Marley continues to build fitness and is inching closer to what I’d consider “full” flatwork. He’s cantering for close to 10 minutes and trotting 20-30 minutes per ride, and we’re re-introducing basic lateral work.
As he’s able to do more, I’ve been starting to think about how to keep him challenged and interested while working on his rhythm, relaxation, and connection. In addition to getting him out of the arena whenever possible, I’ve been devouring books and and blog posts to get ideas about training exercises.
I’ve amassed a respectable equine library over the years, but recently purchased 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider and so far have found it a wonderful resource. Very straightforward and easy to read, practical in structure, and of course many exercises that will get you and your horse thinking.
On Saturday we had a lesson and did a lot of canter work, so yesterday my goal was to focus more on the walk and trot, trying to keep a steadier connection and rhythm. Happily, we had the arena to ourselves for most of the ride so I was able to get in a quality ride and even set up some ground poles for a basic exercise at the walk.
Exercise 1: Lots of Walk-Trot
The goal of the first exercise was to help get Marley softer and more relaxed. Super simple – go around the arena, walk for approximately 10 steps, transition to a slow trot for a few steps, then transition back to a walk. Repeat. Maybe change directions. Pick you spots for the transitions so that they are intentional. Do this for 10-15 minutes.
The diagram at the right (from the book, not mine!) gives you a sense as to how frequent the transitions need to be. I found myself sometimes going a bit longer or shorter depending on how Marley was feeling; he also starts to anticipate things so I wanted to be sure he was always transitioning when I asked him to, not when he thought we were supposed to.
I can’t say that we were in perfect harmony the entire time, but Marley did definitely soften and seem to become more adjustable as we settled into the exercise.
Exercise 2: Walking Poles
I’ve been wanting to incorporate poles into our rides because I find that working over them, even at a walk, can really improve how a horse uses his back and hind end. Marley is certainly more fit than he was two months ago, but we still have work to do. I decided to start with a very basic exercise – at left, from the book, not mine! – to ease back into things.
We had some clumsy moments while Marley refreshed his memory about how to navigate things lying on the ground, but overall I was pleased with him. Very straight and focused, and the quality of his walk definitely improved over the course of the exercise.