As I ride in my teeny tiny indoor during the endless Midwest winters, I always wonder if we really make any progress over the indoor season, or if because of the limitations of space, we are just playing with maintenance of skills and fitness. This winter has been a bit different as I have so many more tools in my tool box that work effectively, like freestyle, various leg yields, counter bend, more effective transitions, and lateral work in walk. Even in a small space a lot of these can be done very well and make a big difference to the quality of the trot and canter. When I started riding outside in the past couple of weeks I was amazed with how well Jet did with some exercises that we haven't been able to do for months and how willing and supple(don't you love that word?) he has been. The key, I think, has been that I had a mental list of all the exercises I expect Jet to do at his level and if I couldn't do something because of space limitations I did do something related that keeps the skill set strong for when we migrate back outside. Below are some bullet points of the most helpful exercises that replaced/reinforced things we couldn't do inside but we could work on in an oblique way.
*Freestyle-Basically working on a loose rein at the walk and trot(and sometimes canter) to start out our rides. Starting with forequarter and hindquarter yields, alignment on the circle, halt to reinback, and upward and downward transitions just off of my seat. All on a loose rein. Replacing going large in a big ring to get loose and freely forward.
*Leg Yields, Spirals, Counter Bend-After a few minutes of Freestyle picking up the contact, doing the basic alignment exercise at the walk, and working on leg yields(head to wall), spirals in and out, and counter bend on the circle. The key to LY and CB is getting the horse into the outside aids and then switching to the new outside. The switching back and forth is the key. This mimics serpentines and is super suppling. The outside stays the same in spirals but the horse shifts in and out on the spiral from the seat, so again super suppling. Replacing serpentines and figure eights for loosening/suppling.
*Shoulder-In/Haunches-In on the Square-The key to this is walking a square of 15-20 meters with square corners first and THEN adding in steps of either shoulder-in or haunches-in. Over time building to doing the square turns in either sh-in or h-in, getting multiple consecutive sides, and then last, switching between sh-in and h-in while walking the square. For whatever reason(hind leg engagement?), the square turns really helped Jet get more quality in his lateral work with shoulders lifted and inside hind engaged. Replacing long straight lateral work with this has helped the quality of Jet's lateral work in general tremendously and of course his ability to engage and collect.
*Transitions of Quality Between Walk, Trot, and Canter-By this I mean upward transitions that feel like a release of energy and downward transitions that feel forward. By being more picky about the quality of EVERY transition, only doing transitions with energy, and having enough energy all the time, the quality of the gaits and the engagement is much better. Replacing lengthening on long straights to make sure the working gaits are of good quality.
*Various Touching into Collection Exercises-Things like collected walk to reinback to walk with no real halt, transitions between consecutive gaits that are closer together, transitions between non-consecutive gaits like walk canter walk, and smaller than 12 meter circles. This is not really replacing any outdoor work it is just touching on collection very briefly, so Jet gets used to powering up a bit.
I only ride every other day in winter and spend a lot of time at the walk with bursts of good quality trot and canter. Every year when I transition to riding outside again it feels like the moment of truth. Last year I was just so happy Jet was relaxed from the get go that some rusty movements were ok with me. This year I hoped the more detailed inside work would convert to easy outside movements that we can't do inside. All our rides outside this year have been SUPER, with flowy serpentines, lovely stretches down to back up again, transitions up that feel like a release, balanced lateral work at the trot, super leg yields from centerline, and some nice uphill canters going large. I'm leaving lengthens for a week or two and just doing one or two exercises that require more collection, but I could not be more pleased with the results of my indoor 'alternative' training!