Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dolly Dimwit

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?


  1. I actually do very little lateral flexion work, except where there's a specific issue - like with Doc. I think a lot of vertical flexion just teaches the horse to disconnect the head and neck from the rest of the body, and with some horses can lead to "rubber neck". But then I really don't drill my horses on anything they've already learned.

    If you need to do some lateral flexion work, make it fun - do carrot stretches to encourage him to bend around, doing a little more every day. I'd also take your hands and check out his neck and shoulder area - he may have a know/muscle spasm somewhere that is limiting his range of motion - check both sides. Gentle massage and pressure with your hands can help if you find some knots, and arnica gel can also be helpful.

    Once he's able to do the carrot stretches - do them on both sides and between his front legs, then move on to doing some lateral flexion work with the bit, from the ground. Always be sure to give him a release, even for the smallest effort, and also be careful not to give an inadvertent release when he's braced. If you can get him to unlock and be soft, you may only have to repeat the work for a few days and it won't be a problem again - there was a horse at the Mark Rashid clinic I recently attended (no. 7, I believe - post on my sidebar) that had this problem in a big way.

    Good luck!

  2. I meant to say - had a "knot"!

  3. I carry cookies when we ride and make them bend to either side to take them from my hand. I know many people don't use food, but with Poco especially, if food is his motivator, then food it is.

  4. Kate & Leah:
    Thanks for the food ideas - Doc will love you forever!
    Interesting thought about knots/muscle spasms. Doc is the one who ran into the hitching post. He could easily have some issues related to that accident that cause stiffness.

  5. Those AHA *cough* blonde moments were the main reason I named the blog Equine Epiphanies. I've had LOTS of those, so don't sweat it chickie. Oh, and sometimes when I put 2 and 2 together? I get eleven ;o)


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