trail. We'll revisit that in Pt 4 too. These exercises done pre-ride do more to warm up and ready a horse than any lunging can, in my opinion. As time goes on and your horse becomes balanced, fit and relaxed you can begin to streamline your exercises to doing only a few every time pre-ride and keep the others in your tool box for every now and then. I never ride without doing the top-line routine (and the rock back and one step, which you'll learn today).

When I finish in the front I move to the rear with the Groin Release. This exercise releases and relaxes the thick muscles of the hind end. It is very important for a free flowing gait, and correct relaxed posture.

Just as the Armpit Release, stand straddling the hind leg, place your palm on the inside of her thigh, and slide your hand up into her groin. Keep pressure on and move in deeper as she releases muscle until you can go no farther, then hold and release slowly. Remember to do both sides. Some horses love this, others will have no part of it, so begin with care and just place one hand on the inside thigh to see what your horse thinks. In time they all love it.

Next the Piano Wire Release. This exercise will release and relax tension in the hind end, along the spine and all the way to the neck and chest muscles. I talk a lot about tension. We may not even notice it in our horses, but without routine maintenance like these exercises provide, it's there. It comes from work, worry, tack; it even comes from not working. Just like with us. These exercises release both physical and mental tension, and strengthen the bond of trust between horse and human.
Stand beside the horse and gently dig your finger tips in the center of the hind thigh muscle. Search up and down, side to side until you find a cord-like tendon that runs up and down. When you find it massage it up and down until you feel the release. Softening this tendon is huge. Remember to do both legs. NOTE – Sometimes this is the first thing I do with a horse. Sometimes a horse is so tight on the front end from tension in the hind end they cannot relax or even lower their head, then I know, do the Piano Wire first. You might remember this.
Next the Hip Circle Release. This exercise will release and relax the hip, create balance and posture awareness, surefootedness and power.
Hold the fetlock and elbow and gently rotate in small circles each way. And just as with the front leg, we want no movement in the elbow, we want it in the hip. We want the hip to release. Keep her leg under her, not out to the side. While doing circles move the leg slowly and gently upward, then work slowly down again and set the foot down on its toe behind the other foot. NOTE – at first some horses are so tight this exercise is very difficult, be gentle and go as far as she is comfortable, force nothing. Things will improve in a few days.
 Next the fist motion and balance exercise the Rock Back. This exercise will teach correct posture, teach her to carry herself off her forehand, and put the power and strength in the hind where it belongs.
First study your horse from the side as she stands ground tied. Look at her posture; learn to recognize the weight on her forehand, the angle of her chest and front legs. Then picture her standing with her weight shifted off her forehand. That is the position we are seeking.

Standing in front of your horse very gently touch her shoulder point and say, "Rock Back." (Since most people ask their horse to back up this way, you need a verbal request that connects to this exercise; she will learn the 2 different verbal requests.) Be careful your body language does not tell her to step back. Be solid but soft in your stance, she will be looking to you to help her figure this out. We are looking for only for a shift in posture and weight off the forehand, not a step back. If she steps back, start over. Watch for the slightest move, at first it may just be her pectoral muscle moving – Stop asking as soon as you see the slightest movement or change.  You may need 2 inches of rock back to get her correct and off her forehand, and you may need to get it an eighth of an inch at a time.
Next motion exercise, the One Step. This exercise helps horses establish correct posture, patience, self awareness and reconnects them to their feet.
Standing in front of your horse say, "One Step," and look for one complete step forward – That is one front and one hind, then a pause, and ask for the Rock Back. Allow her to feel the movement and the posture, then step back one step, the same feet, and Rock Back. Repeat each each side 3 or 4 times. NOTE – Sometimes it is easier for the horse to ask for the first step to be back rather than forward. Notice in this picture Kessy has moved her left front and right hind. Keep the lead loose in your hand your body soft. This is one exercise I do each and every time I tack up.
The final motion exercise for this series the, Circle Tail Pull Leg Crossover. This exercise encourages hind end engagement and propulsion, and self awareness, relaxes the spine and releases the big rear muscles while creating surefootedness.
Ask your horse to "Walk On," in a slow easy circle on a 6 foot lead. Over the years I've been amazed at how many horses can't do that. That may be the first step in this exercise, teaching your horse to walk on relaxed and easy in a circle. She'll need to be comfortable with you taking her tail as she walks too. While she is walking grasp the tail and as the outside leg is lifting, tug gently on her tail to encourage her to cross over and set it down under her middle. Be quick on the release as soon as her foot touches down. Wait for the inside leg to move, then as the outside foot lifts, tug and release again. Does this for 3 – 5 circles then switch sides. You'll need to keep moving with her, but maintaining the circle is important, as well as a loose lead. It's all about softness, and relaxing ... Look closely at this picture and note the loose lead, Kessy is about to step down with her outside foot, not quite under her middle, but nice, and very important she is walking straight and upright while going in a circle. That's what you're looking for.
These relax, release and body, foot and posture awareness exercises I learned while working with my mentor Diane Sept for nearly a decade. From Diane, a "Senior Certified Connected Riding Instructor ®," I learned the techniques of Peggy Cummings, Connected Riding and Ground Work® and Linda Tellington Jones, Tellington TTouch Training ™. I highly recommend their training and books. In their books you'll find these and many more excellent exercises.

That's all the exercises we'll discuss, of course there are many more, but in my opinion these are the best to maintain or restart a horse. In Pt 4 we'll talk about starting to ride and beginning the conditioning or restarting under saddle.

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry 

You can read Pt 1 HERE 

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