Horses on their own tend to move in straight lines unless they are engaged in play or disputes. But they move a lot as they graze and to access water. A study of wild horses in Australia found that mostly they walked. Sometimes they trotted. Occasionally, they cantered or galloped.
Horses in captivity often have restricted freedom of movement. Anything we can do to encourage movement adds color to a horse’s day. This spiral exercise is an interesting task we can make part of our repertoire. It encourages and maintains flexibility.
Horse can only bend laterally (to the side) in three places on their body. (1) from the junction of head and neck and along the neck muscle. (2) at the base of the neck. (3) Between the final lumbar vertebra and the sacrum which consists of five fused vertebrae. Bend in this last area is extremely limited.
As with all the other tasks that we teach, the key is to do a little bit often. Over weeks and months, the horse’s suppleness will gradually improve and can easily be maintained with frequent short repeats of a variety of stretching tasks.
The horse moves in a tight curve around the handler who turns on the spot.
- Horse and handler smoothly walk together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position with the handler on either the right or left side of the horse. See numbers 16 and 68 in my Blog Contents List at the top of this page.
- ‘Rule of Three’, which is a way to organize training sessions to maintain high interest and motivation. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.
#273 HorseGym with Boots: The Spiral. https://youtu.be/sQ-ELVlIzZA
MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT
- A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
- Horse is not hungry.
- Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
- Horse and handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
- Halter and lead for the teaching phase.
- An object to mark the center of a circle.
- * Start with as large a circle as the horse finds comfortable. If he starts to swing his hindquarters out of the arc of the circle, the circle is too tight for the horse’s current ability to flex laterally.
- * Short sessions as often as possible, as well as exercises such as weaving obstacles, figure 8’s, 90-degree turns (Number 31 in my Blog Contents List) all help with lateral flexion.
- * Playing with 180-degree turns also helps (Number 23 in my Blog Contents List).
- * Click&treat as often as you need in order to keep the horse interested and engaged.
- * The horse may be much stiffer in one direction. If one side seems especially difficult for him, check out the possibility of current soreness or historical injuries.
- Set a marker (not a mat that the horse expects to stand on) into the center of your training area.
- Walk the horse in a large circle around the marker with you on his left side, which means your circle will be walking anti-clockwise.
- Very gradually reduce the size of the circle each time you come around, in a gradual spiral fashion.
- Watch carefully for the point at which the horse’s hind end is no longer following the arc of the circle. That tells you when he is beginning to find it too hard. We don’t want him to develop the habit of swinging his hind end out, so when you reach this point, spiral your circle outwards again.
- With frequent short repeats, done amongst other things you are doing with your horse (see Rule of Three – Prerequisite 2), you will be able to gradually achieve tighter circles with the horse keeping his whole body aligned on the curve.
- Remember, horses have extremely limited bending at the hip area. In the video you can see how Boots moves her outside leg way to the side so she can draw her inside leg well under her belly to keep herself on the curve of the circle.
- When you can turn on the spot beside the marker with your back against the horse’s shoulder, while the horse curves around you, you have achieved the task.
- Repeat from the beginning on the horse’s right side. As mentioned in the Notes, you may find one side much stiffer.
- Play without a marker but in the same area.
- Play at liberty.
- Play with it in novel venues.
- Play on a slope.