Friday, August 28, 2015

Flying Lead Changes, Cranial Sacral, and Centered Riding

Last weekend was a bunch of learning at PHH. If you think about soaking up education as if collecting water from a tap, then forget the water bottle because this past weekend you needed a whole trough.

Cantering and Flying Lead Changes

On Friday the 21st we were fortunate to have Parelli Professional Todd Owens come teach us about cantering and flying lead changes. He brought his Level 4 trained horse, Shania, to show us what the exercises were supposed to look like- what a fantastic idea. It meant the people who learned by listening could have the instructions, the people who learned by seeing could watch Todd with Shania, and we all learnt by doing because we tried the patterns.

It was a fascinating group because we all had very different horses and many of us were riding at different levels – so we got to learn how to problem solve for different horses and riders. It was like a smorgasbord of learning.

I rode Kahleesi in the workshop and had a great time practising maintaining correct bend with correct pace. I also discovered that she is a bit of a grumplepuss in large groups for canter – she made a few marish faces at the other horses just to make sure they knew she wasn’t happy they were standing in her arena.

Some tips and things to remember for cantering and flying lead changes that we learnt from Todd:
  • -        Practice using the supple rein to create the correct flexion in the horse
  • -        Ride walk, trot, canter with an independent seat (no contact on the reins)
  • -        Practice forehand and haunch turns to isolate moving the hind end and front end of your horse
  • -        Practice sideways to get your horse responsive to your leg, moving athletically sideways
  • -        Practice haunches in so that you will better be able to control your horse’s hind end for a flying change
  • -        Set up a pattern like a figure 8 with a pole and ride the pattern being insistent your horse gives you correct flexion and posture
  • -        Then try putting the pieces together and batta bing batta boom – flying lead change!

What I like about this approach is that you set up all of the skills so that the flying change is on purpose and in balance – then it makes it easier to progress to multiple flying changes in future.

Margreet & Brian come to visit

During the workshop, Margreet and Brian arrived and were able to watch. Margreet is the master Level IV Centered riding instructor from the Netherlands – she is also certified in Reiki, T Touch, Equine Cranial Sacral, Saddle fit, Equine massage, and Equine Acupuncture - she's a jack of all trades when it comes to horses to say the least. 

Margreet instructed us Saturday and Sunday for a 2 day workshop on Equine Cranial Sacral work and centered riding. Brian is also trained in Equine Cranial Sacral and helped us learn about the horse's movement. 

It was perfect that Margreet watched Todd’s workshop because she would refer to ‘the cowboy’ throughout the clinic and reference some of the exercises he did. She thought Todd was fantastic, the steps he provided worked, and loved how he isolated the movements.

Thank you Cowboy Todd J  Make sure you're at his next workshop at PHH - 

Equine Cranial Sacral

Saturday’s workshop with Margreet and Brian we practised different ‘holds’ with our horses to help them relax and release tension in their body. It was absolutely amazing – like crazy hocus pocus magic – to see how these simple holds made EVERY single horse in the workshop become so calm, relaxed, licking & chewing, yawning, and releasing tension or stress.

They helped us learn to assess a horse before doing the holds – such as watching a horse’s walk, eating grass, and breathing. During the different holds you could literally see the breathing change in the horses to be deeper and more relaxed. After the holds you could literally see the horse eating grass differently.

Some assessment questions to ask yourself about your horse:
  • -        When they eat grass, do they move their legs around a lot to balance for getting grass, or do they move their neck around in a semi circle to reach more grass?
  • -        When they eat grass, do they grab with their front teeth and pull up, or do they grab with their teeth and move their head sideways?
  • -        When they stand at rest, is their tail to one side?
  • -        When they stand at rest, does their breath fill their whole barrel?

There were more things that we looked at, but I found these ones the most interesting and different from what I'm used to.

Centered Riding

That evening I had a private lesson aboard Kahleesi and we worked on picking up contact and having energy in the hind legs.

Margreet is one of the few coaches to instruct me that doesn’t try to get me in a bit. She says “bit or bitless doesn’t matter, whatever is working for the horse.”

She explained to me that one benefit of the bit is that it can make the horse chew, which can help a horse relax at the poll. However, she said you can get the same result bitless, you just have to work a little harder.

She helped me with many things including:
  • -        slowing down to focus on quality of movement from my horse’s hind end (we did some exercises over trot poles and on circles to create better impulsion from our hind end)
  • -         to follow with my hands better (when Kahleesi’s head came up I still had a tendancy to drop my hands, and Margreet helped me follow Kahleesi better which made a huge improvement)
  • -        be more aware of correct flexion (she explained the cowboy’s exercise with the supple rein on the serpentine is so fantastic and pointed out how the jaw, nostril, and eye should align when you have correct flexion… I’d been letting Kahleesi’s nose get out of line)

 The next day we finished up with some holds on our horses and then got into centered riding. We practiced some things without our horses and then all had semi private lessons. Margreet's level of detail to rider is incredible and she really helped to train my eye to see things about the rider.

A couple key things that many riders needed to remember:
  • -        Keep your nose in line with your naval (belly button), so when you turn, only turn your head as far as your belly button goes
  • -        Remember to take your shoulders with you on the turns (for example when you turn right, allow your left shoulder to come with you)

I rode my lesson on Thetis with Sabrina and her horse Zoey. I rode Thetis bitless in the side pull attachment made by Epic Equestrian ( Both Brian and Margreet commented that Thetis was consistently collecting from the correct place in her poll and carrying herself correctly – “there is no reason to swap this horse to a bit – she carries herself beautifully, and is relaxed through her jaw and poll.”

That was an incredibly reassuring statement because it seems everyone wants me in a bit. To be honest, the more everyone tells me I must ride in a bit to achieve the next level of Finesse, the more I become determined to prove them wrong. I’m not even against bits and occasionally I use them… but I really just hate being told I can’t do something when I think its possible. I know, I’m stubborn right? This will be my next journey after I’m finished with Kentucky – my journey to level 4 Finesse.

Anyway, back on track.

In our lesson we practiced flexion, leg yields, and some jumping.

I wanted most to learn from this lesson was strategies to get rid of my wiggle butt. I have this bad habit that when I am cantering and jumping I tend to wiggle my butt. You’ve noticed it right? If you haven’t, just take a look at some of my Youtube videos of me jumping. You’ll see it, that darn wiggle butt. It’s effective though – I feel secure, I can turn when I want to, I compete well, and ride accurate courses… but that wiggle butt!!!

I didn’t know why I was doing it, and several people have tried to help me with it - my centered riding coach, Esther Johnson came pretty close to fixing the wiggle by having me strengthen my core, and Parelli instructor Kathy Baar helped me by having me think about my knees and grounding both my feet.

What did Margreet do when presented with the wiggle challenge? She solved it!

She zoned in on the fact that when I sit my canter I let my hips move in the backwards circle motion, but when I half seat I lock my hips and they ride frozen in the air. She helped me find my backwards circle while in half seat which restored the natural motion to my body and voila, wiggle butt is gone! Okay so now I just have to remember it every time I ride.

Esther and Kathy’s awareness of my position were definitely pieces to the puzzle – and now I have a key ingredient to pull it all together.

Wrap up

I loved this past weekend because Friday was about training strategies and process, Saturday was about helping our horses feel better, and Sunday was about getting our riding in rhythm with our horses.  

I’m sensing a new type of Super camp in the future – natural horsemanship, centered riding, cranial sacral – anyone interested in that for next summer?

So much learning and growth happening at PHH!

What's next?

Remember to check out Todd’s next workshop which is Friday, 6-9pm, September 18th at  PHH. We are learning about building finesse with collection.

Lots happening this weekend – centered riding lessons tonight, NHA horse agility & obstacle show tomorrow, and the NHA trail ride to the pond on Sunday. See you there! (more details at  

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