Monday, October 3, 2011

Crunched for time? Then, Power Ride.

Think "Power Walk" meets "Power Nap".

Hmmm.  Maybe, that is not the right combination.

Now, I am thinking about sleepwalking with really fast, determined strides.  That could be a problem!

Power Ride (as defined by Val): a short, purposeful, high-energy ride with the warm-up blended into the objectives, very brief walk breaks, and a slow cool-down; often used when the rider is crunched for time

What do you do when you only have twenty minutes or so to work with your horse(s)?  Usually, I just lunge, but there are days when I want need to be in the saddle, even if dinner is already being dumped into their feed buckets and the sun is fading behind the trees.  I have found myself in this predicament several times this week, and we have not even turned the clocks back yet!

Enter the "Power Ride".

When Harley and I first started riding together, he was not a fan of being ridden during dinner or close to dinner-time.  He would adopt the "giraffe" impression, even turning his head toward the barn as we moved around the ring.  He did not try to run out of the gate, which I often kept open as we rode, but his attention was definitely divided.  Over the years he has resigned himself to the fact that sometimes our riding time overlaps dinnertime.  He knows that he will still get his dinner and that I will wait for him to eat before putting him out with his buddy and hay.  If he is not hot, and usually I try to ride in such a way that he remains relatively cool so close to dinner, he knows that I allow him to eat during his post-ride grooming.  He seems to like this, a smorgus borg of attention and food.  What more could a domestic animal ask for?

The "Power Ride" is made powerful by Harley's desire to "get 'er done".  Horses were walking by, headed for the barn and their yummies, as I was asking Harley to carry himself and stretch in the walk.  His walk felt awesome.  There was no need to remind him to maintain energy.  I wish that my training had as much impact on him as the incentive for food.  I guess that I should not be surprised that he enjoys our little trick-for-carrot sessions. 

As soon as he was stretching into the walk, we went into trot.  His excitement did cause him to tense up a bit, so I had to remind him to be soft and let his neck go.  Once we were moving, he felt like he had oodles of energy to spare, like when highly-trained dressage horses come around a turn and they flick their front legs out like they have so much energy that they are just tossing it away as they sharply take the corner.  He felt this way, but without the toe-flicking part.  My objective was for him to remain "through" during the transitions and to practice the travers (haunches-in) right.  I needed him to warm up as efficiently as possible, so after a short trot with some changes of direction and reminders to stay soft, we went right into canter.  Horses warm up the fastest in their best gait.  Five years ago, I would not have dreamed of saying this, but Harley's best gait is his canter.  The canter is not always easy to ride, but once he gets rolling his back comes up in trot and his impulsion is totally committed.

In canter, I was insistent that he lift his back.  We only had twenty minutes.  There was no time to run around flat, and really, I should never allow him to run around flat, as that is a means to slowly break down his body.  I was insistent with my inside leg.  My foot was the "spur".  If he kept his back up with just the support of my leg, that was all he got.  If he leaned into my leg and went flat, I put my knobby heel just behind the girth and I did not remove it until he engaged his abdominals and lifted his withers and back.  I  was also thinking about shoulder-fore as discussed in a previous post on straightness.

Boy, did he give me some gorgeous canter left.  Holy mackerel!  He also kicked up his heels in a couple of the transitions to the left.  The excitement of dinner combined with being asked to canter was more than he could contain.  I did make him repeat the transitions nicely in the same places, though.  Remember our objective was to remain "through" during the transitions.

After a short, brisk walk break (picture busy strides and flapping mane), I picked up the reins and asked him to be round again.  We went into sitting trot and rode some shoulder-in-right followed by leg yield-right down the next quarter line.  I asked for a little more sideways motion than forward motion, because I wanted to feel him take the time to stretch through his left shoulder.  Riding a small circle, I imagined him keeping this stretch into the left outside rein as we finished the circle and rode travers-right down the long side.  The first attempt was okay, but he was backing off the left rein, which meant that he was tightening his left side.  No contact in the left rein also meant that I could not talk to his outside left hind leg with that rein.  My outside leg and hip position his haunches, but my outside rein determines the amount of angle, which is necessary if travers is to be ridden on a diagonal (i.e. half-pass).

We repeated the exercise, this time with my inside leg asking for bend and stretch into the outside rein before the travers.  I felt him stretch his left side and I imagined exactly how I wanted him to look as we began travers-right.  Harley did it!

Do not underestimate the power of visualization!  Detailed visualization.  Unfortunately, it works the other way too.  Try to only visual the positive and how you would like your horse to be.

That was only the second attempt, but this was a "Power Ride", so we headed down the next diagonal in travers trying to maintain the same feel and position from the previous long side.  He was honest about the outside rein and made a wonderful effort to keep his left side stretched and longer as I felt his legs crossing beneath us.  His shoulders remained ahead of his haunches, as they should be, and he kept the energy in trot.  I dropped the rein, gave him an enthusiastic rub and jumped off his back.  Dinner and grooming, here we come!

I think that I should take a lesson from the "Power Ride" mentality.  We had a clear objective with little time and this maintained our focus.  Once our objective was met, we were immediately finished.  Very clear to Harley.  Very rewarding for me.  I would like to ride longer than twenty minutes, but there is still something to be gained when one is crunched for time!


  1. I worked late this afternoon (and early this morning) which meant I got to the barn with only 20 minutes to ride as well. Sometimes, that's all that's needed anyways. Sydney did some nice walking, a few soft circles, a bit more walking, some halts, and we were done. When I have a short time to work, I try to pick something easy to work on. Halting has become a big part of our routine as Sydney didn't have much of a halt two months ago! Dinner time is a great time to work on halts! :0) I think all horses are more motivated to get the job done when dinner is waiting. Harley's no dummy!

  2. You know what? If you can achieve the results you want in 20 minutes what's the need to stretch it out anyway? Well despite basic fitness but that's beside the point. Someday Coriander and I will have rides like this, but I need some more education first :)

  3. You both make good points.

    I think I was conditioned to think that if I did not ride for an hour, he was not really working. Now I realize that it is more important "how" he works his brain and body than "how long".

    Karen- Based on your last riding video, I think Sydney's halts look great!

    smazourek- It's all relative!

  4. I gave you a blog award -- swing on by and pick it up when you get a chance.


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