Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Learning Lessons: Biomechanics and Stuff

You're going to have to excuse my constant OMG TRAINING REVELATIONS posts lately, because Courage and I are having a lot of breakthroughs and even if you hate these posts with a fiery burning passion, they're the most important things I'm writing for me right now.
i'm the one with my mouth open
Last week, I mentioned that I'm lunging Courage a lot before I ride him. As you may have noticed, I am really not a person who's all that in to lunging in general. I really and truly think it just puts a lot of strain on joints for no particularly good reason.


We have a very specific routine--Courage goes in a loose outside siderein with the lunge line run through the bit ring back to the girth on the inside. He's also got his standing martingale on. We start left (his easy direction), canter a lot, and let him move his back and warm up. Then we switch to the right. He usually runs like a lunatic. I let him. The lunging rig, if you will, limits how much he can turn himself inside out, but beyond keeping him on the circle, I don't do a lot.

Then when he looks more like a sane horse, we stop. I switch sides again (back to the easy direction), shorten up his side rein, and we lunge like a proper horse. I want consistent, correct transitions and a steady, forward rhythm at all three gaits. Rinse and repeat to the right.

It takes forever. A "quick" day is like 20 minutes. We're frequently double that. It just depends how much flipping out needs to be done and how long it takes Courage to be comfortable relaxing and going forward.
this is nice
Here's where it gets interesting: I have had some of my best. rides. ever. using this method before I get on.

And while he goes full-orangutan if he's had a day off in there somewhere, the more we do this, the less frantic flipping out/flailing/leaping that goes on.

Which is interesting. Especially because of how thoroughly it transfers to my under saddle work. Right lead canter? We have one now. It's pretty freaking fantastic.
this is the left lead
I didn't quite put the pieces together until I was chatting with JenJ (everyone needs that one dressage nerd friend, amiright). Basically, I'm doing the exact same thing with the canter that we did with jumping. Courage for whatever reason, FREAKS OUT when he's doing something hard under saddle. He prefers to learn how to use his body without a rider on top of him.

I guess that's fair. It's definitely consistent. I mean when I look at it, he didn't learn how to jump properly until I started lunging him over jumps. He didn't really figure out the leg yield until we started doing it from the ground. And now, he is figuring out how to canter with his hocks underneath him because he isn't toting my ass around.

Hmmmmm. I can see that in hand work is all over my future.
nailed it
In the back of my head, I still hear our biomechanics instructor saying "horses don't get muscle memory by not doing something".

She's just as right now as she was then.

And THAT is fascinating.

A huge part of the reason that we're not jumping is that Courage couldn't canter correctly. He'd just fall apart. Every time we get to a point under saddle where we're ready to really work on the canter, something changes and then we don't. And now, not only is he getting the feeling for a correct canter (which I can verify as I watch from the ground), he's also building the strength and muscle memory he needs to be able to replicate it under saddle successfully.
not a great canter
Instead of feeling bad about lunging my horse down or stressing his joints or whatever, I can just accept that this is how he needs to learn this specific skill. And then keep it in the back of my head as I try to introduce new skills to him. It gives me a whole new set of tools to create a positive learning environment for both of us.
alarming number of selfies taken


  1. Oooh, I've been elevated to dressage nerd friend! I feel honored! ;)

  2. Lunging and in hand work is fantastic! I'm going to be learning long reining because it helps mi papi so much to work some stuff out without my fluffy butt in the saddle to screw him up. Maybe C would like some long reining as well, then you could do more than a circle. Also learning it's great aerobics for the rider, since you end up doing some running around with them. We've been practicing square turns on our 30m circle instead of lunging, my cardio is already improving.

  3. Lunging and in hand work are great tools when used correctly. Sadly I know enough to know that I don't know what I am doing so I don't play with them too much.

    PS I love these training breakthroughs!

  4. I use the same strategy with Nibbles right now. She's only 9 months under saddle and while she doesn't need to blow off steam normally, I've found it really helpful to lunge her at least 20 minutes before I get on. I think it's a combination of factors but especially "warming" up her back and getting her to stretch into the contact of the side reins. I haven't found a consistent sweet spot for contact with her yet (it comes and goes) since I've only taken over riding her in the past WEEK but the lunging really helps! I'm sure it will need to morph as time goes on and we both get stronger.
    Rebecca (

  5. This is a completely legit way of using lungeing. I, too, hate the idea of lungeing horses down when the real problem is the horse needs more turnout (not talking about winter icy paddock conditions, I mean like literally the horse never gets turned out) or the rider is a weekend warrior or whatever, but I am all for lungeing with a purpose. It helped Eliot a TON figuring out his legs at the canter as well, and made the process more pleasant for both of us. I wish the mare wasn't so damn lame on the lunge, because I would love to lunge her in side reins and see how much of her bit/mouth fussiness is pilot error.

  6. I am all for lunging. Lunge all the OTTBs

  7. I love the way you lunge him, 100% productive. Also pat yourself on the back for being willing to figure out how it is that he learns.

  8. It's all about figuring out what works for each individual horse! :) The fun part is when your learning style and their learning style don't cooperate together LOL

  9. training tips are best tips, imo. sharing your breakthroughs mean that's one less epiphany i'll need to have one day or another haha. also glad the lunging is working so well for him ;)


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