Does your horse have the bending and suppleness of a refrigerator?
Is his or her favorite head set reminiscent of that of a giraffe?
I'm here to tell you, I understand!
Beast Mare! STOP IT! PLEASE?! PUT YOUR DANG HEAD DOWN!
And I have a program that will work for you! For the low low price of $1.5 million I will provide you with ALL the answers! But wait! If you order now your second Girafferator is welcome at 50% off!!!
It will be organized in a retreat atmosphere spanning 2-4 years depending on your Girafferator. Things that will be included : The same lessons, month after month with zero discernible results, new instructors that are going to try and make huge differences (you will probably not notice anything), annoying instructors that tell you "it will get better" (see next), an Indoor Ring wall you can use to bang your head against on those especially special days, copious amounts of booze (or candy for the young-ins) for when your Girafferator really is convinced he/she cannot possibly bend... at all.... at a show... after you tell your trainer how far you have come... and of course carrots and other horse treats when we decide that bribing might just do the trick!
Warning: You may need to utilize the included indoor wall and/or booze after your Girafferator has zero problem performing carrot stretches all the way back to his/her gosh darn arse (but those 20m circles are way too difficult).
All joking aside, I really do understand!
Spring of 2011.... *sigh*
A Girafferator is not just a draft beast like my girl, a Girafferator can come in all breeds, sizes, and age! Below will account what has worked for ME and MY personal Girafferator! I'm not promising it will work for every pair, but maybe there is something you will see that might spark some interest! I have gathered these tips through the years and have tried just about everything short of "throw her in a double bridle" which I heard a lot my first year with her (don't do this... it's just silly)
Remember that "annoying instructor" that said silly things like, "it will get better" or my personal favorite "she will get heavier before she gets lighter" (side note, I'm not over exaggerating that for a while there I was literally holding 40lbs of pressure in each rein and my right shoulder is legitimately messed up from her hanging off of it for 3 years...). I thought she was literally on drugs... how is that even possible? Well it is, and she is a bit smug about being right now, however, I let it slide as on Ariat's really good days we ride around with maybe 5lbs in each rein, but probably closer to 2lbs. How did this happen? Consistent work and TIME. If your Girafferator is built like mine:
You will notice a few things right off the bat that makes real dressage just plain hard for her! First look at that body mass to leg ratio! The are about the same! For how big she is, she is actually not very tall, sticking at just barely 16hh and I put her at 1400-1500lbs. Next we can look at that neck tie-in... it's massive! It is literally tied into the bottom of her chest! That is going to make her flexibility decrease! And last, but the single most important problem, is that 10mile long back! When I first started riding her she literally felt like a hook-and-ladder fire truck! You know the kind where the front half turns well before the back half? So taking all of that into consideration (side note: her head is also WAY too big per a dressage judges comment... Side-Side Note: my program does NOT fix this problem... if you have any suggestions in that department give me a call at 1-800-Ridiculous-DressageComments) Dressage is inherently HARD for her. Look at that picture and think about how we are asking those hind legs to step up and under her, lifting that front end, and then bending through that enormous rib cage! However, it is not impossible I promise! BUT it will take time. Time for them to understand what you want, time for them to gain confidence in that new balance, time for them to gain the sheer physical strength to carry themselves in that way. It literally took Ariat 3 years to get to this:
UNH Fall 2012
UNH Fall 2012 ~ 36
MVHC Spring 2013 ~ 29.0
Fitch's Corner Novice Champs 2013
Schooling Summer 2013
UNH Fall 2013
Okay so you get it! It is possible and you have to be patient about it... but HOW?!?!
This may be difficult if your horse does not lunge... Ariat took me arena-skiing the first few times we lunged... So start with just teaching them to lunge politely. Ariat is now completely voice trained on the lunge, cluck to go to trot, smooch to canter, and whoa to slow down. A small child could (and has) lunge her. The top picture was spring 2011 and the bottom was spring 2013. I adore lunging because it allows them to figure things out without the rider "messing them up". In order for Ariat to step under and lift her front end she needs to be free to lift her back. Because she has never gone like that, those muscles are extremely weak. The last thing she needed was my fat arse up there bouncing around. A typical week would involve 1 day dedicated to lunging. Now make sure you change up your circle size and remember lunging is hard work on their body, so keep the sessions much shorter than your ride time. A long lunge would be about 30 minutes, but most were closer to 20. On the lunge utilize transitions to get them thinking reaching and lifting their withers. Walk-Canter are what worked best with Ariat. They really got her sitting and "pouncing" into the canter thus engaging that hind end!
2) Gadgets and Gizmos a Plenty!
I'm normally not a huge fan of a ton of gadgets, BUT in this situation I think it really helped Ariat to understand that it was physically possible for her to move in such a way! She had no idea what inside leg to outside rein meant! She had no idea her body could move that way! Here are a few things I have tried:
Did I already say this? I mean it! Go back to that lunging picture and look at the physical difference in her body, that takes TIME! Not even my million dollar plan for you can short cut time!
It takes a certain level of fitness and strength for a horse built like Ariat to move like she is now! Make sure you are actually riding your horse 4-5 times per week for a solid amount of time! None of those sitting on your horse in the middle of the ring chit-chatting for 30 minutes. Your horse is not being a Girafferator on purpose (most likely), he/she needs you to help get him/her to a place where they can physically move correctly! We are currently on an extra strict conditioning schedule as we head into a Classic 3day, but I think this extra fitness has really helped her get strong enough to really carry herself.
5) The freaking Training Pyramid!
If you have never heard of it before you might want to think about changing instructors! It is SO easy to get so uber focused on your horses head and neck! You need to remember that collection is at the very TIP of the pyramid, you need to build up from a rock solid base!
Here is one I like to refer to!
Just kidding! (only not really...) Here is one I like a lot!
If I am absolutely honest with where my horse and I are, we are still struggling with those two bottom steps! We have really good days where we get those under control and can start working on connection and impulsion. But on a normal day I get on and immediately get run away with at the walk... embarrassing, I know! Ariat is an incredibly forward thinking draft cross, which is wonderful, however, in order for her to be able to balance in a pushing uphill fashion she needs a reminder to settle that rhythm and to not "walk past her balance", meaning if she is "Draft Horse Power Walking" she is probably also tripping all over herself and running on her face. Half-halts that would even balance a freight train are what is necessary to re-balance all of that. If your horse is similar to mine, you need to forget about their head and neck, you just need to! Work first on riding their hind end up into the bridle.
The reason I love love LOVE this picture so much is look at that hind end! Look at her bringing that inside hind UP and UNDER herself! Sure her head and neck are not quite there yet, but she was light in the bridle and TRYING
6) More Leg
Even with a horse who likes to RUN on her face, the answer is always more leg! If your horse is not forward thinking, you NEED to get them in front of your leg before anything else can happen! Horses are to be ridden from their arse first! I could go into a deep discussion about how if they are stepped up under themselves, their back physically must rise, and when their back rises, their neck physically lowers... But I won't, just trust me, stop messing with their face and ride them FORWARD! With Ariat, even when she is forward the leg then becomes a bending aid! She MUST bend! MUST MUST MUST! There is no excuse anymore! Try to remember that bending comes through the rib cage, not just the neck! Ariat is a master of fake neck bending!
I'm not joking here people!
8) Lateral Work
Our entire dressage days consist of moving from one lateral movement to another. I have receive quite a bit of flack from instructors this summer about performing lateral movements that are too advanced for my horse. Let me explain: I am fully aware that she is not performing a haunches-in or half-pass correctly.... I do not think we are performing 3rd level movements and I would never march into a clinic and proclaim that my horse does these things. Here's the thing... she needs to become more supple in every single part of her body. She needs to GIVE to me. She needs to move off my leg when I ask her to. I NEED to be able to move her haunches or shoulders or entire body whenever and wherever I want them to go! She is too dang big for me NOT to have complete control over all the pieces of her body! So maybe our haunches-in isn't technically correct, maybe she isn't bending enough, maybe it IS just a weird leg yield... So what? It is getting her to step up and under herself with that off leg, she is placing her arse where I've asked it to go, and she has started to *think* about bending through her rib cage! A few steps of that, then switch back to a shoulder-in, then switch to a leg yield, than track straight, then got back into a haunches-in the other direction. Keep them MOVING and keep them oscillating through their different joints!
Here is literally an example of how I ride my horse for the first 45 minutes of our rides (yes, I walk my horse for a solid 30-45 minutes before I even think about moving her up to trot! If she is running on her face and bracing all 1400lbs against me why the hell would I trot that?!)
Loose rein walk around a few times in each direction, pick up my contact and immediately go into a shoulder-fore. Down the long side, 20m circle left, 20m circle right, shoulder-fore back down the long side, leg yield off my left leg, leg yield off my right leg, 10m circle asking for massive amounts of over bending to the inside, then to the outside, back to normal contact, on a 10m circle spiral out, then spiral back in, take 4 massive step-over steps to the left, turn on the haunches, shoulder-in up the long side, 15m circle asking the shoulders to come in in a shoulder-fore feeling, halt, rein back, 3 massive steps off my left leg, leg yield up the long side, over flex left, over flex right, turn on the fore-hand, mini serpentine along the short side with over bending. Haunches-in down half the long side, then into shoulder-in, counter bending on a 10m circle... etc.
You get the picture! It must look NUTS to other people as we are literally doing the most random things. TONS of lateral work, getting her to move when I say move and getting her to move through every joint in her body! This gets her more sensitive to my aids, gets her moving, and oscillating through her entire body. After about 30-40 minutes of this she has really lifted her back, come down in her head and neck, and has gone from 30lbs in each rein to about 5lbs. THEN and only then do we go up to the trot work. Once we are trotting I do pretty much the same thing, lots of change of bend, shoulder-in, leg yielding. IMPORTANT: Once you are trotting if they go back to being a full on Girafferator, transition back down to the walk and repeat the warm-up! (Generally this will take just a minute) and then you can bump them back up to the trot!
At first they will only be able to work in this new frame and balance for a short while before they are just too tired to hold themselves anymore. Be fair to your horse! An hour of dressage is MUCH harder for Ariat than an hour of jumping!
Now our canter is still a massive work in progress so this is where my experience ends! As of right now she is still unbalanced and heavy as all get out in the canter. What I have found to work is lots of transitions, don't bomb around a 20m circle 5-6 times with her on her face! Do half a circle and make it dang good! Then transition down and get her back! I even come all the way back to the walk and move her inside leg to outside rein until she softens again, and then off we go back up to the canter! This will not only improve the quality of the canter if the transitions are ridden well, but will also get them sitting that much more! Remember this is HARD work and it is a SLOW process... which leads me to my last tip
Self explanatory? No? Okay, more picture evidence....
Look at the difference in her neck! Top is Spring 2011, bottom is Summer 2013
THAT much of a difference TAKES TIME
THAT much of a difference TAKES TIME
So go on then! In 2-3 years all your problems will be solved! Remember that riding is fun and that your horse is (most likely) not trying to be a PITA and the Girafferator tendencies are just something that comes natural to the animal! And remember you can always do what I did and give up strict dressage and turn to the dark side... we have xc!!!
Again, I am NOT a professional and these are simply things I have done with my girl and it has worked well! If you have any additional comments or suggestions I would LOVE to hear them!
Go Dressage & More Leg