What is flexion?

Flexion produces a small degree of movement to the left or right, from the poll to the wither.

The flexing rein requests the flexion and the non-flexing rein contains the amount of flexion allowed.

Flexion is to prepare your horse before you ride on a circle or corner and is used to supple your horse before asking for a bend. 

This horse is peforming counter flexion 

This horse is peforming counter flexion 

Once you've mastered the art of flexion, your horse will no longer take your inside rein as a steering aid.

If you have to use your outside rein to keep your horse on the track then your outside rein is doing your inside legs job and that means you're requesting your horse to bend to the outside rather than flexing correctly. 

To help you get the feeling for what flexion is, try the following exercise:

  • You can do it in halt, or, if your horse is better on the move, then quietly walk around the arena on a light but equal contact. This exercise isn't about getting your horse 'on the bit', but it will give you greater submission and aid self-carriage. 
  • There should be a straight line from your horse's mouth, along the rein through your hands to your elbows 
  • Maintain a contact with your thumbs pointing towards his bet and your hands fist height off his neck
  • Be aware of your own body position from left to right and front to back. Think of yourself as a Lego man with a stalk on your bottom that plugs into a hole in your saddle - keep this as the basis of your position
  • In halt, with your horse's head and neck in front of you, imagine a line drawn from each side of his shoulder forward to either side of his head like a corridor
  • Ask your horse to gently turn his head to the left until his nose touches your imaginary corridor line to the left. A good gauge of how far to go when flexing is to see that it produces a small gap between the left rein and your horse's neck, and the right rein should touch their neck.
  • Repeat to the right

Training programme to build a strong horse

Tailoring your horse's work will help him to build muscle safely, avoid repetitive strain and help to ensure that he has the right level of fitness for his work load.

To create a training programme for a strong horse you'll need to combine schooling and jumping with hacking. Plus, you'll need to allow time for him to recover between sessions.

Different types of training can be categorised like this:

Jumping can be considered to be strength training

Jumping can be considered to be strength training

  • Cardiovascular training: Using trot, canter or gallop for periods of at least twenty minutes, depending on your horse’s fitness
  • Skills training: Riding lateral work or pole work for example
  • Strength training: Jumping, hill work and exercises which require your horse to work in collection, such as piaffe

Your horse’s muscles are most at risk during strength training (this may include hill work or jumping). So, to help prevent injury, you need to gradually increase the intensity of this type of work. Use the plan, below, as a rough guide as to what to do with your horse, when.

As a rule, allow at least two days between strength training sessions to give your horse’s muscles time to repair.

An example training plan

How to ride shoulder-fore

Shoulder-fore

Shoulder-fore is a lateral movement which encourages your horse to take more weight onto his hindlegs and step actively underneath his body.

Although it’s not a required movement in any dressage tests it’s a really useful flatwork exercise to do with your horse. It’s great for developing straightness and improving balance.

In shoulder-fore your horse will bring his shoulders in off the track while his quarters stay where they are. The angle is about half of what you’d see in shoulder-in.

The aids

  1. Put a little more weight into your inside leg to encourage bend and activity, keeping your outside leg at the girth to prevent your horse’s quarters swinging out.
  2. Your outside rein supports your horse’s outside shoulder. Thinks straight on this rein and hold it a fraction lower than your inside rein.
  3. Ask for a little flexion on your inside rein to keep your horse soft through his neck.
  4. Keep your shoulders parallel with your horse’s shoulders – you should be in shoulder-fore too, but watch you don’t get pushed to the outside of your saddle.

Fun riding exercises for kids

girl riding pony.jpg

Ahead of the Easter holidays plan some fun riding activities for kids – here we offer up some ideas.

Poles

There are plenty of ways to help kids have fun with their ponies at home and one really easy way to inject a little interest into a ridden session at home involves using poles. Create shapes for them to ride around, tunnels of poles for them to ride through or simply scatter poles around the arena for them to head to and ride over.

Transitions

By simply counting down from 3 to 1 you can inject a little fun and anticipation to simple transitions. Tell the rider what transition they’re going to make then count them down at different points around the school.


Games

Don’t underestimate the value of games -  yes they’re fun for pony and rider but they also help to develop good team spirit (if played in groups) and help riders to develop their skills in new and interesting ways. Here are a few ideas from the pros at the Pony Club:

Traffic light game

This group game is nice and simple. All you need is a coach to call out different colours as the ride performs a series of different movements. Red means halt, amber is walk and green is trot.

Bean bag games

Challenge riders to ride with bean bags on their hats and watch their positions improve. Where bean bags keep falling off, help by correcting the rider’s position.  They can walk, trot or, for the more experienced, canter. Lead rein riders can do this in halt and walk. Consider:

  • Can they sit on bean bag in all three paces – lead reins in halt and walk?
  • Can they keep bean bag between lower leg and pony – is it easier on one side or the other?  What about over a jump?
  • Can they keep a bean bag between their hands and still steer when riding circles?

Musical Markers

young girl riding pony

If you have a group of young riders, this game can be lots of fun and doesn’t require much equipment. The aim of the game is to ride around until the music stops, then head for a cone or marker. There should be one less cone than there are riders and each time a rider makes it to a cone they get a point. At the end of the game, the rider with the most points wins.

Scavenger Hunt

Set riders up in pairs and send them off to find things beginning with a certain letter for example; things beginning with the letter B might include; bark, bottle, binder twine etc. The Pony Club recommends pairing one older rider with a younger rider and that very small riders stick to walk. Depending on the season you turn your scavenger hunt into a themed treasure hunt e.g. an Easter egg hunt, a Christmas gift hunt etc.

Apple Bobbing Race

This game can be played as individuals or as teams but you will need some helpers to hold ponies. To set it up, fill a line of buckets full of water and throw in some apples. Riders have to race to the buckets, dismount, hand their pony to the helper then bob for apples with their teeth. Once they’ve managed to get an apple out of the bucket they remount and race back to the start.

Sammy Snake

This one is by far our favourite Pony Club Game! Sammy the Snake teaches younger riders how to ride a three-loop serpentine. To set it up, place two poles at A so they can ride between them, another two poles on the centre line guiding them straight after their first loop, then another two poles on the centre guiding them straight after second loop and then finally two poles at C to finish of the exercise. Riders start at A or C (Sammy’s head!) and ride in between the poles until they finish at his tail.

For more advice and information from the Pony Club or to find Pony Club events in your area visit the Pony Club website.

30-minute flatwork lesson

Use dressage trainer Vikki Hayton’s advice to combine three easy exercises and make a handy 30-minute lesson. The beauty of this particular lesson is that it will engage your horse and lift his forehand. Here we go...

Your horse naturally carries more weight on his shoulders, but having a rider on his back increases the pressure on his front, causing him to fall onto his forehand.

Lifting from this requires your horse to re-establish the balance and move his weight onto his hindquarters.

While this move would win you extra points in a dressage test, it can also improve your horse’s jump, as he’ll use more power from his rear legs to propel higher in the air.

Combine these three exercises to create a 30-minute workout that balances your horse and lifts his forehand.

Exercise 1: Half-halts

Riding a half-halt engages your horse and rebalances him. This exercise will help you to bring your horse to balance on his hindquarters, rather than his forehand.

How to ride it

Establish a good trot before transitioning to walk

Establish a good trot before transitioning to walk

Begin with an active walk, maintaining an equal and soft contact down the rein to ensure that your horse is straight and start to transition between walk and trot to get him moving.

Once you feel happy that your transitions are fluid and balanced, you can focus on your half-halt.

Establish a good trot and then transition smoothly down into walk, applying pressure to the reins without pulling.

Walk for four paces before trotting again. Repeat this until you achieve four clear paces of walk and then reduce the number of walking paces to three, two and then one.

The final part of the exercise needs you to imagine that your horse will take only a half step of walk from the trot.

Prepare to transition down into walk, again without pulling on the reins. Maintain a light leg aid and as soon as you feel that your horse is about to walk, ride forward back up into trot.

This is where you achieve your half-halt, with the horse’s hindquarters coming underneath him, lifting him off his forehand.

After perfecting this, you can up the pace and try the same in canter. 

Exercise 2: Transitions

Ride smooth transitions into canter

Ride smooth transitions into canter

Direct transitions in your schooling will engage your horse and get him moving forward and uphill.

Working on this exercise for 10 minutes is also a great way to begin working towards a flying change.

How to ride it

Start on a circle and ask your horse to halt. Keep your hands light, as too much pressure will make him fall onto the forehand. Halt for four seconds and then ask for an upward transition into trot. Repeat this several times until you feel happy with the response.

Next, try the same with walk to canter transitions. Walk for four paces on a 20m circle and then transition up into canter. Repeat this until you achieve four clear paces of walk and a smooth upward transition to canter. Mistakes can be made when the walk isn’t established, so ensure you keep a good rhythm. Counting is key to this exercise.

As you and your horse progress, try reducing the paces of walk down to three, two and then one. You can also try moving the exercise off the circle and onto a straight line.



Exercise 3: Rein back

A rein-back – a move where the horse steps backwards – will make your horse think and help him to lighten his canter, as he puts more weight onto his hindquarters and lifts off of his forehand. While it’s not recommended for youngsters, this exercise helps to engage established horses and get them going uphill.

How to ride it

Begin by using your leg contact to ask your horse to move, but maintain the pressure on the reins, squeezing gently on each rein alternately. This pressure will prevent the horse releasing energy forwards, and instead make him step back.

In the rein-back, you want the horse to step back in clear diagonal pairs. It’s important not to pull on your horse’s mouth as he’ll pull back and you’ll end up in a fight. Instead, maintain a clear aid that keeps energy on the reins, as this encourages your horse to step under and back.

Take three to four steps back, release the hand aids and transition upwards to trot.

When you feel comfortable with this, try the same in canter.

This is a useful exercise for lifting off the forehand, but it’s important to include halts in your schooling without reining-back, otherwise he’ll get into the habit of travelling backwards.