When you get to know your horse, you learn to listen to and interpret what they tell you, and you will always know when something is awry.
Honey is a beautiful mare. She may be opinionated and a touch passive aggressive, but the way she moves and jumps leaves onlookers awestruck. Fortunately, as her rider, I rely on feel to know how she’s moving. Recently, I’ve been feeling like her balance and self-carriage have been waning, and nothing I did was solving the problem.
I’ve always appreciated dressage. Though I haven’t received much formal training in the discipline, I have participated in dressage clinics and traded skills with dressage riders and trainers along the way.
I thought to myself, there may be no one better to help me solve Honey’s problem than someone educated in dressage.
My reason for reaching out to dressage rider/trainer, Kate Tackett, is due in large part to my respect for her discipline and her familiarity with Honey. After I finished college, Kate actually leased my show jumper and turned her into one heck of a dressage horse before the year was up.
“I would say for her [Honey] a lot of transitions to keep her sitting and accepting a half halt, and lots of trot-canter-trot to help supple her back.” ~ Kate Tackett
Kate told me to focus on four things:
- Trot – Halt Transitions
- Canter – Trot Transition
- Shoulder-In 10 meter circles
**My recommendation, if you’re new to lateral work, is to start at the walk. It’s best to learn on a horse that already knows what they’re doing, but nothing is impossible. If you and your horse are both still learning, start slow and focus on adding one aid at a time until your horse understands what’s being asked of them.
The next day I headed to the barn and focused on those four exercises. It was to no one’s surprise that our Kate-inspired workout left both of use drenched in sweat.
I never want to over-do Honey’s workouts, so I gave her one relaxing ride, encouraging her to stretch out her topline, before adding in our over-fences training. If you recall, Honey is a hot showjumper; like a ball of energy firing out of a cannon every time she’s pointed at a jump.
When it finally came time to incorporate fences into our workout, Honey remained true to her nature for our warm-up and through the gymnastics exercise I had set to back her off.
Really wanting her to balance up, I decided to test a theory that blended my expertise with Kate’s.
Single fences were set around the arena at approximately 3’3″ in height. That made them large enough for Honey to notice but small enough so that she didn’t have to make that great of an effort to jump. They were also set to be jumped from a long approach, designed to give Honey the maximum amount of track to build speed and run [if she so chose].
Instead of cantering directly to each fence, I practiced the following sequence:
- Sitting trot, 10m circle, shoulder-in
- Canter directly to the fence.
As soon as I asked for the canter following the above sequence, I could feel something was different. Instead of fire out of a canon, I felt a cool and collected horse filled with potential energy that was perfectly stored. Her hind end was lifting up and beneath her, giving my leg the opportunity to regulate her kinetic energy to the base of the jump.
Honey’s hind-end came up so well over each fence that I contemplated shortening my stirrups to stay out of her way. What amazed me was how soft I was able to be with my hands. A simple exercise in balance and suppleness gave me the jump that was perfect in every way.
The equestrian world has become largely segmented, and you don’t see many cross-disciplinary training programs anymore. While it’s important to have a focus, it’s also important to know what else is out there and what other training methods exist to help both you and your horse.
Kate Tackett is a certified equilibrium equine massage therapist and both the Assistant Trainer and Barn Manager for Eliza Sydnor at Braeburn Farm. Kate is available for both on and off-site lessons as well as equine massage therapy appointments in the Triangle/Triad area of North Carolina.
You can follow the links to contact Kate or call her at (703) 303-4697!