Foxyness19

The Free Walk, Long And Low, And Stretching Into The Contact

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Warming up your horses is important before putting them to work. I was reading an article about a clinic that George Morris was teaching, and he touched on the importance of the free walk. He explained to his students that a horse should be marching in his walk with a purpose, and that he hates seeing careless riding even while walking. As much as I hate to agree with the man, I completely agree. I like to keep my horse's brain working and thinking forward and stretching to the contact, even while walking.

I thought this brought up a good topic for us, what are some exercises you do to encourage a horse to really stretch down into the contact in a forward working walk/trot? Long and Low is a great exercise, and in my opinion should be incorporated into everyone's warmup/cool down. Any particular exercise you think is helpful in achieving it?

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Im fortunate that Layla has like an automatic stretch. She used to NEVER stretch, lunging free, with side reins, or under saddle. Now, she can look like a peanut roller (without actually peanut rolling lol)

When I introduced the idea of stretching to her, it was a lot of gentle over flexing honestly - take the left rein, bring her head/neck over to the left towards my knee, have her give and soften, gently let her go, and once she started to get the idea of stretching those muscles - well that was it.

That was of course teaching a horse who had bad training and baggage.

For Rex, well he naturally wants to stretch and at this point (6 rides) I am working on forward and keeping things fun and interesting so the bit and everything is a "good thing". He also naturally stretches.

My most effective technique when working with a horse that is tense esp in the wither and back and doesnt like to take a honest contact is like I was saying to flex in and let go.

Get on a 20m circle, post big (staying up a touch longer than the horses stride) while using the inside leg to really ask for bend and forward. Sit and squeeze forward and every time you rise in your post, flex inside towards your knee with a soft hand, asking the horse to release that side - so rise while using inside leg and inside hand to overly flex, stay up in the post a touch longer to allow the hind leg to actually reach under and have a place for the back to go, and repeat. This is what worked for Layla & Ben and most of the other horses Ive ridden but most of them again had some baggage about relaxing and stretching anyways.

Once she got the hang of it - the stretch circles were always one of the best parts in our tests - most of the time scoring 7s and 8s.

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Whew! Look at Layla! She always looks like such a fun horse to ride, i just love her expression.

It's always nice to sit on the ones that naturally like to poke their noses out and stretch, but if i have a horse who just doesnt naturally want to reach out, i usually do what you do Shantel, and do some serpentines to really get them to "look for the bit."

If i need to go a bit further, I circle in eventually to a tiny circle, keep them really pushing off their hind end, and ask for a lot of bend. Then, when i let them circle back out and relax, they usually say "Ahhhh please let me stretch this tightness out of my neck and back..and they stretch into the contact."

The horse I am working with now doesnt really respond to either of those techniques....so I was hoping other people had some good suggestions!

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He is naturally built uphill and likes to keep a natural slightly round head carraige. When i bend his head and neck around my leg, he doesnt take up the slack in the reins, but he will follow the bit (without adding in a stretch). I also just broke him in October, so he's still learning about all of this. I want to show him to you!! I forget how you post pictures on this dang thing.... it's been years ;)

Here is how he likes to go naturally, with me just basically sitting on his back and holding the reins. (Note me hysterically laughing and about to roll over on his neck, the photographer was being a smart a$$ lol)

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Here he is if you ask him to come round

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We are cantering in this picture, but this gives you an idea of what he would look like when i ask for inside bend around my leg in the trot, asking him to stretch down..he sort of looks like this, only with a little more slack in my reins.

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Sorry for not having pictures to address this topic, these are from about three weeks under saddle back in November. Note: The saddle wasn't mine so its incredibly small for me, it was just a loaner until my saddle I bought for his wide wither was shipped to me.

Edited by Jocelyn

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Teaching a horse to stretch comes directly from teaching the horse to give. Sometimes you get a horse that naturally stretches when you give rein and that's super. For a horse that doesn't automatically try to stretch, it's not hard to teach. Just remember you do need to actually teach the horse, not just radomly give him opportunities to figure it out on his own.

You can do this from the ground or the saddle, it doesn't matter. Move at a walk on a loose rein, let your horse hold his head however he wants. Pick up on the inside rein and hold/maybe gently 'sponge' it if you need to until he gives with his nose to the inside. Even a tiny bit. In the beginning, it's ok if he just turns his nose, but as soon as he seems to get what you're asking, make sure his ears turn with his nose so he's not tilting his face. Once he is reliably giving to your request, start waiting to release until he gives AND you see his face (watch his ears if you're on him) dip down a bit. He may try to go up, back, and sideways with his head looking for the release, but don't give it to him until he goes down. Also, sometimes the horse will automatically start reaching down when you are just asking for the give, and that's ok, reward it. Then continue until he consistently gives and reaches down when you ask on the inside rein. This can take 20 minutes, or it can take a couple days, it just depends on the horse and how quick your release is. Do this on both sides. Once the horse knows how to stretch down, you can pick up both reins, ride as normal and ask for it with the same aid on the inside rein. The outside rein will stay steady to let him know how far he is allowed to stretch. Generally, the more you do stretchy work, the more they will enjoy it and give you better stretches as they figure out it feels good. I've yet to have this fail.

By the way, he's adorable.

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pegasus: as an initial peice of advice, i would say you are totally right on, but he is beyond learning how to bend and give to my aides. Like I said before, I do a lot of bending to the inside, having him seek the bit, and then do serpentines as well, spiraling in etc. He hasn't been extremely stretchy with these very basic questions. Although today I decided to try a different technique...

I rode a ton of transitions, some shoulder-ins, started teaching him haunches in, leg yielding to and from the rail, trot walk transitions, basically lots of stuff to tire him out and making him use his entire body. Then at the end of the ride, after he was tired from holding his big self up for 30 minutes straight, i asked him to stretch out and release all of that "tension," and he started to respond! I praised him, and told him thats what i wanted when i asked him to stretch. Hopefully when I hop on him tomorrow, we can start our ride where we left off, thinking to stretch into the contact. If not...we'll probably do a re-do of what we did today.

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That's great you had a good ride with him today.

Keep in mind a horse can certainly learn to give to the bit, bend and travel laterally without learning how to stretch forward over the topline and really seek out the bit. Bending on 20 m circles and doing big loopy serpentines are very basic movements and it's quite easy for a horse to fake their way through them. Go to a dressage show and watch the training level tests. Watch how many very nice horses come in, do a beautiful test in a lovely frame then stick their nose in the air when asked for the stretchy circle. Your horse has learned how to give at the poll both back to a vertical position and to the side when you bend, but he's missing the cue to go down. If you want him to stretch or work long and low on command, and he hasn't figured it out on his own, he has to be taught a cue, just like with any other movement. If you wait until he's tired of holding his head, how will you be able to get on and warm up in a stretchy trot, or do a long and low lesson?

Granted, he can eventually learn by getting the release when he's tired, I've just found it to be much easier and quicker to simply teach them a cue for it. Tomorrow when you get on, he may say 'oh I remember this' and he may say 'I'm not tired yet, I don't need to stretch' and you're back at square one.

Hope you have another good ride tomorrow!

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OK, if he's only been under saddle for 3 months, cut him some slack on stretching at the trot. He's a baby. A very green, weak baby. He's not going to be able to stretch at the trot until he has had an opportunity to build up some muscle to carry himself in a stretchy frame. He also looks like he has some draft in him, and as you may know, drafts are built to pull, not to carry. So rounding his NECK might be easy for him. Stretching his neck out and down, not so easy for a draft or most draft crosses.

Notice I said rounding his neck, because the neck doesn't necessarily relate to the back. In your canter picture, he's dropped his back away from your seat. So even though his head and neck are a bit lower, he's not correctly round.

The strength just doesn't happen overnight. They need some time.

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I'm lucky my pony somehow over the course of a year decided he loves to stretch.

horse shows

for some reason it won't let me post a picture...

However, sometimes he gets finicky about it and what I do is take him to the walk, and I DON'T throw the reins at him, I maintain soft contact and sort of drive him into a marching walk. You have to have very soft elbows and if he reaches forward suddenly, you can't block him from it. Also, I do a stretchy trot at the end of every ride so he thinks stretch = done and willingly does it. I also free walk him for 10 minutes before EVERY ride, and when I'm picking up the reins if he pulls them out of my hands I let him a couple times, then bump him with my legs to get his head up.

I'm not exactly sure though, it's not something I specifically focused on but more like my trainer developed it slowly in both of us without us knowing it! haha

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To begin a ride, or actually before we begin a ride, we establish a nice forward big walk on the buckle, a horse is going to naturally drop it's head and while it may look around some even if it's a baby, it is going to relax and drop. It's wonderful when your horse can stretch when you ask so that you can keep the horse off the forehand; however, many people spend a great deal of time worrying/overly focused on long and low w/o keeping the horse either correctly off the forehand or bent etc. It isn't merely about a horse poking the nose out since you have to have the hind end correctly working, even if it is at training--you cannot have the haunches trailing behind.

I completely agree w/George Morris. So much work can be done at the walk. We never let our horses just aimlessly meander around. Even when they are out hacking after a ride, we make sure they are walking forward--every time you are riding you are training. Good topic

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