July 05, 2009

The wiggly horse

Stillearning wrote:
HOC, when you have time, could you also write a description of riding a horse straight, as in keeping equal weight in each rein, etc.?....I'm currently riding a "wiggle worm", so would enjoy your input.

So here comes a try.
First, I hope that she means the same as I do when it comes to a "wiggly" horse.
To me, it is a horse that pops out here and there.
Like when you are riding on a circle, the shoulder falls out. So you correct it, just to find that the horse then places the hindquarters to the inside instead. So you correct that etc, etc.

I think this problem, as well as the solution, differs a bit from the crooked horse (link to earlier post). So again I hope I have understood your question correct, stillearning?

First, I must say that my input here is just some personal comments from how I would have tried and solved the problem if I experienced it myself. I am not a professional trainer, and I do not know your horse or you as a rider, stillearning, so take it for what it's worth, ok?
And I am (as always) happy to get input/comments/questions from others!

Anyway, here are my 2 cents:

A wiggly horse is not easy to ride.
It is an evasive pattern in the horse, and I believe we'll have to go back to basics, as much of the problems we experience when riding is solved by looking at the base requests on the horse.

Many riders have heard of Steinbrecht's dictum
"Ride your horse forward and make him straight",
and I believe here lays the answer to this problem.

I would start by checking that my horse was really thinking forward.
I would make sure that he kept a clear rhythm and was in balance, but I would otherwise not worry too much about frame or collection. Sometimes this problem creeps up if the rider worries too much about frame and forgets that the horse always has to be in front of the leg.

So what to do?

I would want my horse to think forward as soon as I soften my hand, with the slightest touch of the leg. If he doesn't, I have to correct.
I would praise a lot when I get a reaction, and if I get more forward than I asked for, I would avoid putting on the brakes immediately as it will confuse my horse.

I would try and keep my horse relaxed, but attentive.

Exercises: Work much with transitions within the gait.
First, find a good working rhythm, and get your horse to relax and with a soft contact on the bit. Then, while keeping the rhythm try and soften your hands and get the horse to lengthen some strides. Don't ask too much in the beginning. Make sure he doesn't tense up and increase speed and rythm. Posting trot makes it easier, and helps you and the horse to think about the rythm. Help him with a tap on the hind quarters from a dressage whip if he doesn't understand. Praise immediately when your horse offers the right response.
Then through half halts, softly collect again for a few steps. When you collect, it might again be necessary to tap on the hindquarters to help your horse to understand that he needs to activate the hind legs, and not solve the equation by working with less energy.
And repeat.
For each time, find the working trot/canter in between and make your horse relax before you again start to ask for lengthening/shortening of the strides.
What you should be looking for is that the horse actively seeks contact on the rein.
Make sure that you have a true three-beat rythm in the canter, also when you collect. If you get a four-beat it is due to lack of impulsion - get some more energy into the work!

Keep the balance in corners and in changes of direction through half halts. Make sure that your tempo here is not larger than the horse can handle. If you feel loss of balance, collect more or make a transition downwards.

Then start to work with transitions between the gaits.
Concentrate on quality.
In the transistions upwards, remember that the movement has to start with engaged hindlegs, and not by pulling with the front end.
Concentrate on how it feels.
Does your horse respond quickly? Is he using the front or the rear engine most when getting started? Does your horse get heavy in the hand? Is he tensed or relaxed? Again, use a dressage whip if necessary to tap the hindquarters to help the horse understand what you want.
Downhill transitions:
Prepare, prepare is the key. Collect the horse first through half halts. Try and use the seat, and as little hand as possible. If you feel that the horse falls on the forehand and get heavy in the hands - correct it by not doing the transistion but to ride on again - like you have been doing when riding transitions within the gaits earlier. Ride the horse forward to get the hind legs working again. Then make a new attempt.

Try and keep the horse relaxed all through the work.
If he tenses up in the poll or jaw, he will not work correctly. I would then introduce some circles and flex to the inside, with an immediate release on the inside rein when he gives. I would make sure that when I ride my circles I have a soft, but steady contact in my outer rein. If I lose that contact, I would add more inside leg, to engage the inside hind and achieve bend in the body.

In the base of the German training scales lies
1. Rhythm
2. Relaxation and
3. Contact

All these three are important when we work with the wiggly horse.

We have to send the horse forward, to get a true contact - but while maintaining the rhythm and keeping the horse relaxed.
Remember that the hand has to be quiet, as the engagement comes from the hindlegs into the hand to create a correct contact.
The rider's seat also plays an important role here. To keep a quiet hand the rider needs an "independent seat", i.e. he should not be depending on rein contact to keep a good balance.

Did that help, stillearning?

Don't forget to praise and reward...and have fun!


Kate said...

Really good post - a difficult issue for many horses - I think because it's difficult for their riders. If you watch horses that are at liberty, they often go perfectly straight, usually with a lot of impulsion. I think horses often wiggle because they're not sure where their riders want them to go - and often the riders aren't sure either!

The two things that have helped me most with this are making sure forward is well established, and using my own intent to focus on where we are going - using the object of focus to "pull" us along - being sure not to do anything that saps my horse's energy, such as looking down at the head instead of where I want to go.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Great post. Forward with a steady rhythm is a good base for any problems that need to be worked on. I also try to focus on a point and ride towards it.

My horse Dusty is still green and she tends to get bored doing the same thing repeatedly so this week, I set up a sort of chute in the center of the ring with two ground poles parallel to each other. Using the whole ring we make two circles at either end. We walked one circle and where the poles intersected the circles I had her halt in the chute and walk a straight line to the fence, halt switch directions and walk over another ground pole in the center of the circle, back through the chute and over the ground pole in the other circle etc... Sometimes not stopping in the chute but continuing around the entire outside figure eight. It seemed to really get her paying attention and steering was easier for her because she could focus on the job at hand. Once she had it down at the walk we trotted it a few times too.
I hope this makes some sense, I know it helped Dusty (and me) to have a plan of action.

stillearning said...

HOC, Your advice is right on target. How nice to have things all laid out in such an orderly fashion. I suspect that I forget "forward first" when we start struggling with the wiggles. And it is an evasion, of course, from my lazy guy.

Yep, I was right...you do explain things very clearly...Thanks!

RuckusButt said...

Bang on! And you are so right about forgetting about frame in the beginning! When I first started riding Edgar I didn't realize how green he was. I think I described him as a ping-pong ball, back and forth (on a small scale) all the time. As soon as I stopped worrying about what he looked like, I got a much nicer, straight, forward. Very well described by you!

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments all!

Kate - I agree. Keeping focus yourself helps, and addition you get a better seat. Our head weighs 10% of the body, so the weight distribution goes wrong if we look down. Looking up helps to straighten the body, and get a more effective seat. So definitely a good point!

GHM - good input, and a useful exercise. Using poles or cones is a very good help in working with the wiggly horse. Thanks for the contribution!

stillearning - Thank you :-)
I am happy that I didn't misunderstand you.

RuckusButt - Hope your arm heals well so you get out there and pester Edgar again soon ;-)

Anne i Hannover said...

Scraps posted;)

Joining the chorus, I also think that you (HoC) explain dressage very clearly! Well done :D

stillearning said...

HOC, I rode today with your thoughts fresh in my mind, and the results were very good.

Thinking forward, I spent my warm-up insisting on a smart response from my leg aid, beginning at the walk. I've been letting him give me a half-obedient response lately, and hadn't noticed; that's why the wiggle has been sneaking in. Today we reestablished the "surge", and that helped with the wiggly part.

There's also an element of crookedness, but it was obvious which was which. We have been doing transitions within the gaits, but today I did them with the focus on the hind legs working more and it really helped. I will continue building his hind-end strength to deal with the crookedness, while riding as straight as possible. It was also of help to be reminded to be soft; sometimes my horse and I butt heads, and softness gets forgotten on both parts.

Nothing you said was new to me, but it really helped to have it laid out so clearly. I feel like I've had a lovely lesson, and will
now practice what we worked on today.

Please feel free to write up descriptions of any of the dressage "biggies". You do a good job. Thanks again.

HorseOfCourse said...

That was really fun to hear, stillearning!
Thank you for giving feedback, and I am very happy it worked for you.

When you have time, I would love to hear more about yourself and your horse.

stillearning said...

HOC, I'm a life-long, middle-aged horse-poor horsai, juggling to keep the various pieces of my life in balance. My solution to the horse-poor part has been to buy a OTTB, reschool it slowly (years!), and then place it in a great home and use the proceeds to finance the next horse. For years I only owned one horse at a time, and boarded out. We now own a tiny farm and keep one old tb (my "keeper") and his mini-horse buddy at home, and I board out my younger horse. I started in hunters, evented a little, and finally found my true home in dressage. I take lessons as time and budget allow, but for the most part work alone. I read, audit clinics, and generally seek information from any source I can. My main trainer is mostly retired, but she helps me get back on track when I can coax her to watch me ride.

My current project is not a tb, and was not (originally) for resale. He was to be my easy, old-lady, do-it-all horse. He's an appendix QH, with great conformation and lovely movement. He's built and moves more like a warmblood than a QH; Lynn Palm owns one of the same breeding (Indian Artifacts), and has been very successful with him in dressage. I bought him as a late 3 yo. He was well started u/s and seemed like a good match for me. But...his personality has been a challenge. He can be resistant, sometimes explosively so, and is an odd mixture of lazy/sensitive/dominant/sweet. He's also been growing almost continuously, so we constantly deal with issues of balance, saddle-fit, etc along with the resistance. It's quite interesting.

My strategy has been to be as absolutely correct and consistant in my riding as possible. We don't rush, ever. He is rewarded for trying and corrected for being disobedient. I keep our work varied and as interesting as possible, while dealing with the safety issues of a possibly-explosive green horse. We're making slow but steady progress.

I have to face the fact that he may prefer a less-demanding discipline than dressage; he may not be up to dressage mentally. He loves to jump, so may be happier as a hunter eventually. If so, I will dust off my hunter duds, and try to place him in that world. He seems to prefer the less-rider-directed flow of a jump course or gridline; but we've only jumped low jumps so far, so it's been easy for him.

For now, he's a pleasure more days than not, and I'm learning a lot, so I will continue on this path until it's not fun. That's the plan, anyhow.

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for indulging me, stillearning!
Please forgive me for being curious, but as you don't have a blog I just wanted to know you a little better. As we have been "speaking" here, I mean :)
Sounds like a good strategy you have got there.
How old is he now?

HorseOfCourse said...

stillearning, I was looking through blogs and found your discussion with Laura on E.I.
I understand your thoughts.
If we have a situation where the horse finds another discipline more interesting than the one the rider's heart is set on, I don't think it is a bad idea to sell provided one finds the right buyer. It is better than at least one of the parties being unlucky, isn't it?

I love to train, and I want my horse to love the work too, at least most of the time.
We should go out there and have a ball!
There might be days of frustration, and temperament showing on both horse and rider, for sure. There might be periods where you feel down because you struggle with something.
But on the whole, I keep a horse to have FUN. And I believe the horse should have fun too. Because the horse in your life is in every way a partner. The chemistry has to work to get things truly swinging.
If we don't work with horses professionally, we have a limited number of horses in our life. I don't find it unfair to try and find the right match.

stillearning said...

HOC, I don't have a blog because I tend to agonize over most of what I write online, and dislike it afterwards. You, mugs, and Laura are very welcoming, so I've been encouraged to write more lately.

I won't have a problem letting this horse be a hunter, if that's where he belongs. He may also have issues with working in that world, once the jumps get bigger, but he could cruise around the lower amateur courses with one leg tied behind his back.

Laura's discussion of resistant horses was very interesting. After the initial sadness, it actually gave me hope. I think my guy is much more like Sunny, one you cheerfully beat up as needed, and then carry on. Even in doing dressage, we have our "I-dont-wanna" battles in the warm-up; once working he's usually willing, responsive, and fairly eager to please for the remainder of the session. It's just hard to get him going. Every day.

To answer your question, he's 6 now; I've owned him for 3 1/2 years. When the resistance first surfaced (within weeks of buying him) I had him checked by the vet, dentist, chiropractor, and orthobionamist. I had the saddle fitter out frequently. I tried every warm-up I could think of. I taught him to line-drive, longe, and did cowboy groundwork with him. I changed barns (and brought him home). I sent him out for 90 days training to a professional I trusted. I worked seriously on my own riding. I debated often whether I was determined & dedicated or just stupid to continue.

My trainer says he doesn't have the engine to go far in dressage. My vet said he "has a horrible temperment". The trainer who worked with him described him as a big bully who backed down quickly; that trainer also disliked his personality.

But, after all that advice, there's still something, little glimmers, that kept me trying and we're finally making some progress. I have found myself trying some alternative therapies (physical, nutritional, and even mental) with him; they sound pretty strange, even to me, but I'm seeing good results from them. He's becoming more willing to work every day, and a more solid partner.

So...lots to learn with this one, even if simply learning to keep an open mind.

Like you said, it's got to be fun at least most of the time. As long as we're progressing, even slowly, I'm having fun.

I'll keep you posted! This is really cool to discuss this all with a "Swegian"!

HorseOfCourse said...

You know stillearning, I really think you should have a blog!
I would so love to hear more.

I believe that when you have a 6 yo horse, they are like a teenager. They have put on muscles, they are stronger and the body feels gooood, and they often get a higher rank in the flock. And then you start seeing some difference in opinion when you are riding them too!

I am happy that you are having fun. Thanks for sharing!

stillearning said...

Thanks for listening.

Yep, he's a teenager for sure.

Btw I've owned him 2.5 yrs, not 3.5--it just seems longer :)

HorseOfCourse said...

Stillearing, might I ask you something?
Hunter classes doesn't exist here. What is the difference between a hunter and a show jumper?

stillearning said...

Hunter classes are judged based more on the way of going than jumpers. Jumpers either go clean or don't; hunter classes are much more subjectively judged. Hunters should flow around a course, keeping a steady rhythm throughout, over and between the fences. Hunters use the entire ring (no time faults); there are no sharp or abrupt turns. They change leads when they change direction, preferably over the fence but otherwise with a flying lead change. Fences should be cleared safely, with no wasted effort; overjumping interupts the flow. The rider makes tiny, invisible adjustments. Everything is smooth and calm and lovely. It's like ballet with horses.

Hunters show in divisions, usually 2 or 3 jumping classes and one flat class in each division. Some have conformation portions, also. There are equitation classes where only the rider is judged. I think the original ideal was to show that your horse would be easy and safe to ride with the hunt all day.

As with every other discipline, there is ugly riding out there. Hunter riders tend to get stiff and perched. Hunter horses tend to move stiffly also, especially with a standing martingale which is part of the look. Because judges rewarded quietness too often, horses were jumped until they were dull. But there are good hunters and good riders out there, and they are beautiful to watch.

I will try to find you a hunter video tomorrow. I didn't like any of the ones I saw so far.

stillearning said...

This is a good example of a hunter, IMO. (You'll have to cut/paste, sorry...)

(Title:Adult Amateur Classic - Fritz)

(Title:Adult Amateur Stake - Fritz)

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for the help stillearning, now I am a bit wiser!
Wonderful rhythm and smoothness in the rides. As you say, very nice to look at.
What criteria are judged?

In Norway they have started with "style"-judging in lower show jumping classes, to get the riders to ride better.
The way and tempo between the obstacles are judged, the rider's seat and influence on the horse, and the presentation of the equipage (in addition to that the horse has to be clear as normal).
A good development IMO.

stillearning said...

Your "style" jumping criteria sounds about the same. The judging is subjective; there are no set points given and no formal protocol that I know of. The horse and rider with the best "way of going" gets pinned, but different judges like different styles. Sometimes it's hard to guess why the judge picked a winner.

I like that riders have the option of showing over small hunter courses, aiming for that beautiful, flowing ride without having to jump huge fences. It opens showing up for more people to have fun, and does encourage better riding, as you say.

stillearning said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HorseOfCourse said...

They use a protocol here, where you have posts that is given a score from 1-10, like in dressage. It is an way to promote better riding in show jumping. Then again, as long as you have an element of subjective judging there is always someone that doesn't agree.
A problem is though that even if the regulations now stipulate that the lower classes are to be judged either as a clear round or in "style", there hasn't been enough qualified style-judges to carry through with classes in such an extent that was planned, which is sad. But hopefully that will improve.

stillearning said...

Hi HOC, I don't know if you're still checking responses on this post, but wanted to report that I'm having a great time working thru this "lesson" of yours! My horse has tried every single evasion you mentioned, but when I focus on forward first he's no longer wiggly. I am so glad I asked you for clarification! My trainer's rather cryptic comment that my horse was not riding evenly into both sides of the bit might have sent me into the direction of using more hand, creating an even bigger problem.

After all the discussions re: resistant horses, and all the stories, I really think I have a mildly-resistant-teenager on my hands. It might make you smile to picture me riding with a Western-style over/under AND a pocketful of carrot bits, and I use both as needed. Today was a carrot day, I'm happy to report. He tried very hard to do changes within the canter for me, and got rewarded. He's doing very well at changes within trot, and at walk/trot transitions, too. Today we also added some circles, and did some transitions on the circle. All good.

Seems only fair to mention the good days, after complaining about the bad ones.

HorseOfCourse said...

When I have a good training act I think about it for several days, and get all warm inside.
I am happy for you, stillearning!

And it is a good thing to make the transistions on a circle too.
If the horse is working correctly, they engage the inside hind to keep the bend - thus making it easier to get a good transistion.
Please give your horse a carrot from me too!