Reconditioning Gracie

One of my favorite riders recently emailed me about his horse Gracie.
RE: Gracie needs reconditioning to return her to her former training status.
“After some time off and a year of leisure, Gracie is rushing and unfocused. Where do we start?”

When I develop a training or reconditioning plan for a horse, there are many factors to formulate my plan.  With Gracie, I take into consideration Gracie’s individual learning style, her conformation as it relates to form & function, and applying the exercises in a progression to create a solid foundation to easily return her to her former glory days.
Below I have outlined my reconditioning program customized for Gracie’s specific needs.
A little back ground story:
For the past 3+ years we have worked together training Gracie for Western & Cowboy Dressage.  She is an exceptional horse, like many highly intelligent horses I have had the privilege to work with; she studies and retains her lessons at an exponential rate.
Her owner is a wonderful rider to coach, he is always prepared, absorbs our lessons and follows throughout with precision and accuracy of a seasoned athlete.  Together it creates a wonderful learning and training environment for our shinning star Gracie.
Reconditioning for Gracie:
She hasn’t forgotten everything!  
With conditioning, time and patience it will all come back to the surface.  
1.  Your suppling should be slow and precise.
  • Leg yields starting at the walk and working up to the jog.  If she feels rushy, Stop & Back.  She may need a good week of Stop & Back.  Remember to Back until she softens.

2. Aerobic Conditioning.  Trail riding on hills will help but you must help her engage her back to truly reap the benefits.   

  • Try to lift using the innermost region of your calf.  Keeping your knees soft and heels close to her side incase you need to bump soft bumps to gently ‘remind’ her of her ribcage.
  • I would start slowing asking for a few strides and building up.  Remember to add pressure slowly and to remove the pressure 3 times as slow as it took to start.  (I hope that makes sense.  slow start.. extremely slow let-down)

3. Proper Frame:

Always look for opportunities to have her use her frame.

  • Each time you walk off, look for engagement of the rear-end and feel her shift her weight.  Our ultimate goal is that her shoulders and frontend merely move out of the way of her hind end.
  • Same goes for ALL your transitions.  TRAIN IN YOUR TRANSITIONS.  If you don’t like the transition calmly bring her back down and do it again.  Be sure that you are actually improving the transition!  Otherwise she could feel picked on.  From the time you sit in the saddle to the time you dismount, her transitions should be with control and precision!  This will make a huge impact.  Don’t feel rushed!!!!   If it takes you 50 steps to ask her to jog – that is fine – we hope that next time it may take 30 or 20 steps but a good long transition is better than a rushed chargie one.   IF she gets rushy at anytime.  Slowly stop her and back her.  As you back make her give her head and engage her back.  Remember that the back improves the jog.  If one or the other are ‘off’ it will effect them both because they are a two beat / diagonal union.
  • On her halt, ask her to step up into herself. Do you remember how we used the bridge to improve the halt?  Drive her up and ‘park’ on the bridge (or in a tight box).  The timing in your legs is imperative.  You will actually squeeze her to stop.

4. The box exercise is a great one to add into what you are already doing.   Rear-end awareness and engagement are imperative for where Gracie was/is heading in her training.  We want to get the energy into her hind end so we can have more control ‘placing’ her into the lope.

  • Remember that you can use a turn on the haunches to shift her weight to the rear and increase her rear engagement.  slow and precision are key.

Gracie will progress on this training plan for the next few months and we will lead into the next stage of training for precision and accuracy.  Gracie is a fabulous student and I cannot wait to hear how she progresses on her plan.

A few things to keep in mind.

When we train a horse, we train with the positive.  We use positive reinforcement, resistance free and classical training styles infused into my own personal teaching style.  We establish a bond with our horses that is built of of love and respect, instead of fear.  Setting your horse up for success is the best way to achieve a higher level of communication and harmony with your horse.   Remember that when training your horse with respect to their mental, physical and emotional faculty you will help your horse embrace positive behaviors and issues resolve themselves naturally.

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