Sunday, December 4, 2011

Riding Reflection: Energizing, Flying Changes, and Shoulder-in to Renvers

Although the title of this post may suggest otherwise, Harley is on a mini-vacation.  At least, that is his perspective.  Between work and shortened periods of daylight I have not been able to ride my lovely boy nearly as much as I would like.  Unfortunately, this is to be expected this time of year, but that doesn't mean that I have to like it!

Just to give you an idea of how crunched for time I have been, I actually went on a short trail ride at dusk and ended up riding in the dark.  Do not be alarmed.  We went with our trusted trail buddies, Cisco and his mom, and we stayed close to home. This is not the first time that we have explored the darkened trail, familiar yet surprisingly mystical as the sunlight disappeared between the trees.  The best part of our walk was the end, because when we turned onto the sandy path in the clearing, we found ourselves facing a beautiful sunset.  The orange horizon called us home.  Harley was marching with the most gorgeous walk ever.  If only he could reproduce that in the dressage arena!

A few days later I made some time to ride while the sun was still up.  After a little walk around the paddock, we entered the riding ring and began our warm up.  Harley felt... he was on vacation.  He was walking at a snail's pace, although he did stretch to the bit when I picked up the reins a little, but unfortunately for him, I remembered that awesome walk during our nighttime trail outing.  So I proceeded to energize my horse.  I walked energetically with my seat and if he did not match my energy (he didn't) I nudged with my legs.  If that didn't motivate him (it didn't either), then I tapped with the whip and I did not stop tapping until he was trotting.  With repetition, Harley finally decided that it was okay to work again.  His forward-thinking kicked in 100% once we started trotted and I repeated the energizing by tapping him into the canter.  Then his motor shifted into overdrive and we were officially ready to ride!

Our canter warm up included practicing flying changes.  Although this may not seem like a warm up activity, Harley really enjoys them so these serve as a motivator as well as training in their own right.  I love how I can feel him thinking when we work on flying changes.  We often practice on the straight away of the diagonal (purist dressage-style), but lately I have been using a large figure eight instead.  The circle helps me help him to remain balanced and consistent in his tempo.  The right to left change is nearly reliable in the figure eight exercise and has improved in smoothness.  I do not have to prepare by putting my current outside leg on to engage his future inside leg before the change.  Instead, I sit tall in the saddle and very clearly switch my legs as I look in the new direction.  He does a flying change nearly every time.  Sometimes I feel that he changes behind first and then in front in the very next stride, but many of the changes are in one jump and feel clean.  I expect the consistency to improve with practice.  His anticipating in this direction is just about gone.

If I approach the left to right change in the same nonchalant manner, he does not do the change.  He may do a cute little one-trot-stride change or he changes behind before I ask.  I have found that if I offer the outside leg preparation as described in the previous paragraph, then he is able to make the change with a nice strong jump.  The left lead is his less balanced leg, so I imagine this is why he has more difficulty switching leads.  The circle definitely benefits our training in this direction, which is why I am taking advantage of this school figure.

A nice walk break followed our warm up.  Once I picked up the reins again, Harley was completely with me.  Yes!  We continued in walk and practiced the shoulder-in to renvers exercise from Second Level.  I love this exercise.  When we ride shoulder-in in walk, I can visually evaluate his bend from nose to tail by looking back at his tail.  Then I reverse my bending aids and he assumes renvers (haunches-out).  I can see and feel the new bend.  It is really neat and an excellent suppling exercise.  I am so grateful to have learned these lateral movements when I was training with my original dressage instructor.  They are invaluable.  At first, Harley adjusts his head carriage in the bend change and comes above the bit.  Except for some gentle requests to flex at the poll in the bend change, I allow him this adjustment room as long as I feel the bend changing behind the saddle.  With repetition, the exercise improves his suppleness, throughness, and response to my aids which is readily visible as the carriage adjustments and coming above the bit melt away. 

Dressage movements do not need to ridden perfectly to be beneficial.  Often signs of resistance are really just signs of stiffness, which the exercise brings to light and then targets and benefits.  This is one of the many reasons why I love dressage.

We repeated the shoulder-in to renvers in trot.  In some ways this was easier, because Harley had impulsion to carry him through the bend change, but there is also less time to make adjustments.  I try to keep the transition of bend slow, because he tends to get a little over-reactive and swing his quarters around rather than softy changing from the middle.  Like the flying change, this type of exercise is challenging, but seems to be very motivating.  Harley is definitely a thinking horse.  Some of his apathy at the beginning of our ride was probably in part due to the fact that the short rides we have gotten in have been little walk/trot/canter jaunts to keep him loose and somewhat conditioned.  Harley's attentiveness increases with the difficulty of the exercise as does his forwardness.  These qualities make him very enjoyable to work with, as long as the attentiveness does not boil over into over-reactiveness and hotness, which are both destructive to learning.  Thankfully, Harley has discovered how to be effortful and calm at the same time.  I am very proud of this, but it is never far from my mind how many years it has taken for us to develop this working relationship.

Post-ride cooler.  Harley is ready for a black-tie affair!


  1. Great exercises and sounds like a nice ride! I sympathize about the lack of riding time this time of year.

  2. Very nice stuff - I love your detailed descriptions!

  3. Oh, this was very lovely to read today. You two are a fabulous pair and the discipline of practice has rendered awesome results!

    Have you seen Jane Savioe's latest video series? I was very happy to see her do exactly what you described-energising- the free walk with her large Moshi. Not a surprise wallop(like taught at a event clinic I watched) but a rewarded effort after a series of cues.
    I really liked the video of a getting a flexible poll. I have been over asking.

    I've had a few darkened rides of late too...can't start out for a quick hours jaunt
    at 4pm anymore!!

    Harley is handsome in his wicking suit!

  4. Thanks, Amy! And I know. Most week days, I cannot get to the barn until 4pm, which leaves barely enough time to groom before the sun goes down. We have lights, but the feeding schedule tends to follow the daylight.

    Thanks, Kate! And I enjoy yours.

    allhorsestuff- Actually, I learned this energizing technique from Jane Savoie. I audited one of her clinics (before Harley) and she taught this technique to every single rider, regardless of level. The clinic was seriously worth it just for that exercise. I will have to check out her new series!

  5. Note to self: Must remember what Val has to say about energizing.

    I saw those videos that KK was talking about too. I keep meaning to watch them at home sometime when I can take notes.

  6. smaz- The laziest horse that I ever rode was a Percheron/QH cross. I was able to energize him, but it took many weeks of consistent cause and effect. That horse had zero work ethic. Too bad, because he was a handsome black gelding.

    I much prefer the little tune-up version of energizing.

  7. And where is our picture of this beautiful sunset? I was all set to share there. *laugh* Sounds like you two had a great (and productive) week :o)

  8. It would have been the perfect picture!

  9. Hmmm, I am trying to visualize the way the shoulder in exercise is suppose to look like and I am having a difficult time of it. I don't remember learning about the renvers exercise. I took a limited amount of dressage lessons back in the day and this one has escaped me. I will do some research. I like the way Harley finally perked up and got down to business. To me, it sounds like once he gets into "work mode" I think he enjoys it. (don't tell Harley I said that)

  10. Hi Mary- Renvers is basically haunches-out. If the horse travels in shoulder-in along the track, then changing his bend to the outside without changing the location of his quarters and shoulders puts him in haunches-out.

    Harley does like to work, but he can have a little bit of laziness, too. I accept this happily, because he used to be too reactive and tense.


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