This weekend, Brent Graef did a clinic at the farm and I audited one of the days. It was fascinating to watch him work with the horses and riders, both on the ground and in the saddle. The main theme of the whole day was controlling your horse’s feet. All of the exercises were simple, usually asking the horse to step underneath its belly with the inside hind foot. Doing simple exercises to control the speed and direction of your horse’s feet has several benefits.
- Balance. Asking your horse to reach under their belly and toward the opposite front leg helps them move stay balanced and the impulsion comes from the hind.
- Control. If your horse takes off or is out of control, you can use the exercises you practiced to direct their feet, slow down and bring them back under control.
- Building a good base. The fundamentals are important in any sport, and riding is no different. Stepping the hind under is a good base for more advanced movements like a shoulder-in, which is a lateral movement that requires a horse to move with the shoulder slightly off the track, bent away from the direction of movement.
Serpentines were a big part of the day. One thing I really liked was that Brent stressed being in tune with your horse. Doing a serpentine at the beginning of your ride can help you figure out where your horse is at; which direction is more supple; and how their mood and focus are for the day. I always think it’s important to understand how much your horse can give you at the time. Some days they’ll be able to give you more than other days. And that’s okay.
Another good thing from the clinic that I will be keeping in mind is “flowing” from gait to gait. There’s no reason to be abrupt with your horse. Prepare for the transition to the next gait and gently let them flow into the next movement. You’ll end up with softer transitions and a more relaxed horse. A friend of mine riding in the clinic sometimes has trouble getting soft canter transitions (Cinnamon likes to toss her head), so Brent was helping her out. He had her trot on the rail and extend the trot so that Cinnamon was really driving from the hind. Then he would say, “okay, she’s ready. Let her flow into the canter” – and with that, Cinnamon would have a soft, relaxed transition without throwing her head. It was very cool to watch.
Plus, since Brent was a very entertaining guy, it was a great day and I learned a lot. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about it soon! Check out more about Brent Graef here: http://www.brentgraef.com/