Schooling is a big part of keeping Hamish fit and healthy in his ‘older years’, and I am sure a lot of you guys would agree with this too, if you own veterans. There are vast amounts of benefits, from mental stimulation, to fitness, muscle building and retaining, stretching, reducing filling and stiffness in their joints.
Tailoring my schooling sessions to suit Hamish have really maximised the benefits for us; improving suppleness, building muscle and increasing fitness. Learning how to get the best out of our sessions has been really interesting, its the balance of doing things slowly and cautiously, whilst still pushing enough to progress. I don’t think I would have gotten that balance as well as I have, without the help from our instructor Katie.
I have always enjoyed schooling and flatwork, but only over the last year or so have I really taken an interest and found my ‘discipline’ in dressage. I have learnt about the correct processes for schooling and the benefits and purposes of various exercises. The most crucial learning curve for me has been in understanding what Hamish needs and learning how to get to our goals in sync, without fuss or fighting. We now have a routine which I stick by every time I school and it really works. So I thought hey, why not share this with some of you? Hopefully if you’re a bit stuck in a rut with schooling your older one, this will pull you out of that rut and get you back on the road to success in no time!
Now before I say anymore, I would like to point out that I am not a professional. These are just things I have learnt through my lessons and time with Hamish so far. These are my personal tips and advise and I am always open to hearing your opinions and ideas too.
So, lets start in the logical place, the warm up. For me, this is the most crucial part to having a successful schooling session with Hamish. It has taken a bit of trail and error but I think we have it down to a tee now. I start by getting on and walking Hamish around on a long rein, encouraging a ‘long and low’ frame. I don’t ask any questions yet, I just allow him to stretch and loosen off – we do one lap of the school on each rein like this. It is a good time for me to focus on my position and also I can get a feel for how Hamish is feeling on that particular day. Gradually I pick up the contact and start to gently ask for a bit more from the walk, pushing him slowly into a contact (still long and low at this point). At this stage, we can add in some circles, changes of rein and figures of eight, this starts to encourage bend and suppleness through his body. Each time round, just asking a little more, encouraging more contact by engagement from his hind. We do this quietly, because he can get quite cross if I ask to much at the beginning and then the rest of the schooling session can become a bit of a battle and far less productive than desired! If he feels stiff on a particular rein, I may choose to do some leg yielding / shoulder in / travers to stretch out the sides of the body that feel stiffer, before we go into the trot, or we might come back to this after our trot work.
Our walk work can take anywhere between 10-15 minutes and then we move onto the trot. Again, at first the trot is allowed to ‘just be’. We go large around the school and gradually ask more from the trot on each lap round. At the grand old age of 24, it can take a minute to loosen off into the trot, so he has to be allowed to settle into the pace before I can ask more from him. With that said, he does still have to try and work through into a contact, but of course true contact and throughness comes as the trot progresses and he’s able to push through more from behind. We also start to add some circles, 20 and 15m and changes of rein.
At the moment, in the summer months, I am able to add the canter into the schooling session quite early on. I like to take the opportunity to canter as soon as he feels balanced and ready, this really frees him up and the other paces become much more forward and supple after the canter. The initial ‘warm up’ canter, is just a short one and either just a corner and the long side or a 20m Circle. I don’t fuss to much on the initial canter, just trying to push him forward and encourage him to step through from behind.
That’s it, warm up complete and we are ready to move onto our schooling session for the day. Keep an eye on the blog for more posts in this ‘schooling series’ where I will discuss different exercises I use for different outcomes and other tips and helpful I advise I have learnt along the way.
How to you warm up your veteran? Do you have any tips to share, I would be so interested to hear them?