SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

May 7, 2010

Canters And Connections - Simplified

Work is crazy, I've been driving around doing field work all week, so hence no Solo updates.  But we've been doing a bit of schooling here and there.  Had a good dressage lesson late last week where we began talking more seriously about staying in the outside rein.  A concept I have known for a long time and understand in theory, but like just about every dressage concept, actually making it happen on a horse who doesn't know how is a whole 'nother basket of eggs.

So I played with it a little, using my usual amateur-rider method of trial and error (poor Solo).  As it happened, there was a discussion on the Chronicle of the Horse forums in the dressage folder about this very thing.  I read an interesting tip and decided to give it a try.  And voila!  We have outside rein connection and even MORE fun, after two years of really working on it, we finally have some lovely canter work coming out!

Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to know what this little outside rein tip is?  Would you like me not to be cruel and leave you hanging? I would never do such a thing...

It's just a little body imagery. Imagine your outside elbow is super-glued softly to your side with a contact to your horse's mouth. Take a feel with your inside rein and do some flexion/leg-yield/shoulder fore to ask him to move into that outside rein. He might resist it at first and pop his nose up in protest. But then he will give in the jaw and flex at the poll oh-so-loverly at which point you do not open your fingers but just do a little soft give from the elbow -- do NOT throw away that connection.

I summoned up my super glue and it really did help. Before, I would get the connection but give too much and lose it on the next stride. Focusing on keeping my elbow back and quiet and not giving away the rein allowed me to KEEP that connection and I could feel Solo THERE in the rein. The hardest part for me about really learning how to keep a horse on the bit has been realizing that you have to give them a bit to be on. In other words, if you just have limp reins and keep giving the bit away away away, there is nothing for them to move and push into, nothing to harness and direct the energy from the hindquarters.

This also helped in our canter work and at the end of our school, I did a 15 m circle at the canter to set him back on his hocks and lift his front end, as assigned by P, then did a lap of extend the stride on the long side, collect it on the short side.

OH! All of a sudden, my horse was a delight -- his back was up and strong and he lengthened and shortened his strides from behind as he should without falling on the forehand or losing the rhythm of the canter. I believe I was grinning stupidly as we walked down to the barn. I like to think that Solo was rather pleased with himself as well...


  1. Thanks for the tip. Olly and I haven't gone t any trials yet, but we are practicing for it and I hope to attend one this year. That is our goal. The only problem....dressage. I can't seem to get him on the bit or collected for more than just a few strides. I know it is mostly me. I have a hard time keeping rein contact. I feel like I am pulling on his mouth. Mostly because if I have contact, he throws his head and grabbs the bit. How do I fix that? I have been watching videos and trying to read as much as I can. Right now I cannot take lessons. I am hoping that here in the near future I will be able to find a nice dressage trainer, but for now, it is just me and Olly. I don't think we would even be able to go to a horse trial with what our scores would be. He is just now confident in jumping....ahhhhh! Anyway...thanks a ton for the outside rein tip. I will be trying it this afternoon on our ride!
    Doesn't it feel great to have something finally click?

  2. It does! Try, when he throws his head, just keeping a steady contact. You want to show him that the contact will not go away. Also, for bit grabbing, use your fingers in kind of a rippling, sponge squeezing motion to make the bit vibrate in his mouth so he can't just brace against it. Also, when he is flexed through the poll, he can't brace then either, so lots of circles and bending lines/serpentines. It takes some patience and persistence to wait out the head tossing, but see if sticking with him (never gripping of course, just being THERE in the bit with a steady contact) helps. I used a pressure/release approach. If you toss your head and fight me, horsey, I will keep a firm contact and keep my leg on, which is really annoying. As SOON as you relax and give, I will immediately soften leg and hand. It takes a LOT of repetition and initally, you get only a few steps at a time, but keep picking at it...

  3. I will def try! I will make sure I blog about it!! Thanks!!!

  4. This is a LOT of what my trainers emphasize to me. It's tough with McKinna, who is very compact and wants to just be high and tight all the time. I have to be soft enough to encourage her to stretch down with spongeing the reins, but I also can't throw it away or she pops right back up again.

    Glad to hear it's working out so well for you guys!

  5. This is exactly what I've discovered recently when I was taking lessons with my "new" dressage instructor! Now that I've been out of lessons (again), I've had a hard time regaining that super glue feel, but it really makes a huge difference with Riz! She is very unsteady in the bridle. Some of it comes from her lacking the strength and balance to be steady, but part of it is also because I just keep giving, giving, giving, and she has nothing to drive into. Good post!

  6. It's weird feeling at first, isn't it, LE? But when your horse figures it out, it's pretty cool.