What this program does is prepare a horse and rider with little or no background in dressage for working a horse in rhythm and contact. Once you and the horse get familiar with the program you will be ready to start learning dressage.
Because this way it will be safer, feel more beautiful and will allow you and the horse to be more versatile and to serve the children better. It’s also FUN. Think of it all as a game and also as a series of keys to various doors that will eventually take you into some extremely cool stuff. Doing it this way is stress free.
Once you get to the end of this program, you’ll need to start working with an instructor but these exercises can be done solo. Think of it like learning basic cords on a guitar or basic grammar of a language. At a certain point anyone learning a new skill needs a mentor. These exercises will help you and the horse be ready when that mentor appears.
Before you begin any of this, stand in a relaxed pose put your arms straight out then bring them in to your body so that you hug yourself. As you hug yourself, say ‘I’m really cool for wanting to learn some complicated stuff. And I’m brave to begin.’ Promise yourself that you won’t beat yourself up if it takes a bit of time to learn these exercises. Promise to be kind to yourself and that if it starts to go a bit wrong to simply stop, give yourself some compassion and start again. It will come. Don’t worry; we are only monkeys sitting on zebras. Make a deal with yourself to be kind to yourself and to not mind if it takes a while to learn something new.
1. On the ground => make the horse yield the quarters in a slow 4;4 rhythm. To do this right, slowly take the inside rein short and the outside rein over the middle point of the horses neck and hold both together with your inside hand so that the horse has to look towards you. Then with your outside hand you press with the butt of your dressage stick just behind the girth. As the horse steps his quarters away from you, with his head bend towards you, you want to make sure that his inside hind leg crosses in FRONT of his outside hind leg, while his head keeps that inside bend. Go slow, take your time. No rush. It can be hard to get this one right. Then mount the horse and have him move forward from a tap of the stick on his butt, rather than from your legs or seat. that way you sit still, he moves.
2. Ride the horse at walk in an active 4;4 rhythm then slow (if poss do it to Vivaldi: Lute and Mandolin concerto adagio)
3. Go back and forth between active and slow walks every 10 steps both directions
4. Play a game: “the Slowest Walk in the world” How slow can you go without actually stopping?
5. Do this on trail rides and in the school
6. In rhythm walk/halt/walk transitions 10 times both directions
7. Halt/trot/halt in in both directions (Secret tip: have the horse stand still for 2 breaths when you stop and if he backs up, kick/tap him forward into the trot)
8. Long lines: 10 minutes walk around field with halts every 20 paces
9. Repeat exercise 1
10. Repeat exercise 2
11. Pick up a trot rising. Count 2;2 rhythm in your head (and put Desmond Dekker “it mek” on the boombox) and try to ride as close to this rhythm as possible till the end of the song. Change directions every 30 secs or so but keep the rhythm consistent.
12. Go from rising to sitting 10 paces each while counting one, two, one, two out loud in rhythm with the song.
13. Play a game: “the slowest trot in the world” sitting trot. Go from active in rhythm to really, really, really slow in rhythm if possible and back again 8-10 times.
14. In rhythm, halt/trot, trot/halt – 10 times in both directions. (Secret tip, as above)
15. Long lines: Repeat exercise 8 but ask for a few little steps of trot every now and then. The moment you feel pulled forward come back to walk or halt.
16. Repeat day 2
17. Repeat exercise 1
18. Repeat exercise 2
19. Pick up a sitting trot, count the 2;2 rhythm in your head. Go once around the school in each direction. If you lose the rhythm go back to a halt wait a breath then pick up a trot again.
20. Count 10 strides of rhythmic trot and halt. Then 8 and halt, then 6 and halt, then 4 and halt, and 2 and halt, then 1 and halt. Change directions and do the same again. (Secret tip: If horse backs up or goes sideways after you halt - kick/tap him forward into the trot immediately. then stop again - we want the halts to be as crsip and clean as possible - basically make sure you get a proper halt not a half assed kind of thing between each trot sequence).
21. Practice a leg yield. At a walk in rhythm go up the 3 quarter line and shift your weight in the direction you want to go. then go straight. then go across again, then straight... 2-3 steps of leg yield is fine.
22. Long lines: Repeat exercise 15 above.
23. Trail ride – practice walking in rhythm on long and short rein. Practice trotting in rhythm on long and short rein. Practice walk/halt/walk, practice trot/halt/trot with varying numbers of steps in between. make a game of this. bend round trees as you do it. change directions as often as you can without breaking rhythm.
24. Pick some trees and practice walking ever tighter, smaller sprialling circles around them without breaking rhythm. When this feels comfortable try sitting to the outside to widen the circle again. (This is leg yield in a circle – it’s a bit of a trial and error thing, but basically you want to get used to the idea of spiraling in tight with no break in rhythm and then stepping out diagonally for a couple of steps without breaking rhythms. Play with this until it feels familiar and easy…)
Same as week 1
What is contact? It’s when the horse feels lighter in hand, yet also really available. He moves forward freely without yanking, pulling or leaning. Theres a bit of lift to his step. Your hands can be pretty still, because he starts to carry himself. This is the fruit of rhythm.
(Secret Tip: Learn how to carry a dressage stick, so that you can tap, tap on the horses quarters in rhythm when you need it without moving your hand – Secret Tip of Secret Tip: If your wrists are vertical, you’ll get good contact. Think sky reflecting in your thumbnail. Secret tip of secret tip of secret tip - if you press your thumb just below the knob of the whip handle it makes it easier to operate on the horse's croup or quarters - practice doing this a big with the stick before you get on the horse...)
It will be helpful to have a horse in a market harborough (German Martingale) to help you connect his front end with his back end.
25. Walking in rhythm (4;4) look at your wrists and your thumbs. Are they vertical? Play a game riding in walk 10 paces then stop, 8 then stop, 6, 4 etc. Each time you stop ask yourself are my thumbs reflecting the sky and does the horse stop cleanly? If he doesn’t your reins are probably too long (Secret Tip: we usually ride with longer reins than we should. Every time that you shorten the reins, shorten a bit more than you think you should and you probably will be where you ought to be). Make sure you play this game in both directions.
26. Repeat exercise 25 but in sitting trot counting the rhythm 2;2
27. Go out on the trail do your trail ride as much at the trot as you can, alternating between rising and sitting every 10 – 20 paces. Experiment with longer trot steps and shorter trot steps without breaking rhythm by tapping on the horse's butt with your stick. Find trees. Trot in circles around them gradually tightening and tightening in sitting trot without breaking your rhythm. Try to leg yield out from the tightest circle just as you did in week one and two in the walk.
28. Long lines: Try to go as many steps with the horse in trot and you in walk as possible. Every time you feel pulled, stop and start again. (Secret Tip: If you click out of the side of your mouth in rhythm every second step, the horse will work to that rhythm and will start to collect his trot to the speed of your walk.)
29. Play a game: put a line of cones and bend through them at a rhythmic trot. How many times can I lengthen or compress the step without breaking the rhythm and while keeping the horse bending? Play with this. Notice how the horse comes lighter as he bends. Notice how he yields his quarters away from your inside leg. Fish around and play.
30. Play another game: get some bamboo gardening sticks and do the same rhythmic bending exercise with the cones but this time, stop at cones at random and either put a stick into the cone or take it out of the cone (effectively this is a collected trot game with bending). You are now riding one handed which is the preparation for effective back-riding. Chances are it starts to go a little bit pants or tits up. This is the point at which to learn to neck rein. So play with this exercise till the horse can neck rein through the cones.
(Secret Tip: to neck rein effectively you need a short rein so that the outside rein lays against the MIDDLE – half way between withers and ears - of the horses neck. If your hand is too far down towards the withers it is too difficult for the horse and ckind of pulls them the wrong way. Use your outside leg to help support and the inside leg to help pivot. Turn your shoulders and gaze in direction of your hand and the horse will neck rein more easily). Play with this until it feels comfortable.
31. Long line though the cones at a walk. Ask for little bits of trot wherever you can.
32. Repeat all exercises from Day 12
33. Go for a trail ride on the long lines. Meaning a trail walk. Keep as much rhythmic trot as you can. Find trees to bend around, practice more active and more condensed trots without breaking rhythm. You should get pretty tired after this. But it really helps to build feel of contact and top line muscle for the horse which ultimately you will need for collection.
(Secret Tip: Start to notice as you bend the horse in the long lines how his inside hind crosses in front of his outside hind and how his back legs come more underneath him when you compress the step and when you stop clean. We are looking forward in time here towards the building blocks of collection - all collection really is is teahcing the horse to get his hind legs under himself and keep them there...)
34. We are going to introduce some canter. Unschooled horses go into canter by falling forwards off balance from a trot (i.e. kicking them into canter from a running trot). They also are hard to stop – coming back to walk via the same running trot. This is horrible for the rider and when back-riding it jolts the kid around. So we want to get something smoother and nicer and - guess what -more rhythmic. We are assuming that your horses do not yet go in and out of canter smoothly but the exercises we have been doing have built both more back and neck muscle and more controlled movement into the horse, so we are now ready to think about nicer canters - if not to perform them yet.
So today's exercise is simply one of awareness. In the field, practice going into the canter and counting the rhythm 3;3 timing. Then play a game. Can I canter twenty steps without breaking the rhythm (at this stage a too fast rhythm – but we will work on slowing the canter in the next weeks) and can I come back to walk relatively quickly?
Here is the game: Canter 20 steps and try to walk. It doesn’t matter how rough this is, just try it. Then break it down to 18 steps, and walk, 16 steps and walk, 14 steps and walk, 12 steps and walk, 10 steps and walk. And then, can I get relatively quickly back into the canter from my walk. The answer at this stage will probably be no and after all the nice rhythmic trot walk, this canter will probably feel pretty shit. We now know the kind of cadence we are working towards and we will get there.
(Secret Tip: dont allow the horse to go into canter from a harsh running trot after the first few times but ask from a slow, cadenced jog trot. Secret Tip of Secret Tip - if yuou push the horse a little to the outisde in the bend (ie a small leg yield of three steps or so) just before you ask for canter you'll get a nicer step. Secret Tip of Secret Tip of secret Tip: When you want to come down to the walk, look back behind you at an imaginary little terrier that is trotting slowly along behind you. Every time you look back towards this little dog, your weight will automatically slow the horse down a little bit and put his hind legs underneath him a little bit. Just get a feel for this. Every time you want to walk or just slow the rhythm a little, look back at the little dog… even point at him. the horse will come suddenly light and easy in your hand. )
Getting nice rhythmic canters and transitions in and out of canter will come from the horse being able to move its quarters from one side to another without breaking its rhythm. This is not the same ‘suppleness’ that you on the German dressage training pyramid. That word really translates to ‘looseness’. What we mean here is suppleness in the English sense i.e. that the horse can move its neck, spine and quarters without breaking it’s rhythm which is a preparation for all sorts of fun stuff later on.
35. Lay out the cones in a 10 meter circle more or less. Ride around at the walk doing the 10 steps and stop, 8 steps and stop etc. As you ride the walk (in rhythm) see if a subtle shift of your weight to the outside gets you a side way step while still in the circle.
Then see if a subtle shift of weight to the inside gets you a side way step that way while still in the circle. If it does then try to ask for the quarters to move out (this is the beginning of what dressage people call the laterals).
If that works try asking the horse to move his quarters to the inside. These movements can be very small. It is really just a question of letting him know that he can move his quarters one way or the other without breaking this rhythm or leaving the circle. Be very relaxed about this. And remember, you are all the time riding 10 steps and stop, 8 steps and stop etc.
Because those downward transitions get his back legs underneath him which then helps him activate his quarters. (Secret Tip: If you have been learning to carry the dressage stick and tap, tap in rhythm on his quarters you can now use the stick to help him move his quarters from side to side.)
36. Go out on the trail and ride along a lane or track. Try to move the horses quarters to the left a few steps, then straighten up and then go straight a few steps, and then try to move the quarters to the right a few steps and so on. You will need the dressage stick to help you here. Try this at an active rhythm and a slow rhythm with stops in between (Secret Tip: if you are straight before asking for a movement of the quarters, it'll come easier - so dont rush, take time to ask yourself 'Am I straight?' before asking for a movement of the quarters.)
37. If it goes well pick up a slow sitting jog trot (remember the “slowest trot in the world game” - that is kind of the trot you want. Then ask for the same movements to the left and right with the quarters at the trot, remembering to go straight for a few steps in between. You should be able to count the 2 2 rhythm as you do this.
38. Canter on the trail. Before you start the canter, pick a tree, say 50 yards away and make up your mind in advance to stop there, which means beginning your stop by looking for the little dog 3 or 4 times before you stop. (Secret Tip: If you ask the horse to canter out of the slow jog trot and small leg yield you will get a nicer transition.)
39. Repeat Day 16
40. Repeat Day 17
41. Play a game: lay out a series of cones in a 20 meter circle. You are going to ride one handed with a bamboo stick in your free hand. You are going to canter half way around, stop put your stick in the half way cone. Canter all the way around again, stop, pick the stick up. Canter half way around again, stop, put the stick in. Canter all the way around, stop, pick the stick up etc. You can do this with several sticks in several cones too.
How to make this smooth? Remember your rhythm, it’s a 3;4 waltz. Remember that if you ask for the canter out of the slowest jog trot you can, and a small leg yield to the outside, you will get a nicer transition. If you start fishing a bit at this point you may well get a transition to canter from walk. Your first step of collected canter in other words. Remember also that if you look around for the little dog, repeatedly, the horse will automatically slow his canter and give you a smoother stop. Play with this until the horse really starts to understand that he can go from walk to canter and canter to walk/stop. All of the exercises you have done to this point have helped prepare his mind and body as well as your own for the walk/canter, canter/walk transition, which is the basis of everything cool. Your horse is now ready to begin learning actual dressage.
Repeat Week 4 without stirrups (Secret Tip: Try to imagine that you are not sitting on the horse. Try to imagine that you are standing in an ‘at rest’ martial arts pose. You just happen to have a horse between you and the ground. It will go much smoother if you imagine this. Also you will know when you have done a movement correctly by how beautiful it feels. If it feels beautiful it’s good. If not, then it isn’t but don’t worry if you keep your rhythm it will become beautiful. Secret Tip of Secret Tip: when riding without stirrups on the flat dont put your heels down - instead let your toes dangle downward)
Take a vacation and find a dressage instructor to help you begin your dressage ride. Or watch your email inbox for the next 4 weeks of the program...
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The Horse Boy Method is not intended or offered as a cure for autism. Ameliorative effects may or may not occur. The method was found to be very useful with Rupert's son Rowan and with other children subsequently. We simply follow what worked for Rowan and others but there is no guarantee of outcome.
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