Three Steps To “Brilliance” In Horse Riding

Brilliance

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Let’s say you and your horse are doing pretty well in all your movements.

Let’s also say that you’ve got a good grasp of the aids, and are using them effectively.

So you do well, especially if you show, but even if you don’t. You ride almost imperceptibly and your horse moves along with accuracy.

What’s next?

You could learn new skills. Challenge yourself and your horse with movements you haven’t done before, that require more collection or self-carriage.

Or, you could work on what you already know – only make it better.

Brilliance

In dressage, we often talk about this evasive concept of “brilliance”. Lots of people can get the job done, but not everyone can achieve “brilliance”.

It’s more than just putting down a pattern, although the pattern is an essential component.

It’s more than the movements, although the movements are enhanced by brilliance.

You can’t take your eyes off brilliance. You somehow become captivated by the performance in front of you. Time stands still, and you find yourself teleported into an equine-driven story that mesmerizes you and stops your breath.

The rider almost seems to disappear. The horse seems to love every second.

Brilliance can be demonstrated in a show environment, competitive activity, or just in your back yard. You can find brilliance in the nearest riding ring, in any discipline and in any riding style.

But the key question is: how do you develop it?

The First Step: Lateral Flexion and Bend

Maintaining a steady lateral position in the direction of movement is the first key to relaxation for the horse.

Flexion refers to the horse looking in the direction of travel. It is achieved by turning the head in toward the arc of the turn, at the amount needed. So if you are on a large circle, only a small amount of flexion is needed.

The inside hand (and rein) is responsible for flexion. Make sure your own shoulders are “open” into the direction you’re going in. Don’t point your shoulders left while riding right! Use small finger squeezes to encourage your horse to look into the direction of travel. The smaller the circle, the more the horse should be looking in.

Bend happens in the body, and is the result of the horse “wrapping around” your inside leg. So bend is initiated by your inside leg. The horse’s body should be bent into the turn pretty much to the same degree as the horse’s head. So a large circle requires a fairly small bend while smaller circles should get the most bend through the horse’s body.

Position your inside leg at the girth, and your outside leg behind the girth. Encourage your horse to shift away from your inside leg as you apply pressure. Your seat should also be pointing into the direction of movement and you should have more weight on the inside seat bone.

But there’s more to brilliance than just bend and flexion.

The Second Step: Longitudinal Flexion

This is a fancy term for developing “roundness” in your horse. To me, longitudinal means “over the topline”. The more flexion you have over the back, the rounder your horse moves and feels. The horse reaches deeper with the hind legs, the back rises (and drops equally in rhythm with the stride), the neck elevation rises and the neck gets thicker near the withers. You might see the neck muscles begin to contract and relax in the movement (as opposed to not being able to see any muscle movement at all).

Essentially, your horse begins to collect, even if only a little.

How much your horse can step underneath the body with his hind legs dictates how round he can get. The rounder he can get, the freer he can move in his body, and the better he can carry your weight. Roundness is an important part of “freeness”, meaning that he can allow the energy you initiate come through his body and into the movement itself.

Longitudinal flexion dictates how flashy the horse can look. Even the flattest horse can develop animated, sweeping movement when he begins to learn to round.

Develop better roundness through energizing the horse with legs and seat, and half-halting and releasing in time so that the horse doesn’t just move faster or change gait. Rather, you want him to move bigger, stronger, rounder (you have to ride that way in your seat too).

Third step: Activity

Your horse can have lateral and longitudinal flexion but still be a little short of “brilliance”. That is because there is another key component that acts as the icing on the cake.

Here’s one tip: you can probably never have enough activity in your horse’s movement. So just when you think you have enough energy and bounce, you can probably add a shade more.

More movement, more energy, more freedom. (psst!! Not faster!)

Even if you work at a relatively slow pace (think western pleasure), you can still encourage more activity. Keep the flexions and work on allowing, or even developing, your horse’s ability to move freely, especially in the front end.

The energy should not be stifled, but rather let through the body.

There should be no tension – in the topline, the underline, or anywhere else. The horse should look active but relaxed at the same time.

And the clincher – if all this falls into place together at the same time, he will appear happy. Think snorts, floppy ears, bright eyes, soft poll and jaw. Enthusiastic. Interested.

And What About You?

Well, the beauty of riding in brilliance is that all the attention is taken away from you. Your job is to disappear into the horse, becoming only a prop as he does his thing.

Of course, we all know there is a lot more to it than that. But that is what it looks like.

One more note: brilliance doesn’t happen every time you ride, although you can encourage it using the three steps above.

It doesn’t even necessarily happen over the course of a whole ride. You might find brilliance one movement at a time, or minutes at a time. Don’t worry. Keep working toward adding together moments of brilliance until you can maintain it longer and longer. It is a skill that can be developed – both of you can work toward it.

Can you think of other aspects to achieving brilliance in riding? Let us know in the comments below.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

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Read more here:

Where Does Your Half-Halt Start? Here Are Four Suggestions: Under most circumstances, the half-halt shouldn’t start from your hands.

Interpreting the Half-Halt: The more half-halts we include in our ride, the easier the horse can negotiate changes of gait, weight and balance.

What Is A Neck Bend? And What To Do About It: The body continues on the same original arc, but you’ve got that head and neck pointing in the direction you want to go!

An Easy Way To Turn In Horseback Riding: Instead of focusing on each and every body part and aid component, morph yourself into one whole.

 

Focus On Transitions – Week 4

ad6.15.15Title 4This is our fourth and final week of Focus On Transitions. I hope you’ve been able to try some of the exercises in your daily riding, and have found them to be useful in helping to improve your horse’s transitions as well as overall gaits and way of going. I’m in the process of putting together a much more complete course package for those who wanted more. Go to my Practice Sessions page for more details.

If you missed the first three exercises, click on the appropriate link below. Although the exercises have been progressively difficult, you can always mix them up and use them repeatedly over the course of several weeks. It never hurts to go back to the more simple exercises on a day that you might want to keep things easy, or skip one and go to the more challenging exercise. It all depends on you and your horse’s needs.

I’d also love to hear your feedback – which ones you tried, how things went, what did they do for you and your horse. Just email me at fwdnrnd@gmail.com

Focus On Transitions – Week One

Focus On Transitions – Week Two

Focus On Transitions – Week Three

I’ve saved the most interesting exercise for the last one! Enjoy!

Purpose:

This week, we’re going to progress into more changes – including changes of bend as well as gaits. We have embedded circles at different gaits, which will require your horse to step deeper under the body and bend more than in previous exercises. We continue with straight line transitions and non-progressive as well as progressive transitions.

You can simplify the exercise by keeping to one gait for both circles. You can make the exercise more difficult by cantering the 10-metre circle and trotting the 20-metre circle.

Goals:

  • Accurate 20-metre circle which transitions to a 10-metre circle
  • Straight and balanced canter-walk and walk-canter transitions
  • Effective use of corners at trot
  • Adequate bend for 20-metre vs. 10-metre circles
  • Trot to halt transition on a straight line

Aids:

See the previous articles for the walk-canter and canter-walk, as well as the walk-trot and trot-walk transitions.

Trot-Halt Transition

This is a non-progressive, downward transition that requires more energy and response from the horse than you might think.

1. Trot

As this is the last “movement” of the exercise, you come to the halt from the 20-metre trot circle. Make sure you have a strong, round trot as you come out of the circle. If your horse has a tendency to slow down on a circle, you might need to energize him from the hind end before heading onto the straight line. If your horse tends to rush, use a half-halt or two to help him balance more to the hind end before the straight line.

2. Straight Line

You come out of a mild 20-metre bend to the rail. Be sure to keep your horse’s shoulders from “leaking to the outside” and pointing to the rail. Keep the horse straight on the straight line. Half-halt through the last two or three strides in preparation for the halt.

3. Halt

Stop with your seat. Keep your legs on the horse’s side, but not active. Keep contact with the reins, but avoid pulling back. Try to get the halt more from your seat than your hands. Ideally, your horse should stop straight (not leaning to one side) and square (front legs parallel and hind legs parallel).

Exercise:

T4

Transition Exercise #4. © Horse Listening, 2015

Start at Walk before C, on the left rein.

Transition to canter at C, left lead. 20-metre canter circle.

Transition to trot at C. 10-metre trot circle.

Make sure you increase your horse’s bend for this circle. He might want to slow down a bit – you can accept that if you feel that the initial trot was too fast, but make sure you keep his energy up and the stride length long.

Continue at trot through the corner.

Walk at S.

Walk the sharp left turn at E, straight over X, and walk the sharp right turn at B.

Canter transition at P.

20-metre canter circle, right lead, starting at A.

10-metre trot circle at A.

Come out of the trot circle and halt before the corner.

You can walk out of the exercise and start the whole thing over again by walking across the diagonal (maybe in a nice stretchy walk?) and starting again before C. Or you can continue straight along the rail, and start at C going in the opposite direction. Your walk lines will be on the opposite sides of the rails.

Using embedded circles like this helps both you and your horse develop a really good sense of the bend and engagement it takes to transition between small and large circles. Add the gait transitions, and it’s not as easy as it looks!

Let me know how you do. You can post in the comments below, or email me directly.

Happy Riding!

Disclaimer: Use this as a guideline but you might need your instructor to respond to your individual needs. By using information on this site, you agree and understand that you are fully responsible for your progress, results and safety. We offer no representations, warranties or guarantees verbally or in writing regarding your improvement or your horse’s response or results of any kind. Always use the information on this site with a view toward safety for both you and your horse. Use your common sense when around horses.

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

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Read more relevant articles here:

What Is A Neck Bend? And What To Do About It: The neck bend looks exactly as it sounds. The rider goes to bend the horse, and instead of achieving a tail-to-head arc through the body, only the neck juts to the inside.

Bend: How To Drift Out On Purpose: There is a time that it is perfectly fine, or almost advisable, for you to allow the horse to drift to the outside.

How To “Fill Up” Your Outside Rein For A True Neck Rein: We often rely so much on our inside reins that we tend to forget the purpose and use of the outside rein.

Why A Halt Is Not A Vacation – In Horse Riding: Essentially, most of us turn off when we stop riding. The seat goes soft, the legs come off the horse, and we drop the reins. It’s not surprising then that the horse reflects our inactivity.

How To Halt Without Pulling On The Reins: We all dream of finding the halt that looks like we are in complete harmony with our horse.

The Top 8 Biggest Horse Riding Mistakes

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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Making mistakes isn’t always a bad thing. It’s quite natural to make mistakes while we learn new skills, and often, they send us onto more suitable paths. However, in horseback riding, there are mistakes and then – there are Mistakes.

The kind of Mistakes that end up causing more pain than gain.

The reinventing-the-wheel ones that you don’t actually have to go through personally to learn from.

The Mistakes that you’d rather not go through – but unfortunately, many people do.

Here are the top 8 mistakes to avoid while learning to ride.

8. Taking your ego into the ring.

One of the first things you’ll learn from horses is how to be humble. Whether you ride in a lesson, on the trails or at a show, do yourself and your horse a favor, and park your ego at the gate. Go to the ride with a positive, willing attitude. Appreciate your horse, your instructor and the other people around you. Appreciate yourself, what you can do that day, and how you are developing your skills over time.

And remember that each day is but a snapshot of progression in your overall riding career. Even if you feel like you might be going through a set-back, do what you can in that ride, give your horse a well-earned rest, and come at it again another day. You might be surprised at how you and your horse progress if you can let things go at the most critical times.

7. Not setting goals.

You can’t just do the same thing day after day and expect progress. When you set goals, make sure they are broken down enough that they are realistic and achievable for both you and your horse.

You and your horse are a team, and as such, your goals should reflect both your needs. Plan to develop your biggest “need of the moment” – whether that need is yours or your horse’s. Follow a systematic approach to skill development and work on small steps each day.

6. Trying too hard.

There is such a thing in horseback riding. If you get wound up enough, you can fall into a do-it-until-you-get-it trap. Horses often get caught up in this problem too, because their riders just don’t know when to quit.

It’s one thing to try, try again. But it’s another to mindlessly keep going when nothing seems to be going the way you want it to. If, after you give it your best shot, you are not seeing the results you want – take it easy and come back to it another time.

5. Being closed minded.

Although there are three official Olympic equestrian disciplines (jumping, eventing and dressage), trot over to your local agricultural society and see how many different riding styles there are in just your community! Add to that the plethora of horse-related activities around the world, and you’d be hard-pressed to list them all on one page.

Each of those disciplines have their own way of teaching, learning, training and performing. While it’s true that the horse is the common denominator in all of them, you’ll find many cross-discipline take-aways that might address your needs in your particular riding style.

Stay open minded and be willing to “listen” to others, regardless of their riding styles.

4. Listening to everyone.

The other extreme though, is to listen to everyone. If you’ve already done something like this, you know how easy it is to get lost in the shuffle of opinions, especially when you are first finding your way in the equine industry. You might find completely opposite methods and recommendations for the same problem! What to do?

Once you have found your riding niche, seek out a reputable instructor or mentor and stay with that person for some time. Learn one system well. Move on only when that system doesn’t meet your goals. Otherwise, give it a good effort and stay the course.

3. Riding horses that are too difficult.

This invariably happens to many of us at one time or another. Horses have different personalities, and some can be more challenging to ride than others. Honestly assess your skill level when deciding on a horse to lease or buy. Get a horse that is more trained than you are if you are a beginner rider. Only consider less trained or younger horses if you have an accessible professional available to you, or if you have already apprenticed under a more advanced rider or instructor.

It won’t do you or the horse any good if you feel intimidated by the horse. Many terrible accidents happen when there is a mis-match of the horse and rider’s ability levels.

2. Not taking lessons.

I’ve spoken about this many times. There is no replacement for lessons. Even the best of riders need “eyes on the ground” to give them straightforward feedback. What you feel and what is really going on don’t always match, and getting professional guidance in the quickest way to improve – for your horse’s sake!

1. Being afraid to make mistakes.

Has this ever happened to you? Everything seemed to be just great until your instructor asked you to do something new to you and/or your horse. In one short lesson, you went from being on top of it all to feeling like you’ve lost everything you’ve worked so hard for.

This is the old “one step forward, two steps back” routine.

The trouble is that while we strive for perfection, we might avoid trying new and different things that can help us find new skills. Sometimes, trying something new feels more like a set-back than progress. Maybe you lose some aspect of your position or your aids. Maybe your horse feels stiffer or more braced through the back.

If you feel like everything you’ve worked for just fell apart, don’t despair! Struggling through a learning curve is only bad if you let it bring you down (see #8) regularly and riding poorly becomes a habit. If you are going through a learning phase, though, it might be just what you need to do before you can put it all back together – better!

What other mistakes should riders try to avoid? Let us know in the comments below.

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

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If you liked the above article, you might enjoy these:

What Responsible Horse Ownership Really Means: We need to keep in mind that horses are prey animals and long-time domesticated livestock. If we listen well enough, we discover that what we think of as giving might not be what the horses truly need.

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Are you an average rider? Then join the club!

Cultivating Your Multiple Riding Personalities: In daily life, assuming different personalities might be frowned upon. However, if you can can channel several different personas while riding, you might actually be doing your horse a favour!

Breaking the Cycle: It Might Not Be What You DID Do…: … but rather what you DIDN’T do!

Finding Your Comfortable Un-Comfort in Riding: Being uncomfortable is often a good place to be in riding.

Focus On Transitions – Week 3

ad6.15.15

Title 3I hope you’ve enjoyed working on the previous weeks’ transition exercises. If you haven’t seen them yet, click on the links below for the first two weeks. You’ll find detailed descriptions of the aids for each transition in the text of the the first two weeks.

Focus on Transitions – Week 1

Focus on Transitions – Week 2

______

Purpose:

Things are getting a little more complicated this week! We’re going to head into a bit more challenge with non-progressive transitions (specifically walk/canter/walk) and a walk/canter straight line transition. In general, straight line transitions are more difficult than transitions on turns (the horses want to fell left or right). There is also a canter loop and 15-metre circles at each end of the ring.

If you have a young horse or beginner rider, feel free to change the gaits to the ability level that is needed. For example, trot instead of canter, come off the pattern when needed (nothing is written is stone!) or make the circles larger. Always suit the exercise to the student and horse, and set them up for success before moving on.

Here we go!

Goals:

  • properly placed 15-metre circles
  • straight and balanced canter-walk transitions
  • Effective corners
  • Transitions within a straight line
  • Impulsion to, through and after the transitions
  • Effective half-halts before and after changes (gait and bend)

Aids:

Walk-Canter-Walk 

1. Walk

Start with a strong, marching walk. Keep reins short enough for the upcoming canter transition. Legs should be on and seat is walking.

2. Prepare

Half-halt two to three strides before the canter transition. This half-halt might be just a “whispering” half-halt because you are at the walk and there is little impulsion. Be sure your half-halt doesn’t block the horse, but rather, softens him over the topline and prepares him for a deeper hind end stride as you head into the canter.

3. Canter Transition

Inside leg stays firm at the girth, helping the horse stay straight.

Outside leg does a “windshield wiper” movement behind the girth.

Seat canters.

Ideally, these aids happen in quick succession, almost at the same time. Be sure that your seat continues in the canter after the first canter stride. You might need to keep your outside leg back over the first few strides to secure the canter lead.

4. Walk Transition

After achieving a rhythmical, strong canter, prepare to walk with a series of half-halts.

Both legs become active – they put pressure on the girth, asking the hind end to come underneath for the transition.

Half-halt a few strides before the transition.

Seat changes to walk.

You might need a few half-halts after the walk transition as well, to establish an active rhythm.

Exercise:

T3

Transition Exercise #3. © Horse Listening, 2015

Once again, adapt this exercise to your ring size. The letters are there for reference only.

Start at the red arrow, just before C. You are walking on the left rein.

Canter transition at C. Left 15-metre circle beginning and ending at C.

Walk transition after C, before the corner. Walk through the corner, while preparing for another canter transition.

Canter loop from H to X to K. This requires the horse to do a mild counter-canter but maintain the left lead. You might need to encourage more activity through this part in order to maintain balance and roundness (work over the topline).

Before K, prepare to walk. Walk at K, before the corner. Walk to A.

Before A, prepare to trot.

At A, do a 15-metre left circle at trot.Continue through the corner, preparing to walk.

Walk at F. Between F and P, prepare for a walk to canter transition. Shorten the walk strides and increase the energy level. You might need to work at keeping your horse straight through this short walk as well.

Left lead canter at P. Maintain the straight line to M.

Before M, prepare to walk. Walk at M.

You can start the whole thing over and do the left side a few times before you change directions to the right side.

I rode this exercise myself this week with Cyrus. The transitions do come up quickly and the relative “straightness” of the whole thing gives little room for rest. But it kept us on our toes and had Cyrus working well from the hind end when all was said and done! His gaits got freer and more balanced as we went through it several times. His rhythm slowed a bit and felt more purposeful at all the gaits. The walk breaks gave us a chance to gather ourselves for the next part of the exercise.

Most importantly, it was fun!

Have you been working on these exercises? I’d love to hear how they are working for you. Leave a comment below, or email me at fwdnrnd@gmail.com

Happy riding! 

Disclaimer: Use this as a guideline but you might need your instructor to respond to your individual needs. By using information on this site, you agree and understand that you are fully responsible for your progress, results and safety. We offer no representations, warranties or guarantees verbally or in writing regarding your improvement or your horse’s response or results of any kind. Always use the information on this site with a view toward safety for both you and your horse. Use your common sense when around horses.

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

horse logos 1

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

 

 

 

3D book 2

 

Some reading to support the above exercise:

What To Do When A Half-Halt Just Won’t Do: What to do if your horse doesn’t respond to your half-halt.

“Go and No”: The Connection Between Forward And Half-Halt In Horse Riding: We have to learn the coordination between “go and no” – all the while, keeping our balance to give the appropriate aids while not pulling on the reins.

Interpreting the Half-Halt: It is said that the half-halt has different meanings to different people.

Why Would You Bother To “Scoop” Your Seat Bones? Learning to use your seat effectively should take a lifetime to develop, so we will begin with just one basic aspect: how to move the seat bones.

Three Ways To Use Your Seat In Horseback Riding: The balanced seat is what allows us to develop independent hands, good riding posture and loose, supple legs that can aid at a moment’s notice.