Work in hand
Work in hand
It is through the work in hand that we teach the horse to stretch and work over its back / with a lifted back.
To get the horse to work over its back, it requires that the horse is moving forward, stepping under itself and is stretching. When that happens, it will tighten the abdominals and this is what makes the horse lift his back just behind the wither.
When we talk about the horse lifting its back, it does not mean that it uses the back muscles to lift. It lifts the back by tensioning the abdominal muscles.
The horse is trained to extend the muscles in the top line and shorten the muscles in the under line. As a result, the top line appears to look longer than the under line.
It is also through work in hand that we teach the horse to accept the contact on the bit. That's where we explain the things for the horse. It's easier to teach the horse these things without the extra strain that a rider is.
How do you do
The hand that controls the outer rein stays close to the horse's wither. The hand that controls the inside rein stays in front of you and in the beginning, close to the bit. When the horse begins to stretch, you let the reins get longer.
The whip is held with the same hand that controls the outer rein.
You ask the horse to step over and move forward using the whip.
What do you start with
To start with, you lead the horse around on circle. Here you try to get the horse to step over/yield its hind, about 50% forward and 50% sideways. I usually keep an eye on where the horse puts the inner hind leg. I want the horse to place the inner hind between the tracks of the forelegs. It is this stepping over and under that will make the horse stretch. Some horses will start to stretch quickly while others take a little longer.
The horse pushes you with the shoulder
Some horses will try to push you with their shoulder instead of stepping over. This has to be corrected before you can get the horse to work properly. Often it happens when the horse begins to stretch but at the same time tries to avoid stepping under itself.
The easiest way to fix it is to get the horse to lift his head again. Then you ask it once more to step under itself. Once you have taken some steps or a circle, you try again to let the horse stretch. If it still tries to push you with its shoulder, you just start over. They usually understand it in a short period of time.
The horse has understood it
Once the horse has found out what it is about, it can be lead out to the fence. And you can now try to work the horse all over the arena while it stretches. If it stops stretching, you will ask for a few steps of yielding or you go back on a circle.
The horse is stable in the work in hand
When the horse has begun to stretch consistently and steps deeply under itself, you can start working with leg yields and shoulder in. These are done in the same way as you would do if you were riding the horse. This is a good way to prepare the horse for doing these exercises under rider. It also helps to strengthen and supple the horse and you have the opportunity to see if the horse stretches correctly and is stepping properly under itself. Many horses will lift their heads a little or will curl back when trying. Here it is about performing the exercises while the horse stretches the head and neck down and out.
We do not do half pass when we work the horse in hand. It's too easy to get to shorten the horses gaits to much and that's not what we want. We do not do this exercise until the horse is ready to perform it under rider.
Work in hand or lunging
Whether you start the horse in the lunge line, work in hand or a combination of both depends on the horse.
In most cases, you will do both, depending on what you want to train. For example, it can be easier to learn the horse to stretch deep by doing work in hand. It will also be easier to teach the horse to yield its hind by explaining it through the work in hand instead of trying in the lunge line.
If the horse has been injured and is not allowed to trot, it may be safer to use work in hand.
All horses must be able to do work in hand before starting on the piaffe work. Piaffe work in hand is started before we begin the ridden collected work. This is because it is the best gymnastics exercise we have to teach the horse to bend the joints in the hindlegs, take more weight on the hind, lift the back and engage the back and the abdominal muscles. Which is the same thing we are asking for when we want the horse to collect, to a lesser degree though.
The work in hand is therefore an important part of the horse's training and is thus used throughout the horse's education.