Has the winter weather gotten you down? If you aren’t fortunate enough to have access to an indoor arena, winter can mean months of not riding or working with your horse. Today I have compiled a list of my top 3 exercises to do when the footing is not good enough for typical forms of work. All of these exercises can be performed in a small area such as a barn aisle or driveway. These exercises are also at slow enough speeds that poor footing is manageable. Whether you have access to an indoor arena or not, try these exercises out today to help your horse become softer and more relaxed.
Exercise 1: Leading from in Front
This is the staple of all ground work, so you should be familiar with it. When leading from in front, be sure to use a lead rope at least 10 ft long. You should have at least five feet between you and the horse with some extra rope in case you need it.
Start with the horse standing and ask the horse to continue standing as you walk in front of him. Once you have gotten at least 5 feet ahead of your horse, ask the horse to walk forward by giving a small tug on the lead rope and changing your intention.
Walk forward until your horse is walking at the same pace or faster than you. If your horse is walking faster than you, stop and ask the horse to take a step back.
Work on walking, stopping and backing until your horse is in sync with you. He should walk when you walk, stop when you stop, and back when you back.
You can shake the rope as needed to help your horse understand when to stop or back up if necessary. Eventually, your feet moving should be enough.
Exercise 2: Leading from Behind
This is the same exercise as the first, just done with you behind and your horse in front.
Use a lead rope 10 feet or longer and start standing just behind your horse’s girth. Use the end of your rope to cue the horse to step off as you step forward.
At first, don’t worry too much about steering. Get the horse stepping off with you and then stopping when you stop your feet. Stopping can be reinforced by shaking the rope.
Once that is relatively easy, work on steering. You will open your leading hand to direct your horse to turn towards you and point at the horse’s shoulder to turn him away from you. This normally takes some practice so don’t get too caught up in walking a straight line. Correct as you go until your line gets straighter and you are able to direct the horse with some level of accuracy.
You can build on this by asking your horse to adjust his pace with you and back up with you. Use the rope as necessary to help guide the horse, but make sure that you are working with the horse as well. Leading from behind is a partnership and gives the horse permission to have a voice. Settle your disagreements by quietly insisting instead of forcing.
Exercise 3: Leg Yield in Hand
This is the most challenging exercise of the three, so make sure you practice the first two exercises before attempting this one.
For this exercise you also need a lead rope at least 10 feet long. Start by walking at your horse’s girth in a straight line. You want your horse to be in sync with you, so it would be a good idea to speed up and slow down your walk a little bit in order to make sure you have your horse’s attention. He should change pace with your feet, but you can use the rope to guide as needed.
Once your horse is walking with you, use the line to ask your horse for a slight bend towards you. At the same time, use the end of your rope to push your horse’s shoulders over to that he stays walking on the same line as before.
If your horse curves in front of you then he is not yielding to the shoulder pressure. Allow your horse to make a circle and try again. This time, ask him to slow down and reinforce your aid at his shoulder. This is easiest when there is a wall to your side to help block the horse from going forward, but that is not necessary. Keep working on moving the shoulder over with a slight bend towards you until your horse is walking in a line.
Once you have the horse walking in a line maintain the bend by holding a slight flexion with the line and pushing the horse’s ribcage sideways. If he begins to turn too much go back to pushing the shoulder out. If he straightens up then ask the haunches to move out to recreate the bend. You should end up with the horse moving down a line on two different tracks. His shoulder will be tracking a line closer to you and his haunches a line farther from you.
As you work through this exercise be patient and take the little tries your horse gives you. This is a very complex exercise that requires a lot of concentration from both you and the horse. Work with the horse until you have the balance right and he is moving laterally.