Winter Training: Work In Hand

Escpecially now, when the footing starts to freeze, alternatives to riding and lungeing are a welcome relief. Training in winter can be pretty monotonous so I guess also Hafl is happy to see something different. What's more, the work in hand is a great way to start to new lessons without the weight of the rider in the back. In winter, starting off from the ground and working in hand before riding is also a perfect warm up for me.

But what to do when doing in hand work? It all starts with simple straight forward. You are on the inner side of the horse, the inner rein held closely to the bit, the other rests on the withers. For the easier lessons, I work with inside rein only. Your upper body is turned towards the horse, your legs are parallel to the horse's. It is very important to watch your body language as going to much in front of the horse will stop it and being to close to the tummy will make the horse only go faster. I carry a whip in the "outside hand" as well, though I try to use my energy level to encourage Hafl to walk more engaged or even trot (canter we cannot do yet). Breathing is another important part in this training. Deeply breathing out will make the horse slower - you will realize that you do not even need to use the reins.

We start off in walk on the long side, along the track to start easy. I make sure that Hafl is really straight and not cheating, thus, I slightly let him walk shoulderfore. With my upper body turned towards him, I can keep an eye on the tracks of his hooves and make sure that he is really stepping under and with the hind hoofes in the tracks of his front hoofes. As soon as that works on a straight line, we start with big circles. Here again it is absolutely necessary to watch the hind legs so that he is not turning out the haunches and thus not stepping under which in the end would lead to carrying all the weight on the forehand.

Adjusting for in hand work: whip in the outer hand, rein in the inner hand, upper body turned towards the horse

For changing reins, you need to stop the horse by deeply breathing out and if that is not sufficient turning your shoulder that is closer to the horse's head more towards the horse ("closing the door" with your body). Patting. After that, you walk to the other side and adjust your reins again and start off with the same exercises as before.

Shoulder in, one rein only, open position

More advanced exercises are shoulder in and haunches in, leg yielding and half passes. For shoulder in, you simply "open" your position a little bit more meaning that you are turning the shoulder that is closer to that horse's head backwards. That will lead to the horse following your turning upper body with head and neck and then you only need to "push" the horse with your energy sideways. It sounds way more complicated than it is! The same principle works for leg yield and half passes, though I have to admit that in these cases I make more use of the outside rein. For the shoulder in, normally the long side track is orientation enough but on the center line it is easier to lose track.

Leg yield on the center line, note use of outside rein

A bit more difficult is the haunches in. For the haunches in, you have to turn around and walk backwards. Using the whip on the croup will make the horse turn his haunches in. Be happy with one or two steps in the beginning until the horse gets the idea. I thought that haunches in would be something that Hafl never learned but eventually he realized pretty quickly what to do with his haunches when I started to turn around. you only hold the inner rein losely with one hand, the other hand holds the whip.

Haunches in, turning around and walking backwards, using the whip to encourage turning of the haunches
When all this works in walk, start to trot. In trot it is important that you keep the image of "upward energy" rather than "forward energy" cause this would mean that the horse starts running - and you, too! But actually we want the horse to trot bouncier and thus slower, channeling his energy upwards rather than forwards. That is a bit tricky in the beginning, again, a few steps will do in the beginning. I also use the command "UP" to make him and myself aware of the fact that we want to see more expressive but shorter steps so that I can walk and do not have to run.

Good boy!

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