Training advice for Art2Ride classical foundation training 

Based near Uppsala, Sweden

Chapter 3

 In-Hand work


The use of in-hand work in Art2Ride classical foundation training and building of the topline muscling is oriented towards the activation of the horse’s back and core muscles. The main purpose is to obtain a calm and relaxed horse who steps actively well under himself and at the same time seeks the rein contact into long and low stretch. The thrust from the hind legs under the horse’s central point of gravity activates the muscles along the back, and this in turn helps to extend the horse’s neck forward and downward. This gives the muscles freedom to work in relaxation and precondition their further development and growth. In-hand work is considered very beneficial, if not essential, for the development of topline muscles. It is a great warm-up for lunging and riding within a training session. 

Before starting

In-hand work is performed easiest with just a bridle on a horse. You can do in-hand work with saddle on as well, but it will restrict the whip aid somewhat and you will have to be able to stand a little away from the horse to reach him with the whip effectively. This may not be easy in the beginning. The positive side to having a saddle on is that you can put a strap between the d-rings and then the reins going through it to control the outside rein better and to prevent it from falling down the neck when the horse stretches down to the ground level with his nose. The same can be achieved also with a lunging surcingle which will be less in your way.

You need a whip as your leg aid. The whip length depends on the size of your horse, shorter whip for a smaller horse and longer whip for a bigger horse.

If you know that your horse may be fractious, you can also have a lunge line attached to the bridle and carry the line looped in your inside hand. Loop the line so that it cannot tangle in your hand or the reins. Make also sure that the horse cannot step on it by accident. If the horse would bolt or misbehave badly, you can then let go the reins and control the horse with the lunge line. Having the reins go through a strap between the top rings of the lunging surcingle (or a strap between a saddle’s d-rings) will further aid in such a circumstance by preventing the reins from falling down and possibly tangling with the horse’s legs, if he were to bolt. This type of arrangement is also good for alternating between lunging and in-hand work. 

Hands

The easiest way of keeping the reins is to take them in your upturned hands. Thus both inside and outside hands should be palms up. The easiest way to keep the whip in your outside hand is to have it going between your thumb and index finger, and middle and ring finger (or index finger and middle finger). This way the whip falls almost automatically downwards towards the place where your leg would go, if you were riding. You can then also easily turn your wrist to use the whip on the horse’s quarters to ask him to move on.

The inside hand should be keeping contact with the inside rein, and be positioned nearer the inside bit ring. The outside hand should be positioned below the withers beside the inside shoulder. 

Procedure
You start by asking the horse to move on. This you do by voice command and tapping with your whip on the horse’s quarters, if necessary. You start then to walk with the horse at his shoulder. Then what procedure to follow depends on how the horse reacts. There are three common reactions: the horse can start leaning on you with his inside shoulder, rush on and cut you off, or walk on straight. There are slight differences on how you proceed from these. 

The horse leans on you with his inside shoulder

If he is leaning on you all the time, you counteract it by asking him to yield his shoulders away from you and give you space so that you can both walk on side by side in harmony and calmness. How to do it: Lift your inside hand upwards and push it away from yourself towards the horse’s throat, think of how chambon would work and mimic that. Keep steady contact, but do not pull. At the same time ask the horse to yield by tapping him on his shoulder with your outside hand as well as tapping him with the whip on his side where your leg would go when you ride. Don’t lean on the horse (he will lean back harder), but don’t yield yourself to him either. You can also face him more with your body posture to bring home the message that you want him to stop leaning. Keep the outside rein contact also steady, but don’t pull. Don’t let it slack. You can use a voice command with all this, f.ex. ‘yield’. When he yields even one step away from you, release reins a little, stop all other aids, even let the reins slack a little for an instant, face yourself forward and not towards him, keep moving straight on. And praise. If he doesn’t lean anymore, keep the contact (weight of rein) and walk on with good activity. If he starts to lean again, repeat the procedure.

If you have a horse who leans a lot and heavily, it will take a while for him to not lean on you anymore, so don’t be impatient with that, just repeat, and when you get reaction in the form of yield and him giving you space, relax and praise every time. It should get better and easier as the time goes on and you practice more. Praise and release of pressure is essential every time he does the right thing for him to learn what you want from him.

The horse rushes on and then cuts you off
If he is rushing on and cuts you off, keep your calm, keep contact on both sides, follow with your inside hand upwards with his head and also towards him. Stand your ground, stop if you need to and ask him to yield away from you (contact on both hands, use your whip where your leg would go when riding, use voice command, face him more if you want to make things even clearer). Make sure you have consistent outside rein contact so that he cannot over bend inward with just his neck. Once he yields, give reins. If head goes up, follow upward with your inside hand again, mimicking chambon. Walk straight on with him when he has yielded and doesn’t rush past you anymore.     

The horse behaves perfectly and walks on calmly beside you

If he is being excellent and just walks on straight without leaning or cutting you off, that is a very nice start! You will also get to this point from the previous two after some practicing.

After walking on for a round or two around the arena in relaxed manner with good energy, ask a couple steps of leg yield from the quarter line towards the long side by keeping the contact on both sides and tapping with the whip on the place where your leg would go.

If his head goes up, follow it with your inside hand by lifting it upward towards his throat, and keep the contact with your outside hand as well (moving it f.ex. downwards his shoulder if needed). When he yields, praise, give reins and stop using your voice command and whip.

If the head goes downward, follow with your inside hand downward as well and give reins with both hands. Keep a slight contact though (weight of rein) through this.

If the head goes up after initial stretch down, follow it up with your inside hand, keep contact with the outside rein and ask for a step or two of yield again. And repeat.

After a couple steps of leg yield goes fine, you can start asking for a couple steps of shoulder fore in between walking straight on and leg yielding. This would mean that you would position him slightly differently and ask him to yield and step under with the inside hind leg while walking on a straight line (or a curve on a circle, however, straight line, f.ex. along the fence line will be easiest to start with). Keep an eye on the bend of his neck and don’t let it over bend to the inside; thus regulate the bend of his neck with the contact with the outside hand.

General points

When the in-hand work is functioning well you should aim at walking with the horse in a good and active forward pace and doing the leg yields and shoulder fores every now and then. The optimal work should flow easily between walking in a long and low outline and the lateral yields. You should follow his head with your inside hand (head goes up, your inside hand goes up; head comes down, your inside hand comes down) and keep the outside contact constant with your outside hand.

The contact is mostly the weight of the rein. But it may vary between slightly more and slightly less. It would be more when his head is up and you have followed it up with your inside hand and less or even occasionally slack when you feel that he is wanting to stretch. Never pull horse with the reins or restrict him when he wants to stretch.

The whip aid is meant to be only a tapping aid, not hitting or slapping. So, there is no real force behind it. If you use your hand on his shoulder to aid with the yield, it is likewise not hitting or using force, but just nudging and equivalent to tapping with the whip. Thus your hand or your whip are not meant for any kind of punishment, but just an aid to inform him what you want him to do.

And what you want him to do is to yield the inside hind leg to the middle and under himself and step in general more forward which then in turn will facilitate the lifting of his back, activating the muscles along it and stretching of his neck forward and downward. Once he has yielded and is stretching forward and downward, he should find it easier to lift his back up even more and step forward under himself more, which will enable the building of his topline muscling in relaxation more effectively.

The stretch down and out will come gradually. The horse is unlikely to stretch down to the ground immediately (although it can happen especially with young horses) and it should not be expected to happen during the first sessions. Instead, you should evaluate how far the horse is capable to stretch at that moment in time and not ask too much at one go. As the time goes on, you can ask more as well as asking for the lateral work to be done in the stretch. But indeed, lateral work in the stretch all the way to the ground requires a lot of work from the horse and can be expected only when he has a stronger and suppler topline.

Advanced - general

When you are able to work the horse in full stretch while doing the lateral work, you can increase the difficulty level by asking for more steps of lateral work. You can also increase the angle of your leg yield. And the shoulder fore should start becoming a shoulder in when the horse starts to be so supple as to be able to bend laterally with his whole body.

As you become more and more fluent in the work yourself and have started to master the technique, you may find that working the horse in an occasional small circle with significant crossing over of inside hind leg will increase the horse’s topline activation far quicker. By this time you should be confident enough in your work to do it with very little and very soft contact only – or even with slack reins. You should still observe and listen to your horse adapting what you ask of him to his abilities and know when to put more pressure on him and when to release the pressure. But this finessing the in-hand work will come gradually and only after you have practiced it for a long period of time. Thus this cannot be taught via a manual like this but needs to be learned in practice through hours and hours of sessions with horses.

Another advanced technique is to block a horse with your body language. This you would use with a horse who is liable to walk too fast or wants to just rush past you in circles and cut you off. In the beginning with less knowledge of in-hand work you would stop this type of horse and ask him to step over as has been described earlier. When you are starting to be fluent with the in-hand work, you can bypass this by blocking the horse to slow him down. This technique is also best learned with a teacher present to make sure that you understand it properly and use the right body language. Once you are getting fluent with the technique, you can also use your whip at the horse’s shoulder instead of your hand when you want him to stop leaning on you.


Advanced - piaffe

Piaffe work is another advanced technique. Asking for the horse to lift his legs in diagonal pairs this way is to start asking the horse to begin to understand the basics of collection. Collection is bending of all the three major joints in the hind legs and the horse bearing more weight with his hind quarters by stepping under more and lowering his hind end to give more freedom to the forehand. A proper collection and ultimately correctly performed piaffe is not a trick with just snapping of the legs upward, but requires a lot of muscle power and strength with many years of muscle building on the topline. There are no shortcuts here, it is just hard graft with progressively harder training, but with a sympathetic attitude. You cannot rush with the work, you have to listen to your horse and train within the limits of the horse’s capabilities at any given moment.

First requirement for piaffe work is that your horse is not over reacting to the whip. If he is fearful or overly sensitive to a whip, then you need to first desensitize your horse and teach him that the whip is not going to hurt, but that it is just another aid in training – just like your hands or your legs. You can start piaffe training only after your horse is ok with the whip touching all parts of his body.

To start asking the horse to lift his legs in diagonal pairs to prepare for the piaffe work, you would first want to warm the horse up with normal in-hand work and lunging. You want to make sure that your horse is accepting the bit, is keeping a steady and light contact while stepping well under himself, lifting his back and whole topline into use, and is off his forehand in full balance with his hind and front ends while maintaining a good and active stretch with active and rhythmic gaits. Once you have a horse at this level of training, you can start with the piaffe work.

You start by walking the horse in-hand by a fence line in your arena. Ask the horse to stop and reward him when he stands still. Then to still make sure that he doesn’t over react to the whip aid, run your schooling whip along his neck, over his back along his legs and his belly. So, you stroke him with the whip, no tapping or anything like that. If he over reacts to the whip, you have to proceed first to desensitize him to it before starting any piaffe work. If he shifts off when the whip touches him even with gentle stroke, keep it on him and follow him until he calms down and then remove the whip and praise him. Repeat. Of course if your horse is explosive, start very gently and gradually with introducing the whip. You need to know your horse and stay safe. But assuming that your horse is ok with the whip, and he should be since to get to the advanced level of in-hand work, you would have needed to use your whip in the earlier training.

Once you have made sure that there is no over reaction to the whip, reward, and then take contact to the horse with the reins, just the same as with any in-hand work. Face your horse by turning partially towards his hind quarters and tap gently on top of his quarters. The first tap could be just placing the whip on him without any force whatsoever. This to make sure that he doesn’t get startled or react too strongly at first. If nothing happens, tap him with a bit more force increasing the force a little each time nothing happens. Wait a few seconds between each tap to give him time to react. When something happens, stop tapping and reward. If he steps forward, stop him and then once he stands still then reward. If he steps sideways with this hind legs, tap on the side of his thigh and ask him to move back to the side of the arena. Once he stands still, reward. If he just shifts around and does not listen to you asking him to move back to the side of the arena, do not start a fight with him, but take him around in a circle and lead him eventually back to the side of the arena and ask him to stop and stand still. When he does, reward. And then try again tapping him on top of the croup. If he lifts one of his legs, stop and reward. Once he has reacted to the tapping in some way, you can ask a bit more. If he tends to go excessively forward from the tap, stop him with your inside hand and block him, then tap again, don’t reward, but tap again, and block the forward rush. When he moves something, but doesn’t go against your hand, stop and reward. Then tap again, and reward when he moves a leg but doesn’t rush forward. Then you can wait for more from him, perhaps he moves a diagonal pair, then stop and reward. A slight movement forward with diagonal pairs during this exercise is of course totally fine, but the rushing you want to eliminate by not rewarding it. 

Stop the session when you feel that your horse has given his best that day. Do not expect him to move his legs in diagonal pairs the first session. You may want to aim at just him lifting a leg without rushing on. There is a lot of mental effort from the horse involved in this because he needs to figure out what do you want him to do. He will experiment with reactions and it is up to you to mark the right ones by stopping the taps, praising and rewarding him. At this elementary point you should only aim at teaching him to lift his legs in diagonal pairs when you tap him on top of his hind quarters. Thus, in this early stage you should not expect any lowering or shifting of weight, the first step is to just teach him the method.

Once he has understood that the purpose of your aids is for him to lift his legs in diagonal pairs from gentle taps on his hind quarters maintaining good rhythm, and he has grown stronger along his topline and is working well in working frame, you can start to add more difficulty in the piaffe work. This would include asking him to stretch down and outward in the piaffe work engaging his core and whole topline even more and then asking him to come upwards and starting to shift his weight backwards into true collection. To get into this stage, you will have been working your horse for some years in-hand and should be fluent in it with good sensitivity to know how much to ask from your horse.