Every so often, probably more often than I wish to admit, someone says something or does something and I realize that I used to know that or do that, but for some reason that little bit of knowledge was stuck on a dusty shelf way back in some dark crevice of my brain. I'd like to think that it's because I have too many way more important things to think about! This week I had one of those epiphanies. I was watching someone ride. He was talking about lateral and vertical flexion. He explained, as he gently pulled the horse's head to the left, initiating a turn in that direction, then lifting the right rein and turning in that direction, that before a horse can flex vertically he must have the flexibility to bend laterally. Duh! I know that. Well, ah, I knew that, but hadn't really thought about it, or applied that knowledge in my work with Doc. So, after doing some work yesterday I walked around the arena and dropped Doc's reins. I picked up the right rein, looking for him to turn his head and neck to the right and begin a turn in that direction. Then, dropping that rein, I picked up the left rein, expecting to initiate a turn in the opposite direction. Lo and behold...the horse doesn't yield to the rein pressure on the left. I might as well have had the rein attached to a 2 X 10! Whereas Doc exhibits some softness in turning to the right, there is no softness, and actually you can feel resistance in going to the left. I may have a bruise where I put my palm to my forehead during this ah-hah moment. Just call me 'Dolly Dimwit'! Is it any wonder that I've had issues with circles and straight lines?
Clinton Anderson writes, "The key to Vertical Flexion is Lateral Flexion. The softer and more flexible we get our horse through lateral flexion (bending) the easier it is to get softness and collection (vertical flexion) of our horse's poll. This in turn gives us greater overall control of our horse's direction, speed and attention."
It's not that I don't do some lateral flexion work. I ask him to bend and bring his head towards the stirrup, either from the ground or on his back, releasing as I feel him yield to the pressure. But I don't do that often enough. And, now that I think of it, when I'm astride and ask him to bring his head around to the left, he'll walk in a circle, kinda like a puppy chasing his tail, for a moment. (Gosh, darn it....I hate when I don't put two and two together!) I've been asking for turns around cones and other obstacles. I have noticed that he is getting rounder on circles and is softer when I lunge, so we are making some progress. I'm going to incorporate turns with a loose rein as I was doing yesterday, and include more serpentines. I can also spiral him in and out both online and astride. Whew....I'm going to be a Dizzy Dolly Dimwit over the next few weeks!
What exercises do you incorporate to help encourage softness and lateral flexion?