"There are a few basics that all hunters must be able to do." M told us, standing in the middle of a semi-circle of horses on the hunt field during our hunter class. "They must have woah, go, left and right. They must be able to hack out in a group, or leave the group and go off on their own. Everything else is show business in the middle. These are the basics."
It seems so simple when you think about it and if asked, most people would probably say "sure, my horse has all of those things..." but does he really? If your chips in to a jump because he was pulling down the line, then "woah" hasn't been properly established. If he gets lazy and leaves long, then there isn't enough "go." If he gets excited while cantering in a group, then he doesn't hack in company and if he pins his ears back and kicks out when asked to leave the group, then he isn't independent of the herd and listening to his rider. What if he bulges through your outside rein in a dressage test? Then you don't have lateral control of left and right.
Almost any "problem" with horses can be traced back to these 4 simple basics and we explored those basics on Thursday in my hunter class by taking the horses out to the hunt field and asking them to perform certain actions. We established reliability in the group by having a good forward canter out in a big circle around the field. Our objective was to keep our horses in a forward hack canter while still keeping them quiet. The goal was to maintain self carraige on a looped rein over varied terrain without our mounts getting excited. I rode a chestnut TB named Cruz again and he proved to be quite good in the company of other horses. After that, M took us over to the cross country hills and banks and had us start by walking our horses up the hill, then trotting up and trotting down, and finally cantering up one side and walking down the other before turning around to trot back up and down again. This tested our horses ability to leave the group and their responsiveness to our leg, seat and reins. Cruz was really great, except that he wanted to canter back down the hill instead of trot, which reflects his ring manner...his tendancy to get above the bit instead of breaking at the poll. After that we got to jump our horses down a little bank, which was SUPER fun and reminded me of my eventing days :) I've got some great pictures from the lesson...which I will post below. It was such a fun learning experience!!
I applied a lot of these basics to Johnny today. E rode him in the indoor for the first time and he was EXCELLENT. I hacked him yesterday in the outdoor ring and also had a fabulous ride on him. We worked on tempo (woah vs. go) over trot poles, followed by a small x rail with two placing poles (take off and landing rails rolled out 9ft from the fence) which worked on his straightness (left and right...he has a tendancy to duck out on the poles when he is unsure) However he finished off the jumping BEAUTIFULLY and got perfect striding between the poles and the jump. To finish off the lesson I had E work on his canter by just keeping him going to get a consitant tempo (we still drift between 3 and 4 beats sometimes) They had some really nice moments!
Here are the photos from my riding class on Cruz:
cantering around the field
cantering up the hill...
...and down the bank!
Hopefully getting some pictures of Johnny soon!