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Jason Webb’s blog: teaching the horse to go forward off the leg

We had a great turnout of around 150 people for Australian Horsemanship’s evening demonstration with dressage rider Damian Hallam, where we worked with three horses at different stages of their training.

I have worked with Damian on a range of horses, from unbroken youngsters to horses working towards grand prix. I have learnt so much from him about dressage and I hope I have reciprocated by providing a different perspective that has been beneficial to the horses we have worked with together.

Meet Damian

The first horse was a four-year-old palomino gelding, also called Damian (pictured top).  He was having his third ride. He has been a little tricky as he is very sensitive on his sides, meaning that he took time to accept the girth and was keen to stick in a buck or three!

I have often found a horse that bucks like this is typically a little stuffy and behind the leg to ride.  However, although he showed the crowd what he was made of a couple of times, Damian went well and I will now begin to work on obtaining more forward and freedom in his movement.

One very interesting point that came up was that Damian kept wanting to stop at the gate of the round pen.  Each time he did this I put energy into him by “rattling” my leg (rather than kicking him), which I stopped as soon as he moved off again.  I also only ever asked for a stop at other points of the round pen. This made the area by the gate somewhere he has to keep working and other places where he gets a rest.

Damian (Hallam) picked up on this and explained that if these small issues are not recognised and resolved at the outset, they can reappear in the form of varying resistances throughout the horse’s training and competitive career.

Second was Solomon

I only had time to spend a few minutes with Solomon, a lovely Fresian cross in his fifth week of starting.  He is quite a sensitive soul, I wanted to emphises the importance of being positive in your riding at all times, whatever is happening with your horse. In a nutshell the rider should say “do this”, rather than “don’t do that”!

For example in downwards transitions, the young horse has to learn to be pushed into a slower gait rather than pulled into it.  At first when I pushed Soloman forward from trot to walk, he wanted to rush forwards, but after a few goes he began to relax into the downward transition while maintaining a soft contact.

Moving on to Reus

Damian finished the evening working with Reus (aka The Big Project), who he had only sat on a couple of times before.  I have spoken about Reus in previous blogs and he has been with me now for about six weeks.  The first few weeks were taken up with gaining control of him on the ground as although he is generally a very kind horse, he was difficult to leave tied up and to lead to and from the field without him taking off with his handler.

Damian and ReusWith his ridden work, I found that although he had been competing for years, he wasn’t truly moving forward into the contact, which caused him to resist when asked for more impulsion and to use his hind end more.

I have begun to feel Reus is really improving and in the demo, Damian worked on Reus’s relaxation and stretching in the paces that is a part of his training that we felt had been overlooked.  Reus certainly finished the evening with the start of a fan club (pictured above right) and I am very hopeful that Damian and Reus can develop a happy partnership.

In other news

I am delighted to be involved with the UK Polocrosse Squad in the role of coach and player in test matches against Ireland this weekend in Chester.  We are playing a large squad including some new caps to aid the selection process for Test Matches against USA in September and the 2015 Polocrosse World Cup being held in South Africa next summer.

It is quite an undertaking, but I love coaching and am not quite ready to hang up my playing boots yet either, although I’ll have to work hard to get into the World Cup team.  I will be riding Banjo, my nine-year-old Australian Stock Horse/thoroughbred gelding that I imported from Australia as a three-year-old.  He is a little quirky and it can be difficult to get the best out of him, but he is still one of the best horses I have played and on his day is hard to beat… I just hope I can keep up with him and still pick the ball up!

Jason

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