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Question:

Hi Nancy,

I'm 52, and started riding at 36. I've had a string of rather difficult horses including a warmblood with great movement, but a difficult temperament. I am now riding a 9 year-old T'bred (off the track) and have had him for 3 years. It's been slow going and only now is he turning into a dressage horse and leaving the ex-race horse behind.

My question is: how do I get an extended trot from him? I was able to get it quite easily with my warmblood, but Matrix just looses balance so quickly and runs. He is able to do a good shoulder-in, renvers, travers and the beginning of half-pass at trot. We can ride a well balanced 10 meter circle in canter and are starting our walk pirouettes. I have tried a few exercises to engage him before I ask for some length in his trot, but we either lose our rhythm or he just flattens and runs. My instructor has me doing shoulder-fore through the corner and then wants an extension straight away accross the diagonal. My feeling is that I should keep the engagement out of the corner and slowly build a bigger trot, even if only for a few strides to start.

I look forward to hearing from you. I can't tell you how much I enjoy watching you on Dressage OnLine. I feel like I am your biggest Australian campaigner. I look forward to your advice. I think I'm getting them hooked onto Dressage Training On-line.

Thank you in anticipation.

Very kind regards,
Lisa McCann Herbs
Australia



Answer:

Hi Lisa,

Wickenden 1995I am very happy that you enjoy DTO. It is such a great tool, and wonderful that we can reach people so far away!

Anyway, about your TB:
The basic confirmation is very different from the warmbloods to the thoroughbreds. Warmbloods have been bred to have that swing in their back and strength and suppleness to carry collected and extended movements. TB's have been bred for a completely different purpose. However this does not mean that you can not train and strengthen him to make it the best you can.

Schumacher and a kidSome cross training exercises that will help to build the strength and swing are cavaletti' and hills. If he is relaxed with cavaletti this is a very good tool to use several times per week. Set up your cavaletti poles on the ground in a straight line about 4 feet from the track in the middle of the long side. If this is something he has done before set up 3 if not set up 2. Measure the distance between the poles with your shoe length. You will be opening the distance over the weeks and months to come, so you want to have a clear and easy way to measure. Start with them close together, 3 1/2 foot lengths or so. If you have someone to watch make sure that the starting distance is very easy for him. If he has never done them before after your normal warm up walk over them a couple of times in each direction. Best not to walk over 3 in a row, that is too difficult for the horse to manage. Walk over 2 in a row. After you walk several times pick up a normal working trot. As you come around from the short side of the arena take an inside track and trot over your cavaletti. Stay in a normal working trot. The goal is to keep him between your aids, still round, in front of your leg in working trot, posting. Have someone help you adjust the poles so that they are correct distance for working trot. Do this with 2 poles until it is easy in both directions, 3 or 4 times each way. Not more. Then leave it, do the same thing 2 to 3 times per week after your warm up. When he is good at 2 do 3 poles. When he is good at 3 do 4 poles. Distance is important, do not make it hard, make it normal working trot. You want to feel that he relaxes with it and that the exercise starts to teach him to bounce in his back over the poles. You want to do as little as possible over the poles. Let him do the work. If he goes against the hand or backs off teach him to accept the half halts and leg in a different part of the arena, so when you get to the poles it is easy, let him learn the lesson.

After weeks of this getting easy then you can start to make the poles 1/2 foot farther apart at a time. Do the poles 3 to 4 times in each direction only 3 times a week. Do not make them too far apart all at one time. Just 1/2 a shoe every couple of weeks, make it easy, he is working even if you think the progress is slow. When the poles are easy 4 poles 1 1/2 shoes longer then you started then go back to 3 poles and lie 2 extra poles under the outsides of the 3 so they are raised up 2 inches off the ground. Take time with this. Again, let him do the work. If it seems too much, put them slightly closer together until he gets good at the height then make them slightly farther apart again. Do not ride him strong in the poles. As you come off the track ride half halts to prepare him, as you would for your lengthening, ride forward to the poles, but over the poles do not pull, hold or push, let him be looking to stay between your aids, you let him work.

These exercises will help him get stronger and build resilience in his hind legs and swing in his back. Still work on the lengthenings in your normal work. One thing to think about is it is not such a big deal to make mistakes. Build up the understanding of your aids in other parts of the ride, so when you ask for the lengthening he already is trying to stay between your aids. Accept whatever lengthening he can do at this time. Make that your lengthening, and make it the same everyday. When it becomes easy ask for more. If he makes mistakes do not worry. Encourage him to try. Eventually the next level of lengthening will become easy. Then ask for more. Do not pull back if he looses his balance. Ride forward with proper half halts. Treat it like a game, not job. Keep it loose. Do not create pressure in the reins, supple.

The other thing you can use to help him get strong if you have them is hills. If this is an option with good footing once a week take him out, before or instead of your normal work. Pick a nice slow incline. Walk down on the bit, and trot up, on the bit. Keep him straight between your aids but do not help him too much. Let him do the work.

As far as riding the actual lengthening, your trainer has to help you with this. There are specific exercises with in dressage movements that I use to help the horse understand the aids better. It sounds as though you have been working on the appropriate movements for suppleness and obedience.

Keep me informed of your progress.

Nancy

Nancy and Wespe
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