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After extensive work in the Round Pen getting Chasity and Wrangler light in the bridle, we are finally ready to graduate to the Hourglass Pattern in the open arena. They enjoy working together, so I just take them both together and tie one outside the working area while I work with the other. We only do these lessons weekly, but they seem to practice good posture on their own during turnout in between lessons. Their play and rest patterns are changing and their posture is improving dramatically. They can now support my weight efficiently in the saddle, so it is now time to hone their skills in a more open setting where we can work more freely. They could trot while sustaining their good postural balance in the Round Pen without my added weight, but that is a pretty restricted place to introduce the trot with my weight in the saddle. So I will tie up Wrangler with his “Elbow Pull” while I work with Chasity.
As always, she leads easily, politely negotiates the gate and stands quietly while I adjust her “Elbow Pull” and adjust her equipment. I will tighten the girth a bit more for lunging to hold the saddle in place. I always tighten the girth a little at a time and not all at once for her comfort. She appreciates my consideration.
In preparation for riding, I will lunge Chasity first. When I ride her, I want her sufficiently warmed up and responsive to perfecting our communication skills. The five rotations at walk, then trot in each direction is sufficient exercise with some speed as she is now well-balanced while performing these tasks. The faster gaits under saddle will come later.
Chasity executes a very nice reverse and immediately slows to the walk, maintaining her good posture. When they are in a good equine posture, the entire length of the spine is stretched, causing space and elasticity between the vertebrae.
If the equine is perpetually allowed to carry their head too high, the vertebrae can become stuck and calcified too close together and over time can cause a condition called “Kissing Spine” that keeps the spine rigid and inflexible.
After a sufficient warm up with the addition of a bit of canter while tracking to the right, Chasity is ready to be ridden in the Hourglass Pattern. She obediently comes out the gate and turns to me for her reward.
I politely mount, settle onto her back softly and offer her reward as I did in the Tack Barn and then in the Round Pen. She stands absolutely still.
Then we do a rein back before moving forward into the Hourglass Pattern. Contrary to popular belief, this “pattern training” will allow Chasity to concentrate on the details of tracking forward, bending and staying light in the bridle.
The arcs and turns in the Hourglass Pattern allow Chasity’s internal pendulum to swing from side to side and come to rest at dead center when she finally halts. She maintains straight lines and bends to the arcs through her rib cage.
When an equine is perpetually schooled on the rail or in too many circles in one direction and then another, this radical movement does not allow the internal pendulum to become centered and balanced.
There is an optical illusion that takes place when riding the rail that “pushes” the balance continuously to one side. Straight lines become difficult and bending will be stiff at best.
This swaying in the Hourglass Pattern from one arc to another keeps the internal pendulum moving freely from side to side while the equine moves freely forward. It produces fluid motion and relaxation in the equine.
All of this keeps the animal responsive, light in the bridle and facilitates good postural movement that results in squared halts and straight rein backs. They enjoy their work because it FEELS good!
Chasity stands still while I fish in my pocket for her final reward for a job well done! Her balance is solid!
We then go back to the Round Pen area to retrieve Wrangler from his “spectator seat!” Wrangler and Chasity have been taught exactly and consistently the same way, so they are quite maneuverable and willing to do as I ask. I have not experienced a “balky” donkey or mule in years!
There are differences in jacks, geldings and jennets, but I have found them all to have their individual redeeming qualities. Wrangler is carefully surveying the environment while Chasity walks obediently at my shoulder. Wrangler is much more playful while Chasity is sedate. My jack, Little Jack Horner, was always an energetic, enthusiastic, fully-charged male with extraordinary ability! What they ALL have in common is their exceptional intelligence, energy conservation and strong sense of self-preservation. What has produced the most success in the management and training of all my equines has been a logical, sequential and equitable approach, executed with a polite attitude, good manners, kindness, consideration, respect and a fair reward system. If I want the best from them, I have to set a good example myself. Chasity and Wrangler politely go through the gate into the area where each will not be interrupted and will patiently wait their turn.
Wrangler is now light in the bridle in the Round Pen and ready to begin work in the Hourglass Pattern in the open arena. Since I have to use both the Round Pen and the open arena, I tie Chasity in the obstacle area so she will not need to be moved until it is her turn. Then Wrangler and I proceed to the Round Pen for his warm-up exercises where he will lunge five rotations in each direction at walk, trot and canter in both directions with a reverse in between. Too much shuffling around can cause anxiety. I prefer that they both remain calm and obedient, so I set them up for success.
Wrangler politely accepts my adjustment on his bridle, “Elbow Pull,” saddle placement and girth, then proceeds forward at the walk in good equine posture. His “Elbow Pull” remains loose and is only there as a reminder in the Round Pen and as a support should he need it when I add my extra weight under saddle in the open arena.
Wrangler trots obediently upon the verbal command and after five rotations transitions to canter. He is now up to three rotations at canter in each direction. I will add one more rotation in each direction with each new lesson.
I slow him to a walk, do a well balanced reverse and he then proceeds once more at the walk for five rotations.
Wrangler picks up the trot promptly upon request. After five rotations, he canters for three more rotations. I will add one more next time. His overall balance at canter is slowly improving with each new lesson!
Improvement comes rapidly when you don’t try to get too much too quickly. Wrangler is eager and ready to be ridden!
I ask Wrangler to come through the gate and he turns back to me to receive his reward. Then I mount and give him another reward from his back. I truly appreciated his well-practiced good manners!
Once mounted, I ask for the familiar rein back and we then proceed forward into the Hourglass Pattern. Wrangler stays light in the bridle and takes gentle directional nudges from my calves in sync with the direct rein cues.
Wrangler remains upright in his balance, bends through his rib cage through the arcs in the pattern, and halts squarely and promptly upon command.
Preparing your equine with PLENTY of groundwork, the right kinds of exercise and use of the “Elbow Pull” to help build his core strength adequately in good posture to support a rider BEFORE you get on makes all the difference in the world! You are building a new HABITUAL way of moving.
Wrangler is strong in his balance, light in the bridle and promptly responsive to the cues from my seat, legs and hands. He halts squarely and reins back easily when asked.
When their balance is not constantly interrupted, they only need a weekly workout and can practice their posture efficiently in turnout each day on their own! If you WANT to work more, you can, but always be ready to leave one day of rest between 30-40 minute workout days. I always want my equines to ENJOY being with me and not get sour!
Chasity had no way of knowing that she was about to graduate from the Hourglass Pattern to the Round Pen today, nor did she really care! She knows that every experience with me is happy and rewarding! So, she was waiting patiently at the stall door for me to come get her after I had already gotten Wrangler, her beau, from his stall! She put on her “happy face” and proceeded to the Tack Barn with a spring in her step!!!
She was particularly happy to see Wrangler standing at the work station! I cleaned both of their eyes, ears and nostrils with no problem at all! They were both eager to find out what was coming next!
After her initial introduction to the “monster vac,” this time she did not even bat an eyelash! It was of no consequence to her anymore…she was BRAVE now! I rewarded her and marveled at how her neck was improving! The fat was disappearing and her neckline was becoming straighter. Hallelujah!
I asked Chasity to do her stretches first to the right and then to the left. Her response was becoming much more flexible and symmetrical on both sides.
The Courbette (on Chasity) and the Passier (on Wrangler) are two used All Purpose English saddles that I bought over 35 years ago, that fit all my mules and donkeys, and are in as good condition today as the day that I bought them! I centered them on their backs and adjusted the crupper to keep them in place!
I bridled them both and took Wrangler to the Round Pen first. Then I tied Chasity on the outside of the Round Pen and she watched while I lunged Wrangler.
Then it was her turn! I adjusted the “Elbow Pull” self-correcting restraint to the right tension and asked Chasity to flex at the poll. Then we began lunging. She leaned on the “Elbow Pull,” but it kept her from hollowing her back and neck while still allowing her to reach well underneath her body with her hind legs.
After five rotations in one direction, I stopped her and asked for a reverse. She hesitated, but eventually understood what I was asking of her and happily trotted off. She did make me work a bit to keep her going, but she was beginning to relieve a bit of the tension on the “Elbow Pull.”
Since things were going so well, I rewarded Chasity and flexed her neck again. I decided to allow Wrangler to help show her how it is done for five more rotations in each direction. That would be all I would need to do on a 85+ degree day with their shedding not quite completed. Wrangler was amazing! They had not been turned out together yet, so I thought he might be silly with her, but he was all business!
Of course, Wrangler did the reverse quickly and perfectly while Chasity took a little persuading. Wrangler just walked confidently and patiently, keeping his good posture with the “Elbow Pull” loose, while he waited for her to catch up. For two thirteen year olds, they were awesome!
Although Wrangler has been with me for three years, and Chasity for only three months, I find it amazing how quickly they happily come to their ideal equine posture. They exit their lessons renewed and refreshed!
Chasity fully enjoys her lessons these days and waits anxiously at the stall door! She knows when I count my blessings, I count my mules (and donkeys!) TWICE! Chasity has been working in the Hourglass Pattern and through obstacles for two months now. Her posture and core strength continue to improve with her weekly lessons. Now it is time to perfect each movement and make sure they are done correctly and in complete balance.
In addition to her weekly stretching exercises, we do abdominal flexion exercises with Chasity every day at feeding time. We ask her to tighten her abdominal muscles, raise her back and hold for sixty seconds. We do this by tickling her belly firmly at the midline underneath while she is eating from her feeder. This makes for marked improvement in her sway back (Lordosis).
We have had her left hind hip adjusted twice and she is now better able to swing through the hip joint and bring her foot underneath her center of balance with each stride. Instead of simply lowering her head and neck, she is now lowering her head and neck and arching across her entire spine. Her stiffness has greatly subsided.
At every halt in the Hourglass Pattern, we stop, square up, reward, arch the spine and reward again. Chasity really enjoys this exercise!
Her movement around the cones continues to progress with the small circles at each cone. She is much more flexible, stays upright and bends to the arc of the turn through her rib cage.
Because of the overweighted crest on her neck, she has more difficulty bedding to the right, so we do a neck stretch to the right, before transversing around the cone to the right. This simple pause allows her to rebalance and keep her upright balance while bending though her rib cage on the circle around the cone.
With the stiffness in her left hip gone, she can now reach underneath, lift her her body efficiently and reach upward and forward with her front legs, adding some increased suspension to her gait.
Both hind legs are now reaching well underneath her body and provide the support she needs for her athletic performance to be much more precise and executed correctly.
When her lesson was over, we decided to make a couple of visitations with her new friends, first with Billy Bad Ass, a 26-year-old mule and then with our 10-year-old mini donkeys, Augie and Spuds. When movements are consistently done the same way whether in the training pattern or just going from one place to another, when halts are always squared up and when good behavior is consistently rewarded, there is no anxiety. Standing still and waiting patiently become the norm and this makes for a mutually satisfying relationship between you and your equine!
Chasity was very stiff and compromised through her whole body when she first arrived. She was extremely rigid over the top line and could not flex from the poll at all, much less through her entire spine. The “Elbow Pull” self-correcting restraint and work in the Hourglass pattern has helped her to be more flexible in her head and neck, and has produced some flexion through her back. Now we are going to ask her to extend that flexion the whole length of her spine. She has been learning how to stay erect around turns while bending through her rib cage, and easily flexes her neck and back when squared up at the halt. These subtle actions have reshaped the body fat evenly over her body and reduced the size of her enlarged neck by 50% in just one month! Her posture is already greatly improved!
Chasity began by leaning on the “Elbow Pull” to keep her reasonable good equine posture. After a month of work, she is now able to sustain her own self-carriage a good part of the time. When she leans on the “Elbow Pull,” it is taut and when she is in self-carriage with good postural balance, it is loose. She started over the first pole and it was loose, then caught her balance on the second pole and it tightened…
On the third pole, she regained her balance and the “Elbow Pull” became loose again, but stepping over the last pole she allowed her balance to be too elongated and had to lean on it again.
As Chasity walked away, she again resumed her good equine balance and self-carriage and the “Elbow Pull” was loose again. We repeated the poles a little later in the Hourglass Pattern and she was then able to sustain her balance and self-carriage over the first pole…
…over the second and third poles, in good equine posture and not leaning on the “Elbow Pull”…
…and finished over the fourth pole with no loss of balance at all! As she is strengthened in good posture, her core muscles, ligaments and tendons will gain strength with symmetrical development and her time in self-carriage will increase. Ultimately, the “Elbow Pull” will remain loose at all times. She now walks in a rhythmic and cadenced fashion, matching every step that I take and halts easily upon request with no anxiety, or excess movement.
I asked her to square up and this time, instead of just flexing at the poll, I asked her to lower her head and stretch her entire spine from head to tail. Then we proceeded with more work in the Hourglass Pattern in the opposite direction and she practiced bending through her rib cage while staying erect around the corner cones.
Next, we negotiated the gate into the obstacles area, halted and squared up. I gave her a reward and asked her to stretch down again.
Chasity has been doing very well with breaking the bridge down into small steps. She halts easily, squares up and holds her balance in several new positions, with the front feet up, back feet down…
…with all four feet on the bridge and with front feet down and back feet up. She did very well at stretching her spine in all of these odd postions that added to her symmetrical core development.
Then she squared up again off the bridge and did one more deep stretch. Chasity was surprised to see the tarp where the tractor tire used to be and took exception to this “new” obstacle. The silly thing was that she side-passed the rail with her front feet on the tarp and her back feet in the sand. I thought, “Okay, now I know how to get her to side pass when I am ready! Silly Girl!” LOL!
We went back and tried again. She was hesitant, but realized what it was this time. I have to remember, Chasity has cataracts in both eyes and cannot see very well…trust is everything! There was no problem at all with the familiar smaller tires!
We reinforced her bending with the barrel exercises and practiced backing through the Back-Through “L.” She is still a bit “stuck” in reverse, but it will loosen up in time. She needs to learn to manipulate her body in a good postural balance and it is awkward for her now. It will just take patience and moving slowly. Speed will come with practice.
A nice deep spinal stretch relaxed and prepared her for the final obstacle! Chasity had been doing “Evasion Therapy” on me when I placed the tractor tire obstacle with too much open space around it. Boy, was she surprised to find out it was right there in front of her with no where to go but forward!
Chasity only put one foot inside the tire as she danced along the edge with her other three feet, so I opted to do it again the other way. This time, she put two feet into the center of the tractor tire… PROGRESS! Coming back through, she finally agreed to step through it with all four feet!
Finally, SUCCESS! My patience had paid off and our relationship was still intact! We finished with another REALLY DEEP stretch. Chasity’s flexibilty and elasticity were improving rapidly! Doing obstacles in confined spaces in the beginning promotes success and I am all about setting up your equine for SUCCESS!
The “Hourglass Pattern” is an amazing therapeutic approach to conditioning that I have used with all of my equines of varying ages, sizes and breeds. It builds a foundation of symmetrical strengthening at the core involving the ligaments, tendons muscles and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame and promotes even wear of the cartilage between bones in the joints. It can prevent arthritis as the animals age. This is vital to your equine athlete’s health. Chasity and I open the gate to her rebalancing and rehabilitation exercises in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
The red “X’s” in the pattern represent the points where you are to halt, square up, reward and wait. This process becomes helpful as your equine learns to navigate gates properly and learns to wait patiently through repetition and consistency in your behavior. Always go through gates exactly the same way so your equine knows what to expect. Abrupt actions lead to chaos.
We want to promote self-carriage, so we do not hold the lead rope in the right hand when leading from the left side where it can subtlety cause movement in the head and neck from side to side, adversely affecting their balance. Rather, we hold the lead rope in the left hand when leading from the left side and in the right hand when leading from the right side. We lead from the inside of the arcs in direction through the pattern. Always, say the animal’s name, give the command to “Walk On,” look where you are going, point in the direction of travel with your other hand and walk in sync with the equine’s front legs. This facilitates good posture for both of you!
When negotiating the “Hourglass Pattern,” there is an internal pendulum that swings back and forth and comes to center each time the animal halts and is squared up. If you were to work only along straight lines there is an optical illusion that takes place along the perimeter and makes the animal’s body lean to the inside of the track, and when halted, they cannot find the center of balance. Every time you halt, square up your equine and reward with the crimped oats that you keep in your fanny pack around your waist (other “treats” will not work the same way!). Then wait until they finish chewing so they can settle into their perfect balance unobstructed.
As they progess, they learn to bend to the arc of the turns through their rib cage, carry their body erect in good posture supported by stronger ab muscles that round the back upward as they learn to give to the “Elbow Pull” such that it remains loose. When it is tight, they are simply having difficulty holding their good posture and lean on the “Elbow Pull” much like a beginning ballet dancer must use the bar on the wall. Many people think that you do your equine a favor by not putting a bit in their mouth, but you cannot affect their posture without one. The animals that are not bitted and schooled in good posture can have all kinds of postural issues as they age. Chasity is falling in and out of good posture because she is only in Week Three of her training. As she improves, she will be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose for longer periods of time until it is always loose.
As this way of moving and standing becomes more habitual, so does their comfort in these positions. When they rest, they will stand 4-square instead of with splayed legs, or a hip dropped and a foot cocked. They are happy and deliberate in their movements and good posture continues to improve until this become their new habitual way of moving and resting. You will see marked changes in their play and rest patterns while in turnout.
Adding rails to the center of the pattern keeps them attentive, alert and teaches exact hoof placement (hoof-eye coordination). As their movement becomes more deliberate and balanced, their confidence is increased as is their trust in you for making them feel so comfortable in their own skin. They learn to wait for your command before moving. They look forward to their time with you and will gladly leave the herd to be with you! No more herdbound behaviors!
We build this foundation through the “Hourglass Pattern” first during leading training, then after obstacles and lunging training during Ground Driving, and finally Under Saddle. Each stage produces new challenges to the equine’s body and mind that add to their overall development in a logical, sequential and healthy way. Because of all these small steps, with gradual difficulty, it is easy and fun for both you and your equine to do. You are never over-faced with difficulty and you learn to appreciate the little victories along the way! Chasity was somewhat of a pushy, bully to start with, but she now waits patiently when I ask and navigates movement in much better posture, even after only three short weeks! More dramatic changes to Chasity’s body and mind are still to come! It’s not just about the end result. It’s all about the journey!
Roll had his summer bath yesterday and it was a great day for it! It was 100 degrees!
Today it was a little cooler, so we opted to go to the dressage arena and work in the hourglass pattern on the lead rope in his “Elbow Pull” and surcingle.
The twisting in his right hind foot was markedly better today after last week’s workout. I am glad I made the call to go back to the leading exercises after his riding experience on May 6. He felt sluggish and the right hind foot was not adequately supported and was twisting quite a bit.
Going back to his core leading exercises for the past few weeks has greatly improved the musculature and corresponding soft tissues, ligaments and tendon that support the pastern and fetlock and the twisting has substantially subsided. He now has a much more upward balance!
I find it amusing that these animals really DO mirror what we do, so it is best to pay attention to what YOU are doing as well as what your mule is doing!
Because you can’t necessarily SEE core muscle development, it is hard to tell how much it can help the equine with his overall posture, balance and performance. Once you have engaged in the exercises, you can begin to identify these very subtle nuances in the equine’s way of moving.
We often talk about “head sets” in the equine world and want our equines to be soft and supple in their poll, but what of the rest of the body? When the body is truly in good postural balance, it is easy for the equine’s WHOLE BODY to perform as it was intended.
The animal is soft and pliable throughout his body and you will begin to notice when they are using their whole body and when there are compromised segments. The easiest thing to see is how an animal with adequate core strength will use ALL his muscles such that you can actually see the muscles rippling in motion over the ribs.
The animal without core strength will be stiff and immobile over the ribs and the legs will move underneath the body, but neither adds support nor fluidity to his movement. ROLL is living proof of this drastic difference in conditioning.
We finished Roll’s lesson with some simple stretching exercises…
…then walked to the gate with the lead slung over his neck…
…and then backed a few steps, all evidence of his own good postural body carriage. I am so pleased that Roll is doing so well at 26 years old!
Roll did exceptionally well today! He was also happy that he got to work out with his little buddies, Augie and Spuds. His body is beginning to get toned up again and he is starting to shed off his winter coat.
I did a quick pass with the hairbrush and then the vacuum cleaner. Last was Johnson’s Baby Oil in his mane and tail. I noticed right away during the grooming process that he was finally put weight on his right hind foot again.
On the way to the arena, I led Roll and Steve led Augie and Spuds.
Roll executed the gate perfectly as he always has. There is really something to be said for GATE TRAINING! With routine practice, they always know exactly what is expected and respond accordingly…no fussing at all.
Roll got his turn in the hourglass pattern first and did amazingly well while Augie and Spuds waited patiently at the fence.
I never had to physically move a foot with any tugs on the rope. He responded 100% to the verbal commands to correct his stance when he was in a full stop and fully weighted all four feet this time when he was asked to do so.
To fully weight the foot in the arena, he had to push the sand down. Sometimes I asked him to do it and sometimes I did not. With the ringbone and side bones in three feet, I really did not expect him to come back to full balance, but he did! What a great surprise!
After a halt on centerline, he followed me obediently to the fence with the lead rope slung over his neck.
When I went to retrieve him he was sideways to the fence, but he moved over so I could release him from the fence on my hand signal alone.
Roll executed the gate perfectly again on the way out…
…then we proceeded down the road and back to the Tack Barn. What a guy!!!