This video I took to establish a baseline on where my horse and I are at riding different movements. There are plenty of mistakes, but I wanted to share it to discuss those mistakes for learning purposes, and to show how to use video as a powerful tool to improve your riding. Hopefully this doesn’t get taken out of context! The horse in this video is my 10 year old off track thoroughbred, Remy (Jockey Club registered as Mr. Painter). I’ve had him since he was 4. He raced a few times but was too slow, and retired young and sound, but the most awkward gangly looking thing you’ve ever seen! It took a while for him to grow into his legs and develop the strength to really coordinate his big body (he matured just over 17 hands), and about the time we were starting to put together some solid upper level work, my life changed…
Last year I got married, bought a house, and started a new business in an entirely different field (web development), so my riding schedule changed, to say the least. I went from riding almost daily to riding an average of maybe 2 days a week. Just when things were starting to settle down recently, my dog was diagnosed with a torn CCL (like the ACL people have, the ligament in the knee), and had to have surgery. So although I’m not an ammy (I teach part time), I feel the pain of trying to balance riding with careers and families and other responsibilities, it’s been tough!
So I’m going to critique this video with that in mind, this horse is not super strong and fit at the moment, and most of my rides lately have been lighter walk, trot, canter and maybe a little lateral work, but mostly focused more on just keeping him going and keeping a base fitness level on both of us so we can jump right back in when life allows it. In this video I also did not have spurs on and did not carry a whip, which is how I’ve been riding lately. I ask for things and take what he offers me, but I’m not pushing anything until he’s stronger. I’m sure I could have gotten better work by picking up a whip and requiring him to get a bit more in front of the leg, but that’s not where we’re at currently.
Additionally, this video was inspired by a rather odd start to the ride, as you can read about here, and I started recording maybe 20 minutes into the ride, we’d mostly walked and done a little trotting, but this is still “warm up” phase as far as real work goes. The canter transition you see at the beginning of the video is the first canter of the day.
So with that background in mind, let’s begin! (I’ve split the full video into bite-size pieces to make it easier to follow along with as I’m discussing it)
Walk, Trot, Canter
The first thing I notice is that he walking nice and relaxed, which is great to see after how tense and distracted the ride had started. The walk is an even rhythm, 4 beats, and tracking up or pretty close to it. We can already see that he’s a bit on the forehand and not real “inspired” looking, walking almost too relaxed, and so we see not a real strong connection to the bit, and we’ll see this same quality of the walk carry into the trot.
As he trots off, the transition is obedient and off a light aid, but like the walk, the trot I get is a bit lazy and uninspired looking. He’s not pushing powerfully from behind or tracking up, and while he appears “in a frame”, he’s really not connected. I feel this, and immediately ask for a canter transition in an effort to wake him up and get him going a little. And again we get a transition that I’d call obedient but lacking.
While the canter quality itself isn’t bad, you can see the lack of “umph” from behind really clearly in the transition back to the trot, there’s a hesitation as he drops into the trot rather than smoothly transitioning maintaining a rhythm and connection. This type of transition is really common in lower level horses/riders, it’d be something to watch for when you video your next ride! Fortunately, it’s not too hard to fix, once you notice it.
To improve just the basic walk, trot, and canter shown, my next piece to work on would be to get him going more forward from behind. Based just on this little snippet of this video, I would say I probably need to pick up a whip! But based on other recent rides on him, I think what he needed was a few more transitions and maybe a canter around the arena, and given the tense start to the ride, I think I was riding him under-powered to get him responsive and moving without losing relaxation.
The hard part about pictures and video is they capture only a moment and not the whole story, so they need to be judged accordingly.
Haunches In, Shoulder In, Trot Half Pass Left
This next part I actually quite like! Having tested his responsiveness to my leg in the transitions, I take him straight into some lateral work. Coming out of the circle I took advantage of the bend and went right into a haunches-in, which he easily performs. I see myself dropped off to the right too much, so I’m going to pay attention to that when I ride tonight! I also have a bit too much angle in the haunches-in, probably due to my position, so I’m going to pay attention to that as well. He straightens and changes to shoulder-in very smoothly and obediently (and getting this suppleness is something I’ve worked long and hard at with him, so it’s nice to see that work paying off!), and I like my position much better here.
As I straighten him before the corner, he swings a bit too far and his haunches come to the inside of the track again, so either I over did the aids or he over-corrected, potentially just due to not being strong enough at the moment. That’s a piece I’ll want to work on over time, but I think I’m not going to be too worried about that step until he’s a bit stronger. Given the way I over-rode the haunches-in, I’ll really want to pay attention to how I’m sitting as I straighten him too, and see if I’m riding stronger with my right hip/leg.
It’s probably a combination of my strength and his, and as long as I pay attention to it, it should get better in time. If I don’t pay attention to it, it will probably get worse as we both over-use the strong side, thus under-using the weak side. That’s why video is such a great tool, and I’ll want to do another video in a few weeks of the exact same sequence to see if/how it’s changed.
As we come around the corner and up the center line into a half pass, I see the same thing happening, he’s wanting to lead with his haunches and my position isn’t helping, but it did get a bit better as we went. To improve this, I want to work on keeping him in better alignment, and showing more bend (prepare for the half pass with a shoulder-fore position!!). But again I’m going to remind myself to keep this *constructive* and relative to where we are at, and not the golden standard of the perfect half pass (I’ll hold myself to that standard soon enough…).
I’m going to say that he gave me a LOVELY effort, moved over off a light aid, stayed soft and relaxed and attentive, covered plenty of ground sideways and maintained a good rhythm, although (back to where this whole ride started), he could have been much more up and expressive in the trot to improve the over all impression of the whole thing. I can see as we return to the wall that he’s wanting to get low/heavy/a little deep, which is another sign that the effort he gave me in that half pass was really what he has to offer strength-wise at the moment.
I do like to see that feeling him getting heavy on the forehand, I threw in another canter to help him find his hind legs again! That’s another great easy thing you can do to improve your horse, lots of short little canters anytime he gets heavy on the forehand or behind the contact/leg. When you watch your video, try to find the places in the ride where you could have tossed in a canter circle and perked things up a bit.
Canter Right, Trot Half Pass Right, Simple Change of Lead
After an easy canter down the long side to get him going a bit more forward, we do the trot half pass back the other direction which looks a bit better, still plenty of room for improvement as far as getting him more balanced over his haunches and more forward and expressive in the trot, but again for where we’re currently at, I’m thrilled he half passes clear across the arena off a soft leg aid, no whip, no spurs… and sure enough that willingness and effort out of him earned the “good boy!” and a big pat as we return to the rail.
Here he got a very brief walk, which probably would have been much longer if I weren’t recording and trying to get as much work into as short a video as possible, but we were recording, so off we went back into the canter! (and we are 2 minutes and 37 seconds into the original video at this point)
I canter onto the diagonal and attempt a simple change through the walk. As I try to change the bend before picking up the right lead, he gets a bit ahead of me and sneaks in a few trot steps. No big deal, we walk and carry on with what we’re doing. Again although it was a mistake, that’s one that I don’t mind seeing, that’s a horse that’s on my aids and listening and actively engaging his mind in figuring out what I’m looking for from him.
It’s a mistake made in *trying* versus a mistake that comes from *lack of trying*, so those I ignore, I’m never going to shut him down or discipline him for trying too hard, which is why I’m getting all this work out of him off such quiet aids!
Otherwise, those transitions don’t look bad and off we go onto a nice right lead canter, into a smooth partial circle to loop back and try a simple change the other way. This time the canter-walk is not as good, but we get a minimum of walk steps and pop right back into the left lead canter. I feel like that whole sequence of transitions both directions will tidy right up with a little more basic strength and connection and forwardness, the elements that have been lacking since the beginning of the ride.
Seeing that those are a current weakness, I’m making a note to use more walk-canter-walk transitions in my daily rides to strengthen him up again! Those transitions really help get a horse in front of the leg and carrying themselves more collected after a few repetitions as they begin to anticipate the transition coming, making them a very effective tool. That’s an example of riding a movement for a purpose, instead of just for the sake of riding a movement. When you can identify weaknesses in how your horse is currently going, try to think of movements you can do that will encourage the horse to build on his weakness, rather than just riding movements because they are in your test or because they are fun/easy/routine.
Ok then onto the diagonal again, and a clean flying change! Woohoo! This is a button I haven’t pushed in a while so it’s nice to know it’s still there! It looks like he didn’t stay straight in the change, which is another lack of strength/pushing from behind thing, and/or it looked worse than it was because we had to over-correct our line of travel so much because of where the jump was located, or it almost looks like he thought we were going to do a serpentine. I’m not going to worry about it unless I see that becoming a pattern over time, but I would guess I’d have a hard time reproducing that one if I tried…
Then across the diagonal again and this time a late change (which it play-pause-play-pause if you need to, it’s important to be able to identify these!). So now with that one I’m wondering, is this going to a be a left/right difference (we only have clean changes one direction)? Or is it just lack of strength/impulsion? Or was that one not set up as well? I think the first one he was expecting to do another simple change and collected himself for the walk transition (remember above where I talked about repeating those transitions so they collect themselves in anticipation?) and we got a great change out of it. The second time he was probably anticipating the change coming and got a bit ahead of me (going by context here, but also from knowing the horse…).
So this I will pay attention to when I get back to schooling changes regularly. I think immediately I will spend some time doing more simple changes and counter canter first to build a bit more strength, and next time I try some of this harder stuff I want to start from a better quality connection and power. I’ll want to do a better job preparing him but also work a little more variety into what we’re doing so he can’t get ahead of my aids. As you can see, he’s a horse with a TON of try, and even as under-powered and relaxed as he’s going in this video you can see how minimal the aids are that I’m using to get this work, and just imagine how much more sensitive all my buttons can get when I have him a bit more revved up!
So next I attempt to canter a small circle and it pretty much falls apart completely. You hear my telling him “Good boy!” again, not because I loved the circle but because I could feel what an effort it was for him and that he really tried and just couldn’t hold it together, but he didn’t quit on me when he wanted to. So by praising him I let him know that I appreciated the effort and I keep up his willingness to keep trying for me, even when something is really hard, rather than outright criticizing him or letting him get frustrated that it really fell apart, as these horses with a ton of try are apt to do! And sure enough following that circle, he’s getting heavy in my hands and on the forehand, so I give him a walk and pat.
Trot and Stretch, then Lengthen the Trot
Quick little break that would have been longer if the video wasn’t running, but it was so we’re off again back into the trot. Again very easy, willing transition and I give him a circle to stretch after the collected work he’s been doing.
He’s not real connected and pushing powerfully into the stretch, but that’s been sort of the theme of the day. He is relaxed, and he does stretch himself a bit and blow his nose a little, and it feels to me like that’s what he needed to release the muscles that have been working hard! But I do want to point out that this is not a good example of a balanced, collected stretchy trot. This is just a trot and put the head down.
So as we go back to work, heading into the short side of the arena I’m already planning to lengthen across the diagonal, and I know the trot I have is too under-powered and heavy on the forehand, so I’m trying to create a bit more energy and get him ready. He mistakes what I’m doing and offers a canter, which is another of the honest “trying” mistakes that I’m not going to make a big deal over, I just ignore it and continue trotting.
As we cross the diagonal something happens, and it’s an improvement to the trot we had been doing, but not by much. I don’t think I’d even call that a good attempt at a lengthening, I’d call it “he finally started to trot out a little”, and this attempt shows me just how tired or behind the leg he was because big trots are something I’ve still been doing with him on a regular basis and I know they are still in there!!
So then to determine if he was just getting too tired to do it, or if he was just behind my leg and not expecting me to ask for the big trot.. Well, now it’s fresh in his mind so let’s try again and see what happens. Big half halt in the corner and then this time as we cross the diagonal we get a MUCH better big trot!
I still feel like he’s capable of even better lately, so this one makes me think that either he is very tired after the other work he’s been doing, or (again from knowing him so long) I start to wonder if I need to check his saddle fit. I’ve seen in the past when it gets tight around his withers he doesn’t want to go forward and starts to feel a bit behind the leg and on the forehand, so could this be affecting our whole ride? Everything else I’ve been able to say “Haven’t done it in a while, probably not strong enough…” but this one I’m thinking “Did it last week, it felt better then!” so either I’ve already worn him out, or something else is going on.
This I will be paying very close attention to in my next few rides, and this will be my immediate next step to sort out as it will/may unlock the energy and impulsion I need to improve EVERYTHING else we’ve done here! Tomorrow I will measure him, check for sore spots on his back, check for pressure points under the saddle, and likely try a slightly different adjustment just to see if it improves things.
Canter Half Pass, Half Pass with Changes, and Tempi Changes
There’s a little canter half pass in and leg yield back out… eh, I dunno, needs work, I appreciate the effort and he definitely gave me a response but it doesn’t feel amazing… proof is in the fact that I quit halfway through the half pass and did the leg yield, I probably felt him starting to fall into the half pass or struggle with it. And it doesn’t look amazing, but it does show again that he’s giving me a response to my aids, and through gradually building and improving the response he’s giving me I’ll have a nice half pass.
Now we’re getting to an interesting part where everything so far he’s given me a really pretty good effort so I start to think about some of the even harder pieces we used to be working on. This stuff was “work in progress” when our daily riding routine got thrown off, so it’s a “what the heck, let’s see what happens!”.
Canter half pass in from the rail… he tried, he got crooked, I got crooked (back to the beginning of the ride… see how what you do in the easier work translates into the harder stuff? So guess where I’ll go back to start fixing this?), then it looks like a clean change, and a pretty weak sorta half pass back to the rail, followed by what looks like another clean change. So this gives me a good feeling that maybe the late change we saw earlier was a fluke… maybe… and he earns a big “Good boy!” and a pat for his effort, as that little sequence is from the PSG test!
Now we head onto the diagonal, and yes I was thinking I would try for 3 changes across the diagonal, and he must have felt me thinking it. We get one good one, then he tosses in a half a change before I ask, then fixes it in the next step. You can see it if you watch his front legs closely, the back legs don’t change but in front he switches leads then right back again.
I finish the diagonal with a walk transitions and “Good, wait for me…” to get him a bit more focused on my aids and not getting too far ahead of me. It’s another moment of not making a big deal out of a mistake. He’s trying, and he’s digging in his memory for the last time we did this how it went. We haven’t done it in a while and really I probably shouldn’t even be asking, so there’s no way I’m going to criticize his efforts! So we quietly reorganize for another try… and this time he NAILS it!!!
Three changes every 4th stride across the diagonal, the first is late behind and bit long and flat, but we get it back together and the second two are good. There’s only one thing to do after that, stop and praise!!! (and bonus for a square halt, what a good boy he is!)
A Last Bit of Lateral Work
Another little trot and stretch as I’m trying to think if there is anything else I want to try before I stop recording and I start to make my way towards the phone. On the way I throw in a little shoulder in and realize it’d be helpful to see some lateral work straight ahead to the camera so I loop around quick and head down the not-quite-center line lined up with where my phone is sitting to do a haunches in left, switch to shoulder in left – smooth and supple change there! – and then to shoulder in right, a little stickier making that transition, maybe something to work on, maybe just the moment.
These movements are much harder to ride on the center line than on the rail, but that makes riding them on the center line a great test if you are using all your aids correctly or relying on the wall. Riding them straight towards or away from the camera also will give you the best angle to determine just how much bend and angle you are getting and how straight or wiggly your horse is in the movement, as well as the best angle to judge the rider’s position.
Halt and turn on the haunches, lost the walk rhythm in the turn and shouldn’t have done it that way at all… my bad! That’s part of the problem with coming up with stuff on the fly instead of planning out patterns for your ride.
Back to trot, haunches in right, switch to haunches in left – smooth transition there, he’s responding well and staying soft and supple, and because he’s staying so adjustable there I know he’s not losing balance and leaning on my aids in the lateral work. I still feel like he’s swinging a bit too far though, will work on that. Then a nice straight halt.
A few steps back look good but then gets crooked, so I trot him forward to get him to push off of his back legs again. Then I remember one last thing! (I know, poor horse right?!!? But let me again remind you, no whips, no spurs, no kicking or anything, this is only 10 minutes of asking nicely and taking what he’ll give me! It only seems like forever because I’ve written so much…).
So we pick up the canter one last time so I can re-try a small circle. If you remember earlier, I tried this and it fell apart, so here we’re going to give it another try, and again, it’s too hard. He does a bit better this time and makes it through the circle but almost loses the canter after it, and I can feel him really trying, so we end on that nice effort and he gets big praise and we’re done.
Result of Analysis
So (anybody still with me??) ALL that was 10 minutes of riding. And from that little video clip, I know what my short term and longer term things to work on are.
I’m going to work a bit on my position, especially guarding against falling off to the right and maybe with that strengthening my left side and making sure he isn’t dropping me off the right by going through my left leg (it takes 2 to tango, right?).
Immediately, I’m going to check saddle fit and probably make a small adjustment. If a saddle adjustment doesn’t immediately fix everything (hey, it’s happened before!) then short term goal is going to be to ride him a bit more forward (although I think generally that is better than it was on the day I did the video) and work basic transitions and lateral work to get him a bit stronger.
Slightly longer term, with that strength, I want to improve the gaits (this horse can be super fancy when he’s fit and going well!) and get him a bit lighter in my hands and balanced more over his haunches (er, I guess that’s everyone’s goal…). That should improve everything and give us the “effortless dancing” look rather than the “this is so hard!” look to all the work he’s doing in this video.
If all goes well, I’m hoping I’ll be back to riding more regularly now. Winter is finally over, and the dog is recovering from his surgery. He’ll have one more still, probably in about a month, but other than that I think life is settling down finally. If I can get a few weeks of consistent rides on him, I’ll do another video to compare to this one, and hopefully be seeing a little progress!
Hopefully walking through the video piece by piece with me like that helped you see how it can be a great tool to figuring out what you need to work on and how different pieces are connected. And, very importantly, how we can be critical of our own work in a constructive way that allows us to improve, rather than just beating ourselves (or our horses!) up for not being perfect. We can see where we are at, what we are doing well (and celebrate that, even if it’s little things!), and set some goals to work towards for improving our work.
If this was helpful to you, please let me know and I’ll post follow up videos, or do the same thing with video of another horse and rider… although maybe a shorter video next time!