|BENIGN ANTAGONISM-PART 4 HOW TO STRENGTHEN YOUR HORSE’S WEAKER HIND LEG
I’ve been getting tons of email about my series on “Benign Antagonism” so I’m going to continue it this month. Remember, benign antagonism is just a training philosophy that allows you to custom design a program for each and every horse. It simply means that you kindly and quietly do the opposite of whatever your horse chooses to do on his own.
So far in my newsletters, I’ve discussed riding your horse “deep” if he’s the type that likes to carry his head too high, and riding him “up” if he likes to put his head on the ground. If your horse likes to go too fast, then you work him in a slow tempo. If he has trouble bending in one direction, use benign antagonism to make your horse’s soft side more “stiff” and his stiff side more “soft” and bendable.
Having a weaker hind leg goes hand-in-hand with having a stiff and hollow side. There’s nothing wrong with your horse! Almost every horse has a weaker hind leg because few horses are ambidextrous. The weak hind leg is the hind leg on your horse’s “soft” or hollow side. His strong hind leg is on his stiff side.
The weak hind leg doesn’t step directly underneath your horse’s body. Your horse displaces this leg slightly to the side to avoid carrying weight with it. On the other hand, the hind leg on the stiff side carries more weight.
The issue here goes back to that old saying “use makes the muscle”. If you don’t work on strengthening the weaker leg, the weak hind leg gets weaker, and the strong hind leg gets stronger.
This can lead to all kinds of problems down the road like taking an uneven contact with the bit, uneven lengthenings, and difficulty doing lateral work in one direction.
Avoiding carrying weight with the weaker hind leg can be very subtle. Often your horse will put his hind leg only an inch or so to the side. An observant ground person can tell you which hind leg your horse is “unloading”. Walk and trot straight away from her. Then change direction and do the same. If your horse’s left hind leg is weaker than his right hind leg, he’ll carry it slightly to the left regardless of which direction you’re going.
Since this evasion can be subtle, your benignly antagonistic correction can be subtle as well. The solution is to ask your horse’s left hind leg to do a little “weight-lifting”. Do this by moving his hindquarters an inch or so to the right so his left hind leg has to step under his body. Ask for this position in both directions on all lines and curves. This will give his weaker hind leg an opportunity to get stronger. One word of caution here. Since you know this leg is weaker, be sure you give your horse lots of walk breaks so he can relax his muscles. There’s a fine line between strengthening muscles and making them sore.
If your horse is a bit more educated, you can do the same sort of exercise by always placing him in a very slight shoulder-fore or renvers position when you track to the left. When you track to the right, put him in a very slight haunches-in position. Every position should place his left hind leg a hair to the inside of his left front leg. Once again, moving the hind leg over an inch or two is more than enough to do the job.
| HAPPY HORSE CONTEST WINNER!
My friend Ruth Hogan-Poulsen (www.ruthhoganpoulsen.com) ran a contest to give away a free Happy Horse Course. I got such a kick out of the essay sent in by the winner, Stephanie Landvater. I thought you might enjoy it too.
I have to share my 1st encounters with Jane and how she has influenced me without knowing it.
About 5 or 6 years ago, Jane was at the Equine Affaire. Totally unplanned I happened to walk in on her lecture as it was beginning. It was her inspirational lecture in one of the small class rooms. I was so impressed by her words, especially about negative verses positive thoughts, that I started writing notes on my program as I did not have note paper. I began seeing my whole situation at my job and my life differently. I knew I could survive and even thrive but I had to change things.
She then had a dressage session immediately to follow. As I had no time to hunt down more paper to take notes, I frantically grabbed a roll of paper towels from the bathroom en route. I did not want to miss a single thing she had to say. I was going to start riding my horses again no matter how busy my life was. (As I sit here now and write, I look over at my paper towel roll and chuckle. It has been my home riding program for 5 years). She started off with exercises to supple and I devoured the information and wrote it down on my paper towel,in pencil no less.
She went on to collection, half halts, shoulder-in, straightness exercises. I watched and I wrote….the roll became a scroll. I took it home and started working with my mare, Destiny. We worked on straightness and I felt her rhythm. It was rewarding to feel her supple up. I am awaiting the day that I can get the time to take dressage lessons and learn with her. Until that opportunity, I will stick with the basics from my roll of paper towel.
| READER MAILBAG
I purchased your book, “It’s Not Just About the Ribbons,” at the Ohio Equine Affaire in 2006. I thought it would be the typical “how-to” training book and was very disappointed to find that it wasn’t. I figured that I might as well read it since I wasted the money on it. Now, almost two years later, I can’t even begin to tell you how much that book has helped me!!
I’ve had fear issues as a rider for the past 15 years. I can’t explain why, except that I was surrounded by a number of people who kept telling me what I COULDN’T do. It got so bad at one point that I would get sick just thinking about going out to the barn and riding my horse. I was able to overcome a lot of those fears by just doing my own thing and not trying to live up to other people’s expectations, but I never quite got over the show jitters. This year, I started working part-time (all I could afford) with a wonderful trainer. I think you call that the Law of Attraction; just believe enough and it will happen. I started with a horse who had been trained in a Western curb and ran away with me in the snaffle. My goal for the year was “to show in Training Level,” but I was scared to death. Well, I started using a lot of the techniques from “Ribbons.” The ideas that helped me the most were setting my goals in a positive way (eliminating the word ‘not’ from my vocabulary), perfect practice/visualization, and (the big one!) concentrating on what I wanted instead of my fears. I’ll bet I’ve said, “Soft, round, and supple” a million times this past year. I knew if my horse was “soft, round, and supple” then she wasn’t spooking and running off with me!
Long story short; my “Non-traditional dressage horse” (I own and compete on a 15.1H Morgan mare) showed in Training Level this year. We finished with 12 year-end awards, including 5 from our state dressage club, 5 from our state Morgan club, 1 from the USEF and 1 from the USDF. My goal for next year is to go to the Morgan National Championships. You can bet there will be a copy of “Ribbons” packed in the tack box!
I’m not sure if you remember me or not. I was the rider at your Boyce, Va lecture last weekend with the wake-up call after reading That Winning Feeling. I just had to share this experience with you. I’m a high school history teacher and during one of my classes yesterday a student came down with an awful case of the hiccups. Here I am trying to teach about the Byzantine Empire, and all I can think about is “I wonder if Jane’s (Emotional Freedom Technique) tapping points really work on hiccups.” So I stopped teaching and had the class try it. It worked!!! I was so impressed. I look forward to using the method on my show nerves this spring!! Thanks so much!!
I am from Australia, and would just like to thank you soooo much for this latest newsletter on flexion and bend!!! After 4 years of trying to get back into riding (doing the good mum and wife thing), I gave my beloved horse away (2 years ago) as a paddock companion after being told he hurt his sacroiliac.
Well, I didn’t have the same love for the horses after he went. When his replacement was diagnosed with Headshaker’s Syndrome, I hit rock bottom. Well, around 8 weeks ago I found out the lady I gave him to couldn’t afford to keep him and was looking for a new home. Next minute, here he is back in my paddock looking fantastic (Okay. fluffy hair and long mane etc. But brilliant condition!). I decided I would give up competition if it meant I could ride him and find my joy again.
So, two years of sitting in a paddock and not ridden, I put my saddle on and jump on and go for a ride around the property (Yup. No lunging first!!!) The next day I rode him in the arena, and within a few minutes he was soft and round and ready to please (Okay. One little squeal at the canter. Ha ha).
I have taken him very slowly to get him back into work, but WAIT FOR IT!!! I have now gone to our first competition!!! We placed first in our prep test (walk /trot) and 6th out of 14 in our prelim test. His behavior was impeccable, and I can’t quite believe that I am in a dressage ring again.
Now, after totally blubbering on (sorry), I will get to my point. Both the tests said exactly the same thing. Horse needs to bend around inside leg more!!!! And then, here is your (newsletter) all about bending around inside leg!
We still have a very long way to go. But I have not enjoyed my horses so much in so many years. I don’t care. He is worth the wait.
So keep up the great emails, I, for one, totally appreciate them. I ride on my own too, so it’s always hard to know you are on the right track.
Donna (and Novac and Wombat the baby)
|QUICK TIP-MAINTAIN THE TEMPO
Get an inexpensive digital metronome and clip it to your belt. Set it to the tempo of your horse’s “good” walk, trot, or canter. Then perform the movements such as leg yielding in the trot or counter canter as you follow the beat.
Here’s another excerpt from my Winning Attitude book. Enjoy!
The only reason we don’t go after our dreams is because we believe that our abilities are limited. The truth is that the “belief ceiling” is only in our imagination.
The following story illustrates that the “belief ceiling” is only in our minds. A friend of mine who is a schoolteacher tells of taking her students to the circus. At the circus, the kids saw huge elephants who placidly stayed in an open grazing area. They were restrained only by simple pegs and chains. She explained that the reason the elephants didn’t just pull up the stakes and run was because originally they were trained as youngsters. When they were little, no matter how hard they pulled, they weren’t strong enough to free themselves. After repeatedly having no success, eventually they gave up because they BELIEVED THEY DID NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY TO BREAK FREE. They stayed enslaved by their belief in their own lack of power -just as many of us do not reach our potential because of beliefs that we are not strong enough, smart enough, athletic enough, old enough, young enough, talented enough, or wealthy enough to reach our dreams.
Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever you can conceive and believe, you can achieve.” Think about it. If you truly believed that you’d succeed at everything you tried, what would stop you from “going for it”?
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – The Dalai Lama
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