Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Scales of Training


Scales of Training



Here is a quick overview of the scales of training. The scales of training are an internationally used training system for horses.  They should be worked on and achieved in order to enable the horse to work properly and through.  A horse cannot be truly supple until he works in a rhythm, and until the horse is supple he will not be able to maintain a consistent contact and so forth.  The scales can also be a helpful checklist for the rider to monitor the horses way of going.




Rhythm

Rhythm is the first thing that should be established with any horse, regardless of age, ability or discipline.  There are two parts to rhythm, a regular footfall and tempo.  The regular footfalls should be correct for the pace, four in walk, two in trot and three in canter. The tempo should be the same, a measured beat in each pace regardless of the pace, and whether they are on a straight line or on a corner/circle – or any other schooling or lateral movement.

Suppleness

Suppleness is related to how relaxed the horse is and how capable he is to use all of his muscles correctly.  You want the horse to be resistance free, allowing the muscles and joints to freely move even when the rider applies aids.   The most important muscles are those over the horse’s top line, from poll to the hindquarters.  A good test of this is to lengthen the rein, the horse should not want to raise his head above the bit, but stretch down.

Contact

Contact is often misunderstood.  This is a connection from the horse’s mouth to the riders hand, and achieved by the rider correctly using the leg and seat aids to get the horse stepping through and using his top line muscles.  This will create a truly round horse.   His steps will be springy and energetic – with this energy being felt in the reins by the rider – creating a light and elastic contact.


Impulsion

This is the amount of power and energy the horse creates and the rider contains.  It comes from the hindquarters to create bigger, more energetic steps – pushing the power forward into the rein contact. The rein contact prevents the horse rushing, therefore containing the power for these bigger steps.  Any loss of suppleness will block this energy travelling through the horse.

Straightness

This is as it sounds - keeping the horse straight.  Like humans the horse naturally tends towards the left or right.  You want your horse to have an even feel in both reins and for him to track up straight in all three paces on a straight line and circle.  A crooked horse will struggle with suppleness and impulsion.

Collection

This is the hardest scale to truly perform.  The horse will not be able to collect until muscle and strength has been developed in the hindquarters through the other scales.  Collection is used to lighten the horses forehand and allow more athleticism to be shown by allowing more movement through the shoulder. Meaning more and more weight will be carried by the hind quarters and the hind legs will step under more.  The ultimate show of collection is Piaffe.



This article was bought to you by ESTRIDE – The innovative fitness tracker for horse and rider.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Exercises to Help Your Horse’s Canter


Exercises to Help Your Horse’s Canter



Getting a good balance in your horses training can be difficult.  Things that are perceived tricky by either you or your horse are often glossed over – and one the most neglected gait is the Canter.  Below are 5 simple exercises to help you and your horse’s canter, from getting more engagement to improving the transitions.



Walk to Canter Transitions

Walk to canter.  In principal a very easy thing to do - get a nice active, forward walk and then slide the outside leg back, inside leg on the girth and canter! But in reality it is a much harder exercise, with the walk turning into that infuriating jog-trot or becoming lateral – or even your horse feeling the aid and quite happily hopping into trot.  When you start this exercise expect it to start off as a progressive transition, especially with a young or inexperienced horse, with a few strides of trot before going into canter.  If this is the case, then you want to stay sat in the trot apply in the canter aid until the horse canters, if there are more than 2-3 strides of trot before the canter then you may benefit for giving the horse in question a tap with a whip (ideally a schooling whip so that you don’t have to adjust your grip on the reins). The walk should feel purposeful but not rushed, before you ask for the canter you want to ask for a slightly collected walk, with a half halt but keeping the leg on to prevent a loss of energy.   After a few repetitions of the transition you should get a much more fluid walk to canter, without the trot strides.  A good transition should feel powerful and you should feel the hind-legs really step under and the forehand lift.  This will help the horse engage his back legs in the canter and build up strength through the hindquarters.


Figure of Eight

This exercise is great for getting the horse responding to the aids, and really focussing on what you are doing – which means the riding has to be correct.  We are going to assume you are starting on the right rein but it really doesn’t matter which rein you start on.  To start with you want to be in right canter on a 20-meter circle, preferably a nice balanced canter with inside bend – but you certainly do not want a rushed (fast or flat) canter.  This exercise works best in a 20X40-meter arena, but any space that is longer than 40-meters is fine.  As you approach the centre line at X you want to come back to trot for 2-3 strides and change the rein onto the other rein - keeping balanced and changing the bend if you can; if this takes more than 2-3 strides then fine, you can ask for trot earlier and the canter later, but you must keep the horse balanced.  Then asking for left canter and riding a left canter circle of 20-meters.  This quick change of leg will get the horse really listening to your leg aids and using the hind-quarters to push through the upward transitions.  If your horse starts anticipating the change of leg you can stay on the same rein riding canter-trot-canter transitions to get the horse paying attention to the outside leg coming back as well as helping you with the bend on the circle.


Medium Canter

This exercise is really good for horses who like to back off in the canter, and who anticipate the downward transition back to trot.  Start in a working canter around the arena, apply more leg aid to your horse, encouraging a faster/longer canter.  Start off accepting any forward change in the canter, and then start to use a half halt as your leg is applied.  This should encourage the horse to lengthen the stride instead of just speed up.   Repeat this a few times - adding in some 20-meter circles to give some variation on the exercise.  You should feel your horse’s canter become more uphill and less likely to back off to the trot.  A good medium canter should have the same rhythm as the working canter but just be longer striding.


Stride Planned Transitions

This is a bit like the figure of eight, it works on getting your horse listening to your aids, but it also helps keep your horse using his legs and keeping impulsion.   Have in your head a set number of strides (5-10 works best I find) and ride upward and downward transitions to and from the canter, only staying in canter that number of strides.  This is very helpful as it gives the rider an aim for the transitions.  You can also use markers in the arena to ride the exercise to make it a bit easier.  Be strict with yourself as well, if your horse starts trying to break into trot keep the canter longer and start varying the length of the canter.

Poles

This really is a simple exercise, although a lot easier with someone on the ground to assist you.  Lay out 3-5 poles in a straight line with 3 yards in between them (length of an average canter stride for a 15.2hh horse).  Firstly trot through them, getting a feel of the horse over them, especially for the greener horses and ponies.  Do not worry if they get knocked as you go over them, just make sure they are reset each time (cue person on the ground), and before you canter over them get the canter moving forward and with good impulsion.  You can use some circles or transitions to help the hind legs come under a little more. As you come over the poles keep the leg aids on to push through them and deter them falling back to trot over them.  The poles should encourage a more open and even canter, which should be maintained after the poles with the inside leg.  There is a good chance that your horse will not be able to maintain this new canter for a period of time if it is the first time using this sort of exercise so once completed successfully a 2-5 times each rein it is wise to move on.  If the horse kicks the poles out, they MUST be reset before coming over them again, or they may interfere with the horses canter rather than help.  If there is consistent knocking of the poles there is a good chance that the horse is on the forehand and rushing, use half halts and shorten the periods of canter to assist this.



The effectiveness of these exercises will vary depending on your horse’s level of training, age, breed/type and experience.  They can all be modified to make them harder or easier for the horse you are riding/training.  It will take time, patience and accurate training records to help you improve the quality of your horse’s canter.



This article was bought to you by ESTRIDE – The innovative fitness tracker for horse and rider.


Monday, 7 August 2017

Exercises to Help Your Horse’s Trot

Every horse is different.  They all have things they like and things they don’t, and a bit like their human counterparts, they mostly favour going on one rein than the other.  Or they enjoy some exercises more than others.  Also like us when they start to work they may feel a bit stiff or tight. Have a look at these 5 simple exercises to help improve your horse’s trot:

 

Medium Trot

This exercise is really good for helping your horse move more forward and listening to your leg more - and is nicely simple.  Start off in your normal working trot around the arena, and then ask your horse to trot into a longer stride – this may feel uncomfortable for the horse, but after a few strides return to working trot; do not allow canter.  Repeat this a few times - adding in some 20-meter circles to give some variation on the exercise.  You should feel your horse’s trot becoming looser and more willing to go forward, you may even find that the working trot will become longer striding.

Leg Yield on a Circle

This exercise is very good for getting the hind legs really powering through and developing that inside bend.  Start on a 20-meter circle, starting in a nice rhythmical working trot.  Gently spiral down the circle to as small as you can until there is loss of balance and rhythm.  From here, leg yield out to the original size circle, whilst keeping an inside bend.  Keep an outside rein contact to help prevent the horse falling out through the outside shoulder and preventing over flexion to the inside with the head and neck.  Repeat this on both reins, aiming to get the smaller inside circles smaller each time you spiral down.  To make this more challenging, you can make a figure of eight – changing the rein onto a circle the other way after the leg yield returns you to the original 20-meter circle.  You should feel the rhythm and balance in the trot improve – it will encourage a natural inside bend whilst staying forward.

Corner Transitions

This exercise is really good for getting your horse forward and off of your leg.  Ride a square or rectangle, either large around the arena or between certain markers.  Make sure you are strict with the shape for best results.  Pick up a comfortable trot on the shape, maintain this along the straight lines, collect and slow the trot before the corner and then transition to walk two strides out from the corner, ask for inside bend around the corner.  Pick up trot two strides out form the corner and repeat.  The smaller the square the harder the exercise, however if you make it too small, then there may be a loss of balance and rhythm in the trot.  This exercise can also be done the other way around, walk the straight lines and pick up trot around the corners – this can increase the horse’s responsiveness to the aids.  You should see a development in the upward and downward transitions in the trot.  


Canter

The canter transition can be a very valuable tool in improving the trot.  Ask your horse for a few strides of canter before returning to trot.  Work on keeping the trot balanced and even throughout the transitions.  This can be achieved with half halts throughout the transitions; it will be easier if the horse is forward and off your leg in the trot and canter throughout.  Include 10-15-meter circles in the exercise to help balance the trot before and after the canter.  You should notice that trot beginning to swing though the hips and becoming more powerful from the hindquarters.


Shallow Loops with Circles

This exercise is really good for the horse’s suppleness when ridden with accuracy, therefore improving the quality of your horses trot.  This exercise is very simple in its essence but pleasantly difficult to ride.  Start in a corner leading to a long side of the arena, ride a 10-15-meter circle – whichever you feel like your horse can cope with without losing balance and rhythm in the trot.  From the circle ride a 5-meter shallow loop, as you re-join the track ride another 10-15-meter circle.  Accuracy of the shape is very important, make sure you ride into all corners and ride all circles accurately, adding inside bend where appropriate.  The changing of direction and bend on the shallow loops will really help to loosen your horse off.




Not all of these exercises will help every horse, and you may find some more effective than others.  It is beneficial to ride these exercises on the rein both you and your horse feels the most comfortable to start with, before moving onto the other rein.  Improving the quality of the horses trot may take time depending on the horse’s age and ability, and patience is essential in any training.



This article was bought to you by ESTRIDE – The innovative fitness tracker for horse and rider.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Is my Horse Fit Enough?


We all know how important your horse’s fitness is, but what is fitness? There are many ways to tell if a horse is fit, how long how fast or far the horse can go without winding itself, how long they can school for or even how many jumps they can do per training session.  The fact is that fitness in horses is relative – just like in human athletes.  If you try and judge a marathon runner by their ability to run 100 meters then they will not appear fit.  It is the same with our equine athletes; a showjumper is not going to be able to complete a 30km endurance ride with the same effectiveness as an endurance horse.  


When assessing your horse’s fitness there are many factors to take into account.  You want your horse's fitness to match your goal; be it hacking, competing or just being able to enjoy your horse. Before starting fitness work it is a good idea to give your horse a health check.  Checking vaccination and farrier records and getting the vet out for a check-up would be a good idea – especially with an older horse.

Developing a purpose built training programme is a very good idea, building week on week to improve your horse’s fitness. You can tailor an effective plan with your trainer – this is the first step to reaching that final goal.  You want to develop an individual plan for your horse depending on age, current fitness level, any previous injuries and previous fitness levels.  A horse who has previously been very fit may not take as long to regain that fitness.  The main aim of a fitness plan is to minimise the risk of injury and whilst getting to the optimal performance for your goal.  You want to increase your horse’s fitness gradually to allow your horse’s body to adjust to the increased workload – if you move too quickly you increase the chance of tissue damage. 


But how do you know if your programme is working? Well there are many different ways to do this.  You can keep track of each session by hand, how the horse felt through the session and how easily the horse coped with the session.  There are other options available.  For example, phone apps which can track the horses speed and movement during sessions, logging these keeping a record of them for comparison.  Fitness tracker worn by riders can also be used to track sessions but give very limited information on the horse’s way of going.

There is now a new breed of fitness tracker – especially for horses; with Estride being the newest and probably most thorough home Equine biomechanics system currently on the market.  Estride is a rider friendly fitness tracker with unique system of tracking your riding sessions. It is designed to help you get the most out of each training session with your horse. It can measure Training Time, Stride Count, Gait Pattern, Session Regularity, Horse Stability and Calorie Burn for starters.  It can even be used to help you rehabilitate your horse post injury, with early indications of stride change. It can give you detailed information on each legs movement and the horses balance and stability in each pace on each rein. 



There is an Estride that would suit you; we cater for people of all interests, from people who just like to hack, up to high level competitors. You are an Estrider, because you care.  You can access the data you record anywhere, anytime with their MyEstride app, you can compare sessions between weeks and months, and even between different horses.  You can even set yourself session goals, such as steps taken and time spent in each gait – with easy to understand charts and pictograms to understand what your data is telling you. 

Article as appearing in Equestrian Life Magazine

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Assessing Your Horse’s Fitness and Performance: How Objective Data Can Help You Improve Subjective Criteria

by Patricia Salem


Have you ever experienced this scenario? You finish your dressage test and hang out where the scores are posted, eagerly awaiting what is sure to be a win in your category. But when your test is finally revealed, your score is much lower than you anticipated, and the judge’s comments are full of phrases like “more extension,” “move out more,” and “smoother transitions.”

Or maybe you’ve had a similar disappointment with your first Thoroughbred racehorse. Coming back from a spell, you’ve been cautious about workouts, only going to full speed about once per week or so. You were happy with the final training breeze, but in your first race, your gelding breaks well and then fades to the back of the pack, finishing in last place.
In each case above, the owner of the horse didn’t really have an accurate perception of the horse’s condition or their ability to compete rigorously against the field. Of course, the looming question is how do you do better next time? Is there a way to assess your horse’s performance in training sessions to better predict outcomes in actual competition?

What is horse training on a scientific level?
Before discussing how to assess your horse’s training, it’s helpful to define training in a scientific manner. What is training exactly?
Training is exercising your horse in such a way as to ask for both physical and mental adjustments that change the horse’s anatomy, at least temporarily during the period of training. These adaptations fall into multiple categories:
  • cardiovascular
  • musculoskeletal
  • temperature regulation and metabolism
  • central and peripheral nervous system
Examples of measurements of success in these headings include:
  • lower heart rate with exertion
  • increased VO2MAX (the ability to consume and use oxygen more efficiently)
  • improved strength in muscles and supporting structures, such as bones, tendons, and ligaments
  • decreased recovery time after exertion
  • acclimatization to heat
  • improved coordination when executing skills, such as performing movements in a chain or responding appropriately and consistently to cues and aids

How can the beginning rider measure horse fitness?
While a veterinarian in a lab can acquire data to measure many of the above metrics and more, what is the average rider or small stable owner to do beyond timing for speed or knowing the height of jumps cleared by a horse?
One of the most basic places to start is with your horse’s weight. Just like with human athletes, if your horse is over or underweight, it will not likely have the ability to compete with other horses in prime condition. If you do not have a livestock scale available for an accurate weight assessment, use the “point measurement technique, which is more accurate than using a commercial weight tape. Ask your vet what your horse should weigh, and if it does not meet that metric, develop a feeding plan together to get there.
Another easy assessment to take is your horse’s heart rate (pulse), which is a component of cardiac output, an indicator of how hard, and more importantly, how efficiently your horse is working. Heart rate multiplied by stroke volume (the amount of blood pushed into the circulatory system with each heartbeat) equals cardiac output. You can take your horse’s heart rate by palpation (with your fingers) or using a stethoscope, and it’s a good skill to have anyway to help mark the early signs of dehydration, colic, and infection.
To make your horse’s heart rate information helpful, you need to know the rate at rest and again immediately after exercise. You should then see how fast the heart rate comes down after exercise, which, just like with people, is a reliable indicator of fitness. Additionally, a really healthy horse can perform a higher level of exertion at a lower heart rate than one that is out of shape.

What about more technological methods?
There are a number of other more complicated metrics riders and trainers use to evaluate horse fitness and performance, some more reliable than others. In horse racing, for example, red blood cell (RBC) measurements are frequently taken after exercise, however this method may miscount the total number of red blood cells that are stored in the spleen and released quickly into the bloodstream at the start of exercise.
Body temperature is another measurement that can be helpful when used correctly. A horse that is well conditioned shouldn’t see as great a rise in temperature with heavy exercise as one that is in poor shape, but that can vary with the ambient temperature. Horse temperature measurements are most accurate as an indicator of fitness when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold outside.
Because respiration is used as a means of cooling in the horse, the respiratory rate (the number of breaths taken per minute) may also vary in its reliability as a measure of fitness. On a hot day, a horse may breathe more rapidly to cool itself than on a cool day, so keep that in mind when using this metric.
If you want a more technological approach to evaluating heart rate, there are horse heart rate monitors on the market now, just as there are for human runners. Most of these attach to the girth strap or use a belly band, like Polar’s Equine Inzone and SeeHorse. SeeHorse also monitors respiration via the movement of the rib cage, as well as non-invasive temperature monitoring through radiant heat (not as accurate as an internal reading but offers relative temperature changes).

How can more complete objective data yield better results in subjective categories?
If you want to go up yet another level in horse fitness and performance monitoring, as well as to collect data that can assist with those tricky subjective criteria that make or break competition, there are new options. Wait, you’re probably asking, how can knowing hard numbers affect non-objective assessments, like the quality of movement in a dressage test or how well a horse will extend its reach to close distance in a Thoroughbred race?
The answer is that while many elements of a horse race or show may look intuitive and unmeasurable, they can ultimately be drilled down to objective standards. Take, for example, an extended trot in a dressage test. What may seem like something that’s up to the judge’s personal tastes is actually largely quantifiable. The length of each stride contributes to the judge’s impression of the movement quality overall. Likewise, the smoothness of a gait isn’t some magical, ballet-like quality but rather the absence of a lot of distracting up-and-down or excess motion in lieu of pure translational movement. A seasoned show judge views a dressage test with almost freeze-frame mental images; what you may miss in watching yourself in the mirror or on video gets translated into a total performance score, and objective data are worked subconsciously into a subjective opinion and comments like “more reach.”
Reach is a vital component of jumping and Thoroughbred racing, in addition to other riding disciplines. The extension of the forelimbs through the horse’s shoulder and elbow joints can determine whether or not they can overtake another horse to move up the field and win in a race. Hind leg extension in jumping can keep a horse from knocking a rail down and incurring a penalty or slower time.
Enter biomechanical devices like ESTRIDE. Estride performs gait analysis to examine stride consistency and changes both in single training sessions and over time. Extra analytics are available with Estride’s four-node model (the nodes are worn on the horse’s legs in special strap-on boots) to help riders evaluate training (and rehabilitation) data and make predictions about future performance. Estride works on the latest RF (radio frequency) technology, unlike Seaver, a device that measures jump path and works on Bluetooth technology. This means you do not have to carry your controller/phone with you while riding and using Estride. Estride has a recording range of 1.2 km giving you complete handsfree access to measuring your performance.
With devices like Estride, there’s no more guessing about your activity pattern in preparing for a dressage test, and you’ll know if your horse can maintain its initial stride in the final furlongs of a race. Setting up jumps in competition will be more regular, and any horse owner or trainer can see the early signs of gait changes that could point to imminent lameness or injury. Estride also calculates both the number of calories burned in training by the horse and by the rider. If you’re going to put your horse on a strict program to improve fitness, let’s not forget that having a rider in tip-top condition won’t hurt!

Scales of Training