WORKING WITH YOUR HORSE
Working with your horse consistently at home is paramount to having a good cavalry mount. Many cavalry reenactors, if they ride at all, ride their horses without a plan of work for each ride. Riding your horse is like organizing a drill session. If you are the drill instructor you should map out what you intend to accomplish before you ever take command of troops on the drill field. This is the same with what you accomplish by riding your horse. Map out a block of work you want to work on and build from previous work you have done.
PLEASE - Before you mount up check your horse equipment:
Understand how and why your horse equipment works and if you have questions, please ask them. Mentally run through the correct way to saddle up - by the book. Make sure your bit is seated in your horse's mouth properly, the chin strap is FLAT and not too loose or tight. That the brow-band is not hanging down above the eye on the off side. Your straps should be neat and workmanlike, no hanging spare billet leather under the belly of your horse, no unbuckled straps or unfastened leather to catch on equipment. Understand how to saddle your horse for his comfort and your safety. Ask about and practice how to keep that leather from moving outside its keeper, how to fold over leather and secure it from hanging as excess. Once you master the organization and application of your horse equipment you will be quicker at getting ready when Boots & Saddles is sounded, you and your horse will be safer and you will be a more aware rider. This does NOT require more time it merely requires attention to detail.
Warm-up your horse:
Warming your horse up before drill is very important. By warming up I do not mean getting the "buck" out or speeding around at fast gaits. I mean suppling your horse with lateral work, getting him used to and obeying your leg, seat and rein aids by making serpentines, figure eights, turns on the haunches and some of the exercises I will give you here.
Here are some exercises you can use to get your horse handy and moving off your leg.
Understand that your horse should move AWAY from pressure and to get a horse light requires you being light and releasing pressure when the horse gives you the desired response.
One thing I have noticed quite a bit with mounted reenactors is their lack of understanding in how the leg is used as an aid. Moving forward is an attitude your horse might have to develop or has already developed according to how you use your leg and what your expectations are of your mount. When you use your legs and seat to move your horse out of line or with the formation, does your horse respond immediately or does he need heavy use of your legs to get a response?
Heavy use of the legs, right up to general pounding on the ribcage with the heels is very cruel and punishing to your horse yet I have seen several riders who shy away from use of a whip or spurs unwittingly punishing their horses MORE severely with their heels than any whip would do. Using your legs in this way will also make your horse sullen and resentful and many times sluggish to move. How do you prevent this vicious cycle from continuing? Try the below exercise and in just one session your horse will respond to your legs much quicker and with continued training daily your horse will be very light within a week! No more pounding ribs, just instant obedience to the tightening of your calf muscles!
After warm-up be prepared to test your horse's responsiveness to your leg aids. This means, carrying a dressage whip. You will now set your horse up to misbehave if he is sluggish about moving out when you squeeze your calves. Take a track in a fairly large circle and establish it by riding it quietly at a walk.
Stop your horse, settle him, and then ask for the walk with even calf pressure. If your horse does not respond immediately crack the whip behind your leg along his ribs, let him jump forward without hindrance from you. DO NOT HOLD HIM IN WITH THE BIT - LET HIM REACT! Make sure you use the whip without a lot of motion, no raising of the hand, just a flick of the wrist (this is why we use a dressage whip - they are longer and more flexible). Continue on the circle for just a minute and then stop again.
This is your horse's first big test. Ask for the walk again and again crack him with the whip if he doesn't obey immediately. It won't take long for your horse to realize that if he moves forward immediately when your legs ask, he will not feel the whip.
With a confirmed sluggard you might have to reinforce your leg with a whip for several weeks but eventually you will be able to discard it when you establish proper obedience. A good test is to form one rank and ask your horse to leave the others. All horses should be able to leave the rest of the horses without a fight.
MORE CAVALRY EXERCISES COMING UP SOON