I got to wondering about this the other day when someone posted on facebook about having a flatwork lesson and what it entailed. Over time my general flatwork routine has definitely evolved, from horse to horse and discipline to discipline. Back in the hunter days we might do different size circles, some transitions, a little bending left and right, maaaaaaybe some shoulder-in, mostly in a stretchy trot type of outline. When I moved to the jumpers it got a bit more intense – shoulder in, leg yield, opening and closing the stride, smaller circles, etc. And then of course over to eventing, dipping our toes into actual dressageland (um, -ish…) and adding in such fun things as haunches-in, canter squares, half pass, etc.
As I’ve learned more, my overall flatwork routine has definitely evolved. Of course a lot depends on the horse you’re sat on and their level of training – I can’t just go in the ring and pop out a casual half pass on the 4yo for funsies. But he did get a lot of things introduced to him earlier on than some of my other horses, because I have more of an “established” (lolhelpme) background in flatwork fundamentals. I’m still shit at it, but… ya know. A little less shit?
Anyway, I think a lot of us probably have a “typical” flatwork routine for most of our horses. Like, let’s say, it’s just a regular ol’ work day, not a lesson day or anything, and you’re flatting your horse just to push some buttons and keep them moving and tuned up. I’m curious – what does that look like for you with your own horse, whatever their stage of training or discipline?
For example, mine: Henry was a Prelim event horse but we don’t really seem to show anymore (at the moment anyway). I can’t tell you the last time I put a dressage saddle on him, but we still do flatwork several times a week. I push all the same buttons I spent so long installing, both to keep him tuned up in case we ever do make it to a show again, and to keep his body stronger and more gymnasticized. So for him, just a regular ol’ not-at-all-special day of flatwork starts at the walk, usually going back and forth from freewalk to contact, opening and closing the stride, and doing figure 8’s on 10-ish meter circles to get him bending around my leg. Then we move to trot, which he usually likes to do a big stretch before we really dig in, so we might make a few 20m circles or laps of the arena just letting him stretch before I start to put him back together a bit. From there we do a lot of lateral work – leg yield and shoulder-in are is his jam, he is always Mr. Tension and it helps him relax into the outside rein – and serpentines. I’ll play a lot with transitions within the gait – lengthening the stride, then making it small, then back to working – and going back and forth and in between. We’ll throw in a few trot/walk/trot on a circle (rapid-fire transitions have always been his “come apart” trigger, and some days they still are). Then canter, with leg yield, maybe a little baby half pass, always some counter canter loops, and most assuredly our favorite and most important exercise for an event horse – opening and closing the stride. I want to be able to go from a 10′ stride to a 14′ stride to a 12′ stride and back again at the drop of a hat while jumping, so transitions within the canter are probably the #1 thing we do and we do it EVERY ride (I think if you sit outside the jumper ring or the cross country warmup that’s probably the thing you’d see most often too). If you can’t quickly and easily adjust the canter, you’re screwed on a jumping horse.
Canter squares are big for us too, because Henry is a croup-high, naturally quite downhill horse, and they help get his hind end more underneath him and his front end up a bit. I’ll do a simple change here and there with him sometimes but almost never flying changes, because he loves to throw flying changes into dressage tests where they shouldn’t be. We’ll do some canter/stretchy trot/canter or some canter/walk/canter or some canter/trot/halt/rein-back/canter too, how many or which variations depend on the day and how spicy he is. After that we do some free walk, more stretchy trot, stretchy serpentines, etc, and then we’re done. It could be 20 minutes or it could be 45 minutes, depending on the day.
Presto obviously isn’t here right now and is neon green, but before he left his flatwork sessions were about 15-20 minutes and consisted of transitions between walk and trot and canter (mostly walk and trot since he was still kind of struggling with his canter balance in the dressage arena), beginning leg yield (he was actually pretty good at that), the extreme beginning of shoulder-in (less good at that), small transitions within each gait, serpentines, and figure 8’s. Nothing particularly complicated, but enough to keep him focused and thinking and paying attention to my leg/seat and not just blobbing around on endless 20m circles. At the canter he either did simple laps around or did circles. We had just started playing with opening the stride and then coming back when I sent him off for training.
So tell me – what does your average, not-special flatwork day look like? Discipline and level of horse? I love seeing what everyone else does and why!