Baby Dino Learning Half Pass

Baby Dino is growing up and beginning to learn some big boy dressage movements! Dino is still 3 (4 next month!), and spent most of the year riding-wise just goofing around hacking in a relaxed frame. But, his young age hasn’t stopped us from working on some upper level movements. We just do them in-hand!

The half-pass builds on the very basic lateral movements that baby Dino began learning in-hand as a 2 year old. Dino knows how to perform haunches-in and shoulder-in from my touch. This was then used to build the side pass. When Dino had these movements down, the half pass, was the next logical progression.

Half pass is a forward and sideways movement where the horse is bent in the direction of travel and around your inside leg. Although this sounds similar to the side pass, it is a much more difficult gymnastic for the horse to perform. It is a great exercise to teach in-hand as there is no weight of the rider to influence the horse’s balance. The horse is free to figure it out himself.

Dino picked this up fairly easily at the walk and is progressing to the trot.  He still has his 3 year old moments, but he really does try. You can see his concentration in the pictures below. Gotta Love the Dino!!

Transferring Aids – Ground Work to Under Saddle Cues

Wiley has been ridden a total of about 2 hours in his lifetime. In this video, I am beginning the process of transferring some of Wiley’s aids from ground work to under saddle. Wiley is clicker trained, so he is rewarded after each correct effort.

The lateral aids I used on the ground for turn on the forehand and haunches are close to the aids under saddle. With very little ride time, Wiley is already starting to understand these movements. He can delineate between an aid slightly in front of the girth (move the shoulder) from an aid behind the girth (move the haunches). Backing while giving at the poll was just a straight pick up from ground work.

At this point in Wiley’s training, most  cues are very light tactile aids. I can use one finger on the reins or a touch of the stirrup for Wiley to understand what I want. Notice on the backing aids, however, that Wiley makes a big “give” while backing. That is not from pressure. That is from his training to give while backing.  He is just making a big effort here. Wiley can back with one finger on the reins. The one thing Wiley isn’t very good at yet is turning while moving forward. He is just learning to control his body. For now, sometimes he over turns, and sometimes he under turns. Sometimes he doesn’t turn at all and sometimes his body doesn’t follow his nose, and he pops a shoulder out. Since I am not yet using leg aids to control his body while riding (I am working on getting the forward cues solid), I use a dressage whip to touch his shoulder and remind him to keep it in line. Works perfectly. The turning thing just takes time for him to understand just how much turn I want. It will come with experience.

Wiley is also learning to canter. This video is of his third time ever cantering under saddle. Although you can’t hear it because of wind noise, I am using a verbal canter cue to help Wiley understand what I want. When he first transitions to the canter, I reward him so he knows he is doing the right thing. The second time I ask, I let him canter a few circles before the reward. Even though his canter is very smooth and rhythmic, I can tell he is still very unsure of himself. I will keep his catnering very short until he gains confidence and balance.

Training Shoulder-In at Liberty

After all of the ground work Wiley has been doing at liberty (turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, side pass, etc), performing a shoulder in at liberty was straight forward. I took this video on day 2 of his training. I exaggerated the movement so it is easy to see on the video (he is clearly on 4 tracks and bordering on leg yield), and I am still working on controlling lateral movement. The video is a combination of 3 uncut videos, so you can see the work in progress along with some good steps.

To help Wiley understand what I was asking, I used a target for him to follow. Wiley is trained to touch his nose to the target. Since Wiley is already trained to move away from the driving whip, I used it to shape where his hind end needed to go. In essence, his nose follows the target and his hind end stays with the whip.

In a few more months, Wiley will be 3 and I can start lightly riding him. I really want to get all of this foundation training complete so I can transfer it to under saddle work. It makes that stage of training so much easier and less stressful. I can’t wait!


Training a Horse for Lightness

Lately I’ve been playing around with how light my aids can be with Wiley. Eventually, I’d like to be riding Wiley at liberty…no bridle, no saddle… only minimal aids that “suggest” what he should do. But since he isn’t even old enough to ride, I am just working with some of Wiley’s ground training. I want him to get used to working off of extremely light aids. So, I have Wiley perform every movement without ever touching him.  Even without touching Wiley, I still have expectations of a prompt reaction on his part.  

To get Wiley to move off with absolutely no pressure, I simply slow down my aids. I move toward Wiley very slowly like I am going to touch the point on his body where the aid is. When a horse is trained well, he will start moving long before you ever touch him. As soon as he responds, give him a bridge word/click and a reward. He will start responding sooner each time. Horses are smart. They can predict what you are about to do. Play with it long enough, and you may just get a horse that will perform a movement with the smallest of aids. My previous equine partner Tucson could shake his head yes and no to answer questions just by a slight movement in my finger. Not only was it a pretty cool trick, it freaked more than a few people out when they couldn’t understand how a horse could accurately respond to their questions! 

In the video, I string together a bunch of movements from Wiley’s basic ground training. He spins on his haunches, spins on his forehand, side passes, backs, Spanish walk, backs again and walks to me on command. Watch him perform each one without me having to touch him. His response is, for the most part, pretty prompt (he is only 2 1/2, so my expectations aren’t too high). He is also learning how to handle a series of requests that come fairly quickly. All of this work will eventually translate nicely into under saddle, so it is time well invested. 


Lunging a Horse Using Body Language

Most horses naturally respond to aids based on visual cues. They are constantly watching us to decipher what we are trying to say.  Unfortunately, we sometimes accidentally teach them not to pay attention to us because we are so inconsistent. We move ALL over the place. Horses are much more obvious with their visual intentions. They probably wish we were too.

There are 4 fundamental visual aids you can use to put pressure on a horse and act as your “gas” pedal. They are listed (roughly) in order of the amount of pressure they put on a horse.

1: Your eyes: Are you looking directly at the horse or not? The more you are looking at the horse, the more the horse thinks your intentions are directed at him, hence more pressure. You can look directly at your horse to increase speed while lunging and look away or to the ground to decrease speed.

2: Your shoulders: Are your shoulders parallel with the horse’s body or perpendicular? When you look straight at your horse and have your shoulders parallel/facing your horse, you are adding pressure and increasing speed on the lunge line. To decrease speed, you can turn your shoulders away/perpendicular.

3. How big do you make your body? Increase speed on the lunge line by making your body seem bigger. Lift your hands higher. Put your whip in a vertical position. These are all “go” aids when lunging. Slow your horse down by lowering your whip. Lower your hands. Make yourself look smaller.

4: How close are your to your horse? Step into a horse’s personal space and you definitely increase the pressure and therefore speed while lunging. Your horse will move away at a faster pace. Step away from your horse for a downward transition.

You can play with these aids to see which aid or combination of aids causes your horse to respond the best. For Wiley, you will see me step into his personal space and lift my whip to horizontal for a trot. Step closer again and lift my arms and put my whip to vertical means canter. Downward transitions are just the reverse. I do also sprinkle in the other aids such as look down for downward transitions. I am probably not as consistent as I could be.

Notice on the downward from the trot to the walk, I ask for the downward and then immediately have to pick up my left hand slightly to put a little pressure on to get the walk. With absolutely no pressure, Wiley will just turn and walk into the center. I have to play around with the aids to understand just how much pressure or lack thereof Wiley needs for each transition. Also, just like when you are driving a car, you need a bit more gas/pressure to get up to speed. As soon as your horse reaches the desired speed, take a little pressure off to signal that the horse did the right thing. You will see during the upward transition to the canter that my arms get big until he gets the canter. Then I drop them a bit but keep my whip vertical as a reminder.

At 2 years old, Wiley doesn’t lunge for exercise. It is too hard on a young horse’s joints. He does, however, do light lunging occasionally to learn how to lunge and to improve our communication. I want him to understand my intentions….when I want more energy out of him and when I want less. I also want him to pay attention to subtle movements in my body. Wiley isn’t fully trained on visuals. He still needs  a lot of “gas” to keep his attention, but he is getting better. When he is fully trained, he will be able to do all of his transitions without me having to walk into his personal space to support him. I will just stand in the middle and have him watch the whip. He will canter as long as the whip is vertical. Trot at horizontal and walk when the whip is touching the ground.

The video below shows Wiley at 2 1/2 doing some basic lunging off my body language. Notice his transitions are instant. He just needs to work on maintaining the pace without so much support. Also notice that I use voice commands. This will help Wiley transition into under saddle work.

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