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Training Questions & Answers

The popular #AskMandy series returned to Instagram during the break in competition due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Here are all of Mandy's answers to the questions submitted:

What are some good exercises for making downward transitions more prompt and in better balance? I actually had a good lesson on this not too long ago. Start by staying on a circle to stay very focused. Keep your connection consistent and elastic, not rigid, and keep the same cadence and rhythm as you ask your horse to step forward into the transition. Keep your leg on through the transition and don’t allow your horse to fall behind the leg. I prefer more canter to trot and trot to walk transitions rather than canter to walk so the horse doesn't fall behind the leg. And remember to breathe so you don't get too tight!

What is your favorite gymnastics exercise for a young horse? First and foremost, I keep it simple and basic, without any “traps.” Then I modify the difficulty depending on the horse and what I’m trying to accomplish. For example, start with an exercise where the distances are slightly shorter and with the jumps that are inviting and easy. You can modify the distances, depending on the horse. Depending on the horse and rider, the exercise could be a trot pole with a crossrail to a one stride (18 feet) to another one or two stride. Depending on the size of the ring, you could have another one or two stride. Have it on a straight line and have the distances on the shorter side so the horse can take their time. (But if you have a large-strided horse, then you may want a longer set up before shortening it to slowly teach the horse to compress the stride.) Based on so many variables, it’s so much better if you can have good, qualified eyes on the ground to manipulate distances and poles for each different horse and rider combination. There won’t really be one cookie-cutter exercise with the same measurements for all horses. The main thing is to keep it simple and rewarding for the young horse! And in the theme of exercises that I like to use, here are two more to check out: Developing balance in horse and rider: A favorite jumper gymnastic:

What are your tips to get a horse to be more reactive off the leg? I would carry a stick or a dressage whip to flick at the horse, right behind my leg and cluck at the same time so the horse learns the association. Or I would cluck and tap with the stick. The horse will learn to associate the cluck with the stick and with going forward. I do this in gradual degrees—start with light pressure then increase if you need more.

How do I improve my horse in the combination when she doesn’t back up, lands too far and gets very stressed? To help fix this issue, I would first teach the horse how to understand landing rails using a single jump. Then I would incorporate landing rails into a small gymnastic-type combination. Teach the horse that the landing rail is there to help her. Sometimes, I've had horses with arcs that are too big that didn't understand the landing rail. So instead of a rail set at 10' from the jump, I would place the rail a stride away. So then if I used the landing rail in a combination (set at a low height), it would be a two-stride combination. But overall, if you can teach the horse the landing rail and then use that in the combination, that will improve her through combinations.

How do you help horses who drift left, especially when landing right lead but going counter clockwise? From this description, it sounds like the horse is leaning onto the left leg. So I would try to get the horse to move better off of the left leg on the flat before addressing it over jumps. It's not an issue that you'll correct with more right rein. Then I would use guide rails in front of the jump and behind the jump. Start with a small jump and set guide rails on the left side. In front of the jump, you can go right up to the ground line. And in the back, set the guide rail at least 9ft away from the jump.

What are your favorite exercises for teaching flying lead changes? First off, if the horse is too young, I don’t really teach changes. But it depends entirely on the individual horse’s balance. I've had 4-year-olds that do flying changes without even thinking about them, but I've also had 7-year-olds that are big and super athletic but haven’t figured out their balance yet. So it’s completely horse dependent. For one that I feel is ready, I start by doing simple lead changes using the trot to make sure that the horse properly shifts the balance of its mid section to pick up the correct lead. It's about moving them around your leg correctly. Sometimes, I may use a pole or a cavaletti and gradually move onto a flying change. But if it’s a really young horse and it’s not physically or mentally prepared, I just don’t push it.

How do you recommend starting a young horse? I believe it's best to get them broke to be an all-around good horse first then teach them a more specialized path. For those who may not have experience or adequate time to start a young horse, I would suggest to send it to someone (or work with someone who does have the experience). The proper groundwork to start with is very important in setting the foundation for a successful future.

Do you see differences in training stallions compared to mares or geldings? Yes, 100 percent. Stallions are often the most sensitive and you might not always know it. This sensitivity can translate into performance if handled correctly. For mares, I think they will really fight for you (when you're on the same page). And for geldings, you’ve got to love a good gelding that’s got a good head on his shoulders.

How would you fix the issue of a horse dragging you down a line? I would start by trotting or cantering into a line that's long enough (at least five strides) to do a downward transition in between fences. For example, trot in over the first jump, land and come back down to the trot and either trot or canter the next fence. Then progress into cantering into the line and coming back down to the trot for the second fence. Finally, you can try canter, trot, canter. If it's too much with fences, you could start with just poles.

Do you have any tips for exercises (off of the horse) to improve your riding? I'd suggest trying yoga and stretching to get as even as possible. For myself and my riding, I stretch my back out regularly. Do you have any tips for controlling your upper body over fences? Core strength, core strength, core strength! If your core is weak, you won’t have good control over your upper body. If your core is strong, you’re not going to scrunch up into a turtle. Also, it's important to keep your balance down through your leg. To improve your core strength (and all-around strength and balance), I recommend doing pilates. The best way to work on soft/steady hands and an auto release? I'd suggest trying driving reins. What are your favorite warm-up exercises on the flat? I like to test the gears: forward, backward, extend, collect, and lateral work. I make sure that the horse is moving off the leg. Sometimes I like to incorporate some circles. But overall, on the flat, I'm testing the gas pedal, the brakes, and the steering.

What are your favorite exercises for young horses? I like simple exercises that don't over challenge the young horses, physically. Instead, I try to engage their brains. For example, I use pole work and small jumps and I include jumps with fill at a very small height so that they can get accustomed to seeing different things. I also use cavaletti in simple patterns to establish rideability.

Do you have any tips on building a better topline? I find it easier to build a topline with more canter work (in regards to show jumpers). It's easier to get a horse to use its back and topline more efficiently at the canter than it is at the trot. At the trot, it can be harder for the horse to push evenly. I would recommend that you do an equal amount of work on both leads.

What are good exercises/best ride for a hot, careful, and spooky horse that likes to rush on approach? One exercise that I like to use is approaching a small jump out of a corner and transitioning to the trot when I feel the horse start to build and get ahead of the game. You should have a track and a plan in place for when you'll do your downward transition. I'll either do a downward transition coming out of the corner, or I'll do a halt—as long as there's ample distance (a minimum of three strides) and it's well in advance of the jump so that I'm not stopping the horse at the jump. It's never about pulling the horse off of the jump nor is it about teaching them to stop last minute. And if you decide to do a halt, take a deep breath and let yourself melt over the horse so the horse can relax. You never want to transfer nervous energy into an already nervous and tight horse. So remember to continue breathing—deep breaths are important!

How do you get a horse to stop rooting?

This question is a little difficult to answer without knowing the underlying cause of the rooting. Is it the connection between you and your horse? Or is it from tooth pain or pain in another part of the horse's body? If you can rule out pain (or tack or bit issues), then ask yourself if you’re pulling too much, or if you do in fact have a soft elbow. For a horse that roots with me (and one that I know isn't hurting elsewhere), I use more leg to make the horse go forward into the connection. More leg,then, may be the answer for you.

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