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Lesson Three
 
Well Hi Everyone!
 
Sorry for my prolonged absence but I have been nursing my Mum all summer - sadly she died  last week and so I have been unable to write for WoH for some time - but I am back now !!
My Mum always said that when I got MGB, because I fulfilled a lifetime's dream, it made her happy and it made me a better person - I think horses can do that for you because come rain or shine, they always come first and each day after the kids have gone to school, MGB takes priority over just about everything else.
 
Despite the tragic events of the last few weeks, Madame Ginger Bits is fantastic and has actually kept me sane - and apart from her asthma  from which she occasionally has bouts of coughing, has done nothing but improve all summer -we have even been "in ribbons" at unaffiliated dressage events  with good scores too!
 
When I last left you, I had got all serious about riding and had started on a project of "Private Lessons" and was about to give you a lecture on "The Seat" so that's where I will start now.
 
Sitting right....
 
How and where you sit in the saddle is very important in determining how your horse will perform.
 
For instance, if you sit too far forward with your legs sticking out, the net result is that you will put the horse onto it's nose (forehand) and this will make everything, if not down right impossible, then very hard indeed. Remember that we are trying to change the shape of the horse's back to a "bridge" so that the horse can carry us better.
 
Legs that don't touch the horse's sides at all are a waste of time. I sometimes read problems from people who say "When I out my legs on, the horse charges off". Well, that's not so surprising really if you think about it - the horse is shocked and outraged that you have used your legs.
 
If your legs are on all the time , the horse gets used to them being there and then it's only a case of fine tuning the use of your legs to get a response or give a signal or an aid to do something. It's the surprise that the horse cannot cope with.
 
So it's important to sit upright, on the triangle of your pelvis, neither too far on the fork of your seat not too far back onto your bottom  which pushes you back onto the cantle of the saddle which makes you lean back and pushes you behind the movement of the horse. There are lots and lots of books and magazine articles about this and I am sure that you all have at least one book on riding so I am not going to start drawing little matchstick men !!
Your legs should hang from your hips, putting the weight into your stirrups. The ball of your foot is in the iron which naturally drops the heel downwards.
Your arms should have a natural bend at the elbow and your shoulders should follow the horse's shoulders.
A really common problem that creates stiffness in the best of horses is that most of us are far from symmetrical and we sit to one side or the other. Those of you who read my articles regularly will know that I have had this problem and I have worked very hard to rectify it but I really have to concentrate on sitting to the right.
 
Be critical and look at yourself in a mirror (if your school has mirrors) or ask a friend to tell you which side is the weaker side and then try and rectify it gradually by consistent reminders to re-position yourself.
And when you re-position yourself, make sure that you haven't just moved your shoulders (like I used to do) and then land back in exactly the same spot !
If you have trouble changing direction on your horse, then it's usually because you are not sitting in the correct position. If you are turning right, the weight should be in the right stirrup and the shoulders must follow the horse's. The horse must be bent right with the flexion in the atlas and axis (behind the ear) to the right. Don't try and turn right with a left bend - it can't work ! Don't try and compensate in the  right turn by sitting left - it just unbalances the horse.
There are one or two queries on the site at the moment about cantering and I think most canter problems come from  the following things.
  1. The horse does not understand the riders aids.
  2. The rider does not understand what the horse recognises as  the canter aids.
  3. The horse has never been taught the correct canter aids in the first place.
  4. Some horses are actually trained to trot faster and faster until they canter because they have no choice - they will fall over if they don't and so they become scared of cantering because they don't like the sensation of thinking they will fall over .
  5. The rider is unbalanced in the saddle and instead of cantering off an aid, the horse just trots faster and faster until it "breaks" into canter. This is of no use really because the canter has no impulsion and cannot be maintained. The horse's outline becomes too  long and unco-ordinated and the horse breaks back into trot.
  6. The rider that leans forward into the transition,puts his weight onto the front end of the horse which puts the horse onto the forehand which unbalances the horse and the canter cannot be maintained.
  7. The rider grips up with the legs, hangs onto the reins and the horse cannot canter because the rider says "go" with one aid and "come back" with the other and is therefore confused.

Now, I can't tell you which of these is correct in individual cases but I can tell you that it is always rider error that causes problems and it is not the horse being bloody-minded !!
Other canter problems can arise because people lean into the canter instead of sitting down on the back side which means that their seat, which should drive the horse, can't do it's job because it's hovering six inches out of the saddle. Some times, people lean forward and pull back on the reins and this obstructs the forward motion. No horse will want to move forward if he is going to get a smack in the teeth for his pains.
 
If you have a canter problem, be very , very analytical about what is happening in every stage of the process (or ask a friend to watch) and then try and break down the problem into bite sized bits to improve it.
(My canter problem is that MGB gets long and unbalanced sometimes and that's entirely due to the fact that I should tap her with my whip to keep her going instead of driving her with my legs which takes my legs off her side and unbalances both of us. I just don't like that horrible lurch that I sometimes get that feels uncontrolled if I tap her behind  when were motoring but I know it's the only way to solve the problem in the long term.)
I will re-iterate again that what happens in the walk, reflects in the trot and the canter so if you can improve the walk and trot, the canter also improves . Walk -trot-walk transitions help the horse to balance itself and why not try cantering from a good walk instead of going through all the trot rigmarole ?
 
MGB can do it so younger, fitter more beautiful horses (ARE there any more beautiful than MGB !) most certainly can learn and it makes for a less traumatic transition.
The canter transition I use is ; Left Canter, from trot, half halt on the outside (right rein) and re-balance with seat, ask for bend to the left with the rein (inside) put the right leg flat  and back behind the girth and using the inside (left) leg, turn the toe outwards and tap with the heel lightly. Let the hands move forwards, almost lean back into the movement and push with the seat and the stomach muscles forward.
Oh heck - this was supposed to be a seat lesson not a canter lesson !! Never mind - it's all relative really.
Really advanced riders ( and sometimes even me) can use quite refined weight aids to move the horse around but the simplest example of an unconscious weight aid is this one; if you look where you are going i.e.. rein change across the diagonal H-X-F - you will get there easier than if you are busy looking down to see where the horses' head is. This is because by looking in the direction of travel, you will , without even thinking , position your body effectively to travel in the right direction. Cantering quite small circles is easy if you forget the "trying to steer with your reins rubbish" and just LOOK at the circle you are cantering - it works, trust me , I am an accountant !!
Anyway, I have been sat in front of this computer for two hours now and so I am now going to pour a glass of wine and chill out for a bit.
If you want any individual advice, please email me via WoH and they will pass them to me.
MGB has got a new haircut today ( and a new and very lovely next door neighbour). Warella is a German warmblood , very chestnut, very fire-ry, very girly, very opinionated and VERY loud and good at flouncing in a dramatic manner and with a German accent which gets right up MGB's nose because she has difficulty understanding it and apparently gets woken up all times of the day and night with Warella's guttural offerings and complaints about...
 "Hay vitch vas not up to scratch" and ...."rude und undisciplined geldings vat vas barging awound und awound ze indoor school und zwying to knock me offa ma hooves" and....
 "vicked, vicked girl grooms who vas not brushing ze face wis da korr-ect brushes" and... quite frankly was , according to MGB totally intolerable , boasting about the German Horses legendary prowess , and being scathing about the Brits. 
But I think it all went quiet when MGB started chanting "5 goals to 1, 5 goals to one" . MGB wouldn't know a football if it bit her in the bum but she knows how to wind up Warella. Think I'll have to buy her a telly for the World Cup !!
 
Karry Gardner & MGB
 
To send your email question to Karry please click here
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