Training Tree for Riders

Training Tree for Riders

by Amanda J. Berges


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781577791249
Publisher: Alpine Publications, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/15/2012
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

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The rider's training scale may be utilized most effectively in lessons on the longe. Longeing has long been recognized as the best way to start new riders and the most effective way to develop a good seat. At the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, new students generally spend at least two years on the longe. Riders must learn to follow the horse's movement before they can influence that movement effectively. Longeing allows riders to concentrate on feeling and following without needing to concern themselves with pace, direction, or quality of gaits. This simplification of focus streamlines the learning process. It becomes more efficient and therefore faster. Longe lessons are good for the horse, too. The instructor gives the “aids” so that the horse is relieved from the frustration of trying to distinguish between aids from the rider and uncoordinated bumps. (The rider does not apply aids until she has developed sufficient coordination and bodily control to do so with clarity.) Longeing preserves the sensitivity of the horse's mouth, because there is no possibility of the rider balancing on the reins if she has none. Thus, your carefully trained horse maintains both his responsiveness to the aids and his cheerful goodwill! Another consideration is that, when the rider's initial education is not via the longe, and if she chooses to advance beyond a very basic level of riding, she must relearn many things. A typical “beginner's horse,” safe and plodding, gives a very different feel from a more advanced horse. The rider must learn anew how to ride each gait, because it feels very different to ride gaits that are forward, engaged, and “through.” A rider taught on the longe can learn from the outset what correct movement feels like, so again, the process is streamlined, and an educated rider emerges sooner.

Of course, in order to teach a rider on the longe, a good longe horse must be available along with an instructor who has good longe technique. A qualified longe horse can be created from nearly any riding horse provided the horse is sound, not overly sensitive and that he has tolerable gaits. The process of creating the longe horse requires little more than the practice of correct longe technique, with careful attention to consistency of gaits and promptness of response. Longe work has a calming, steadying influence on the horse when it is done well; therefore, even a horse that might be too high strung or sensitive to cope with beginning riders off the longe may handle such riders very well on the longe. This will depend heavily on the skill of the instructor: The less experienced he is with training horses on the longe, teaching riders on the longe, or teaching riders in general, the more important it will be for him to use a horse that has natural qualifications, such as a very steady temperament.
To become a qualified longe-er, help from an experienced trainer will be very valuable. Longeing well is as much an art as is riding well. In each case, there is no substitute for direct instruction under a knowledgeable eye when you are learning. Body language is very powerful when you are working a horse on the longe, yet it is a language in which most people are far from fluent. An experienced longeing instructor (that is, someone who teaches how to longe) should be able to interpret both what the new longe-er is communicating, perhaps unintentionally, to the horse, and what the horse is communicating to the longe-er through their respective body positions. A good instructor also should share the finer points of technique. Time spent at this stage will pay excellent dividends. To rush the process increases the potential risk for the student and is therefore unacceptable. The horse and long-er must work together consistently and flawlessly before a rider is added to the mix. Then, a fairly advanced rider should be utilized—one who will not be upset by unanticipated antics on the part of the horse. The horse must be allowed to become accustomed to the movements required by the various exercises that students might perform. When he scarcely notices even the largest movements, like marching steps and scissors kicks, but maintains rhythm and attention to the instructor, then he may be ready for regular lessons.

EQUIPMENT Equipment required for safe and effective longe lessons includes the following: 1. A longe line, or longe rein, of twenty-five to thirty feet in length. Any longer is cumbersome; any shorter and the resultant small circle will make it difficult for students to sit in balance. Instead, they will feel pushed to the outside with every step.
2. A longe cavesson made of leather with a padded brass nosepiece. Those of other materials do not stay in place on the horse's head, nor do they transmit aids via the longe line with nearly the strength or clarity. Be sure to buckle the jaw strap tightly across the jawbone to keep the outside cheek piece out of your horse's eye.
3. A longe whip kept free of knots.
4. Boots for your horse, even if he doesn't usually wear them when he is ridden. Between the constant turning and the potential of the longe line to restrict balancing actions of the head and neck, the chances of the horse knocking himself are increased. Therefore, the front legs, at least, must be protected.
5. A snaffle bridle, preferably with the noseband removed so as not to interfere with the longe cavesson. Reins should be removed or twisted around each other and the throatlatch passed through a loop to secure them.
6. A saddle that fits both horse and rider. Your horse cannot work well if his withers or shoulders are being pinched. Your rider cannot ride well if the saddle is placing her in an awkward or unbalanced position. Be sure that the saddle is level when viewed from the side. The deepest part of the seat should be in the middle. Sometimes saddles appear to fit well until the rider mounts and her weight compresses the padding under the back of the saddle. Don't be fooled!
7. Side reins of leather or nylon, with elastic, rubber donuts, or neither, depending on the preference of the horse and handler. Elastic (the author's preference) is most commonly used for young horses; solid side reins are generally reserved for highly trained horses. Side reins with donuts have some give, although they are less than elastic, and are for in-between levels of training or general use. Unfortunately, they bounce, which is uncomfortable for sensitive horses. Nylon side reins, due to their strength, must have a breakaway feature for safety.
Side Reins Side reins are an often-misunderstood piece of equipment. They are not “gadgets” or head-setting devices. They are a legitimate training tool and are accepted and respected by the most classical of trainers. Their place in the tack room is nearly as important as that of the snaffle bridle: you can train a horse or rider without either one or both, but you would be making the job much harder by making that choice.
Of course, any piece of equipment can be rendered useless, or even dangerous, when it is used incorrectly. Side reins must always be attached rather loosely at first, even with an experienced longe horse, and shortened in stages to a length that is appropriate to the horse's conformation and level of training. The height at which the side reins are attached to the girth, billets, or surcingle will also vary according to these criteria but will not need adjusting as frequently. The height is correct if the side reins are horizontal when the horse carries his head in its natural position. The horse should always be encouraged to seek contact with the bit, but if the side reins are too long, the horse will fall on his forehand in his effort to reach the bit. Therefore, they must be shortened until the bit is comfortably within the horse's reach.
On a lesser-trained horse, the side reins will be rather long and low. As the horse's training progresses, the carrying capacity of the hindquarters will increase. The horse will gradually begin to step more deeply under his center of gravity with his hind legs. This will require his pelvis to lower and tuck under, and, as a chain reaction, the rest of his spine will round upward. This will be most noticeable in the raising and arching of the horse's neck, but the change will come very gradually. Often it is first apparent in the fit of the side reins. They may appear too long, too low, or both, and must be adjusted. In this way, side reins support the athletic development of the horse; they don't create it.
It is in this supportive role that side reins are most commonly appreciated; however, it is not their only benefit:
1. They help maintain straightness, by channeling the horse between them.
2. They provide a consistent contact for the horse to stretch into, which promotes consistent gaits and a consistent frame in all gaits and transitions. Because straightness and consistency are necessary qualities in a longe horse, it logically follows that the longe horse must wear side reins.

TECHNIQUE A great deal of what goes into longe technique are subtleties of body language and constant, two-way communication with the horse that must be developed with time and practice. What follows are general directives that will help to promote communication and fruitful practice. The stance of the longe-er should be similar in many respects to that of the rider: erect, knees slightly bent, balanced over the feet, with a straight line from elbow to hand and down the rein to the horse's mouth. Viewed from above, the longe line, whip, and horse should form the three sides of an isosceles triangle. The longe-er must not walk about while longeing but remain in an area roughly the size of a manhole cover to ensure that the horse describes a true circle. Think of your whip and longe line as the spokes of a wheel. If the hub (the longe-er) gets off center, the wheel will not turn smoothly. The consistency of bend is important for allowing your student to focus on the lesson without the disruption of unexpected shifts in the horse's balance. For many, the voice is the primary aid for longeing, but it is of limited use in many circumstances. In a busy arena, for example, many voices compete. In a longe lesson, the instructor's attempts to communicate simultaneously with both the horse and the rider may lead to confusion. To minimize this, it is necessary to use a distinct tone for communicating with the horse. It also helps to clarify commands to the horse if words are drawn out. For example, a short, clipped “trot” can be nearly unintelligible, but if it is drawn out to “trrrrrott,” the intent is clear to the horse. Furthermore, the inflection can be varied to indicate energy level. An upward transition from walk to trot is requested by saying “trrrrrOTT,” while a downward transition from canter to trot is requested thus: “TRRRRRott.” Through these variations, the longe-er can create a clear distinction between words intended for the horse and those directed to the rider.
The whip is an extension of the longer's arm and, as such, clarifies and reinforces his body language.The whip should never be cracked but rather swept toward and away from the horse's hindquarters. The height of the whip may also be used as an aid. Positioning the tip of the whip on the ground and holding it still means halt. Raised just off of the ground, it indicates walk. Raise the whip to between the knee and the waist to indicate trot, or between the waist and the shoulder to indicate canter. Because horses communicate primarily via body language, they are very sensitive to these types of cues and pick them up readily with consistent use.
Combined with distinct tones for verbal commands to the horse, teaching the horse to respect and respond to the height of the whip as an aid frees the instructor to concentrate more fully on the rider. The instructor may, for example, discuss with the student a different gait than the one currently being ridden, without concern that the horse will make an untimely transition to that gait.

If the horse fails to respond to the voice and whip as driving aids, there is nothing wrong with letting him feel the end of the lash on his hindquarters. A gentle touch is all that is required to let the horse know that you are willing and able to reach him and that the whip is to be respected.
If, on the other hand, the horse fears the whip, then you as the handler must relieve his fear. Standing at his head, and holding the lash to prevent any unexpected motion, allow the horse to smell and inspect the whip if he will. Proceed to scratch and caress his neck with the whip, then his shoulder, and then the opposite side of the neck and shoulder.Move on from one part of the horse's body to the next only when your horse is rather bored with what you are doing. This may take minutes—or days.With a little patience, you should soon be able to touch the horse anywhere with the whip easily, including on his legs and belly. At that point, release the lash and begin the process again. Be sure to praise the horse at frequent intervals for his bravery! Of course, all such issues—over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity—must be thoroughly settled before the horse is even considered for use in longe lessons.
For the longe lesson itself, the reins should be looped around the horse's neck as shown in the photo on the next page. This is done by placing the reins over the horse's neck as usual, grasping the loop of rein hanging on the far side of the neck, pulling it forward under his chin, and then bringing it up over his head again. In this way, the reins are out of the way but are available to the rider in case of emergency.
The horse should first be warmed up without the rider. The warm-up should include all of the gaits to be ridden in the lesson and allow the horse to develop the engagement/collection level required for the lesson. The exact amount of time will depend on the needs of the horse as well as on the lesson plan. A lesson consisting entirely of walk will require a different warm-up than will a lesson focusing on the collected canter.
Side reins should always be removed while the rider mounts, then the horse should be walked a few steps before they are reattached so that the horse has full access to his back muscles as he acceptsthe rider's weight. The length of the side reins will again depend on the lesson plan. Any time that the horse will be walking for more than a couple of steps the side reins must be lengthened as compared to the normal working length for trot and canter. Otherwise you risk destroying your horse's walk rhythm. Short side reins in walk can also cause the horse to feel “trapped” and explosive behavior may result, with potential for serious injury to both horse and rider.

Longe lessons are intense, and therefore must be kept short—30 minutes at the most—with frequent changes of direction and breaks for both the horse and rider. Working for too long at a stretch can result in an unintentional practice of incorrect posture and technique as the rider compensates for exhausted muscle groups. For similar reasons, it is important to keep the circle large. Small circles increase stress for both the horse and the rider. The centrifugal force that pushes the rider to the outside becomes stronger as the circle becomes smaller. A larger circle, therefore, will help the rider to maintain balance while avoiding over-stressing any particular muscle groups. Due in part to the time constraints, the instructor is obligated to keep the longe lesson plans simple. Limiting the focus of the lesson to one narrow topic also helps to ensure that the topic is thoroughly communicated to the student, minimizes the need for repetition in later lessons, and encourages a steady rate of progress.
With simplified lessons, information presented can often be mastered the same day. Each lesson builds slightly on what came before. Skills are built in manageably small but noticeable steps so that frustration and struggle are kept to a minimum and the joy of accomplishment is kept high. In this way, complex skills are developed bit by bit and generally are mastered more quickly overall than by the student to whom the skills were presented all at once, followed by a plateau. During these plateaus, students often struggle, frustrated by their inability to perform the skill. For example, when a student initially learns to canter without the longe, she is generally expected to learn the aids to the canter and the feel of the canter rhythm, how to sit the canter, how to control the horse in the canter, and how to bring the horse back to the trot or the walk—all in one lesson. She then spends many more lessons learning to coordinate these tasks. On the longe, these can be divided up into individual lessons. Each can be mastered individually and, due to the focused attention of both student and instructor, quickly.
It is often assumed that in longe lessons the student rides without stirrups. While there certainly are benefits to working without stirrups, they primarily apply to students in the later stages of the training scale (suppleness and feel) and beyond. Work without stirrups, when done too early, actually interferes with rider development rather than promoting it. It creates tension, disturbs balance, and promotes the development of incorrect muscle groups. The muscles of the upper and inner thigh are particularly over-used by insufficiently prepared riders who do not use stirrups. Far from holding the rider on the horse, pinching in this area actually pushes the rider up off the horse's back; therefore, use of these muscles is directly at odds with the development of a deep seat and must be avoided. Before work without stirrups can be beneficial, “suppleness” must be fairly well established. Therefore, correct work without stirrups will be discussed more thoroughly in Chapter 6.

In order to reap the many benefits of longe lessons, you will clearly need a friend. As was mentioned earlier in the chapter, if your friend is not an experienced longe instructor, it is of greater importance that the horse be calm and straight and have a steady tempo. The most important thing for your friend to know is how to keep the horse showing these traits; i.e., the horse may not be allowed to drift in or out of the prescribed circle, and he may not sporadically speed up or slow down. If he does, then you, the rider will be distracted from your goal: to improve yourself. If you experience these distractions, be sure to let your friend know what you feel the horse doing. It will help to train her eye and to hone her skill (as long as you tell her nicely!) in detecting the very slight change in the horse's movement from the center of the circle that feels like a much bigger deal from the horse's back. And by all means, trade places occasionally. There is nothing like being longed to create a sympathetic longe instructor! If you can't find a willing friend, keep trying. In the meantime, check out Chapter 10, “Off the Longe.”

Table of Contents

1. Longeing
Equipment • Technique • Lessons
2. Relaxation
Focused Relaxation • Posture and Relaxation
3. Balance
Vertical • Lateral
4. Rhythm
Walk • Trot • Canter • The Training Bush
5. Fitness
6. Suppleness
Ground Poles and Cavalletti • Sitting the Trot
7. Feel
Through the Seat • Through the Reins
8. Influence
Through the Seat • Through the Reins
9. Position
Order of Progression • Form Equals Function
10. Off the Longe
Restructuring the Tree • The Horse
11. Warm-up and Evaluation
Have a Plan • Locate and Inspect the Foundation Appendices Lesson Plans Skills Developed Concurrently About the Author Index

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