What we all are trying to make, I think and hope, is a more balanced, obedient, and willing horse and also to affect him psychologically to where he is more willing to take instruction and follow directions or, at least, be “willing to allow himself to be trained”. We are also, bio-mechanically, trying to make it easier for this horse to get stronger and stay healthier and sounder longer, by “getting his shoulders out of the dirt”. This deficiency is a result of a horse that has been schooled for a considerable length of time with his neck too low and curled up (broken at the third cervical vertebra) and his nostrils behind his eyeballs (behind the bit) and may be very difficult to “fix” with just a big, fat snaffle bit. Here are some practical things that you can work on to prevent this from happening and make the horse better.
THE CAVALRY STOP
This exercise is from classical French equitation. It is sometimes called a “Cavalry Stop” because it was supposedly taught at the Cavalry School, Fort Riley, Kansas; although it is not in any of my cavalry manuals. In the Hunter/Jumper world it is usually referred to as the “Pulley Stop”.
Begin the exercise on a posting trot in a straight line. Shorten both reins to 28 inches. Place your right hand on top of the crest of the horse’s neck. Keep your left rein at 28 inches. Shorten your right rein enough to keep the neck straight. Trot 30 to 40 feet. Ask your horse to stop as you start up out of the saddle. You will “REACH” for/ press down on your stirrups, quit pushing with your legs and bring your shoulders back. With your left hand, turn your fingernails up and lift up toward the horse’s ears. With your right hand, push down hard on the middle of the horse’s neck. You would like the horse to stopand for that stop to be immediate. It probably won’t be. Sit a minute. Turn around. Reverse the position on your reins. Repeat the exercise going in the opposite direction. DO IT 10, 20, or 100 TIMES, if necessary, until you get the results you want. This is one place in a horse’s training that you can use anticipation as an ally. The first time the horse “breaks at the loin” to stop – give him credit (pat him). You will be lifting on the corner of one side of the mouth rather than pulling back the horse’s head and compressing his tongue as well as causing him to lock his jaws on the bit.
Expect the horse’s head and neck to go up at first. After you have made your point, drop you hands. After a period of diligent and focused practice on your part, the horse will anticipate what you are setting up to ask him to do and he will execute the stop almost automatically.
Points to Remember:
- If the horse pulls down and curls up there can be no elevation of the shoulders
- . Don’t pull back toward your body to stop – lift up to stop
- Keep the trot brisk and NEVER be slowing down when you ask for the stop
- NEVER use both reins at the same time to stop. ALWAYS hold one and lift up on the other
- You want the horse to “break”/coil his loins behind the saddle when he stops, not in the neck.
- Turn your fingernails up on the hand you lift with
WHAT THE CAVALRY STOP CAN HELP WITH:
- It puts “set” in chargey horses
- It teaches a horse to use his loin to stop
- It promotes elevation of the shoulders
- It teaches a horse not to lean
- It cleans up your downward transitions
- It does not compress the horse’s tongue
- It keeps a horse from “curling up in front”
- It makes your half-halts get to the hindquarters automatically
SHORTENING THE HORSE’S WALK
While walking in a straight line, shorten your left rein to 28 inches. Try to pull your horse over onto his right side by stepping down in your right stirrup and pulling your left rein across the horse’s neck in front of the withers. You will have NO CONTACT with the right rein. Release immediately. Repeat the exercise using the right rein. Do this a few times on both sides. The horse will start to shorten his walk when you barely pick up the rein.
The inside rein can have several jobs depending on your take on teaching a horse to perform a turnaround movement. If you embrace the idea of “riding the outside of the horse around the inside of the horse” in all movements in the family of the circle, be it a 20-meter circle or a pirouette, then it’s going to make sense to “chase” the outside shoulder around using your outside rein as a neck rein (2nd rein effect) for your turnaround movement instead of pulling the horse around with the inside rein. Also, it should make sense that one of the most important jobs of the inside rein is to keep setting the inside shoulder back which makes it easier for the outside shoulder to step around. Additionally, stepping into (“loading” or weighting) the inside stirrup will cause the horse to turn around within his body length, whereas stepping into the outside stirrup will cause the horse to make a flatter turnaround. All the while using you outside leg behind the girth to create forward energy in the horse (“drive” the horse). Remember also that when “chasing” the outside shoulder around, it is very important to have the shoulders moving when the horse’s outside ear is lined up with the saddle horn and not have the horse just overbend his neck causing the outside shoulder to be “left behind” or “late” in starting the turn.
HORSES THAT LEAN ON AND “TAKE POSSESSION OF YOUR HAND”
When a horse is heavy on the forehand it is not always on purpose. It could be a young horse with not very much equilibrium yet. Or a horse that just “lost his place” for a moment. Or just a horse in general, because, after all, they are designed that way so it is in no way unusual. It just happens to be the point we unusually start from. However, horses that do try to “take possession of your hand” or “pull you out of the tack” (lean) do it deliberately. The main idea is how do we make ourselves “weigh more” than the horse’s head and neck.
- Do not bend the horse excessively at the base of the neck and make the antagonist muscles on the opposite side too slack. This takes away your ability to “bind the forehand together”. It also gives the horse the ability to keep one or both front feet on the ground for a longer period of time, which gives him a “pillar of support” that makes leaning easier.
- Do not try to give the horse an outline that is too advanced for his stage of training. He won’t be able to stay off his shoulder
- Before you close the angle between the head and the neck and try to flex the horse at its poll he first should be introduced to the lateral, oblique, and isolation (moving the back end around the front end and the front end around the back end) movements, back a circle and back a square with mobilization or flexion of the jaw. The angle of the head and the angle of the shoulder should be as close to the same as possible. This means the horse’s nose should be in front of the vertical and his mouth level with the point of the shoulder
- When reschooling a horse that wants to “pull you out of the tack” try making your half-halts in an upward manner and not backward toward your body. Instead of pulling back, you lift up on the corner of the horse’s mouth with no recoil toward your body so you don’t compress the horse’s tongue. And don’t be afraid to stick your hand or hands “up by the horse’s ears”, if necessary, and keep them there until he quits pulling and you can keep his head up without any “drag” on the reins.
A horse leans on your hands by being able to leave one or both front feet on the ground for a more extended period of time. The farther a front leg comes back under the horse in the stance phase (when the leg will be weight-bearing) before leaving the ground again, the more the horse is able to weight the forehand. This is why a “long and low” or “down and round” outline can be the “kiss of death” when try to rebalance a chronic “leaner”.
When trying to get this kind of horse “up” do not be afraid to get your hands up. This could mean riding with your hands anywhere from the middle of the neck up to the horse’s ears in order to “take his privileges away from him”, so to speak. Equipment-wise, you may have to think about using something that has a lifting effect, a gag bit for instance, for a few training sessions until you have “made your point”.
In the process of fixing this problem we want to add in the application of weight distribution meaning that we want to send weight from the front end to the back end of the horse. Here is an example of this. THIS EXAMPLE PRESUPPOSES THAT YOU KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THE SEQUENCE OF MOVEMENT OF THE HORSE’S LEGS IN ALL GAITS. While trotting your horse, if you were to step into your left stirrup and lift up on your left rein when the horse’s left hind foot was on the ground (the left hip would be in the “up” position) you would cause that hind foot to stay on the ground longer (called “loading the left hind). This would allow the right hind leg to move farther forward underneath the horse, thus “unloading” the right hind leg, and the left front leg can then elevate more because it is “unloaded” as well. On the other hand, if you were to step into that same left stirrup and lift up on the left rein when the left front foot was on the ground (the left shoulder would be in the forward position) you would cause the left front foot to stay on the ground longer (called “loading” the left front leg) and the diagonal right hind leg would also stay on the ground longer (“loading” the right hind leg). This would allow the left hind leg to move farther forward underneath the horse, thus “unloading” the left hind leg and the right front leg can elevate more because it is “unloaded” also.
THE IDEAL OUTLINE FOR THE SCHOOLING OF THE HORSE
The outline for the forehand most efficient on teaching all gymnastic movements is one where the angle of the horse’s head and the angle of his shoulders is the same. The mouth should be level with the point of the shoulders and the middle of the neck should be level with the rider’s wrists. The poll should be above the withers and the nose in front of the vertical. The poll will be “open” and will not be flexed. The outline for the hindquarters that is most efficient in teaching all gymnastic movements is one where the hind legs step up under the mass of the horse’s body and can be “loaded up”. That is, the joints of the haunch flex and bend enough longitudinally and laterally that the pelvis tips under providing weight relief for the shoulders.
More Tidbits from the Saddle
In a continuing effort to provide practical information that can be helpful to you in working to improve the performance of your horse as well as helping you learn how to communicate with him more effectively, the following items are provided.
The Horse’s Hindquarters
Horses do not want to keep their hind end directly behind their shoulders. They always want to “fall in or out” with the shoulders OR step to the inside or outside with their hindquarters be- cause it is a lot of work to keep the shoulders and hindquarters correctly aligned – thus the need for gymnastic training and development (called dressage). For example, a crooked poll comes from the horse’s hind end because he is not stepping under himself. You want the horse’s inside leg stepping toward the outside hind leg and the outside hind leg stepping toward his outside fore leg and a little bit (about one hoof width) toward between his shoulders – not to the outside. If his hind legs are splayed to the outside of his haunches then his thrusting and carrying power will be diluted; much like a human sprinter who runs with his legs spread too wide apart causing him to lose some of his forward pushing power and, additionally, causing him to lurch from side to side. So, when you are ‘fixing’ this problem, you must keep the hindquarters active with your legs to maintain balance between the driving (legs) and restraining (hands and body) aids as well as keeping the horse’s neck straight without shortening it and get his head up, nose a little (1”-2”) in front of the vertical with an open poll.
A world-renowned 19th century German riding master stated that the importance of getting the horse’s inside hind leg to step forward but simultaneously also to step toward its outside hind leg is so great because all the flaws in the gaits and all resistances of the horse, without exception, can be traced back to the non-observance of this rule. This is due to the horse using this inside leg as its main pillar of support to stiffen those parts of its body that are by nature most difficult for it to bend. Only by asking, through lively action of your inside leg and spur can the horse’s inside leg be correctly pushed underneath the weight and become flexible. You must get the horse fluid with performing his ‘lateral movements’ (shoulder-in, counter shoulder-in, Travers, Renvers, stepping the hind end around the front end, etc.,) and ‘oblique movements’ (leg yield, half pass, side pass, etc.) to gain mobility (pliability) in the hind end.
Eliminating Opposition from the Horse
When asking questions from the horse i.e., turn right/left, stop, go, etc., if there is no answer or a slow answer (which constitutes an opposition), then you must address it with a known exercise.
IMMEDIATELY or a series of them to get a psychological change (and later a physical one) in the horse. You WANT the horse to oppose you so that you can address the issue, ‘fix’ it, and get it out of the way so you can move on – it is not wise for you to acquiesce or avoid the resistance. This level of knowledge should and must be the foundation for everyone who claims to be a trainer or clinician of whatever discipline. Unfortunately, it is often not the case, and they can only utter such general statements such as: “more forward”, “don’t let the horse run through your hands”, “stop straight”, “you have to get to the feet”, etc. which just covers up the fact that they may be technically deficient. They can never be wrong spouting generalities, but they won’t help you progress much either.
The Danger of Pulling Back On the Reins
No horse ever lowered its head by the rider pulling back on the reins. All you do by that action is shorten the horse’s neck. It also stifles the free forward movement of the shoulders which, in turn, does not allow the full swing forward of the hind legs causing the horse to ‘short step’. Additionally, it causes the horse to drop his shoulders and withers which puts him on his forehand as well as hollowing his back. Instead, get the horse to mobilize his jaw by:
- Taking the inside rein and moving it up the neck (against the hair) toward the ear;
- Keeping the neck straight by maintaining contact with the outside rein; and
- Asking the horse to move forward into the con- tact. When all this happens, you will articulate (unhinge) the jaw and it will mobilize (soften) as well as activate the tongue which will relax the horse. This can be done while riding the horse.
The Horse Being Too Strong In the Hand during the Canter
This situation is a problem with many hunter/jumper riders. If the horse feels ‘heavy’ in the hand it may be because they are riding with their toes pointed outward with their weight mostly on the ball of the foot and their calf firmly fixed to the horse’s flanks which may put too much calf pressure on the horse thereby driving him more strongly into their hand. This violates the principle of not driving more energy into the hands than can be regulated by the rider. The solution is to turn the toes more forward which will place the weight of the foot more onto the little toe and reduce the firm grip of the calf thus lessening the pressure (drive) of the calf on the horse.
Canter Depart Cues Using the Inside Leg
By having the horse canter depart on a cue from the rider’s inside leg instead of the outside leg, he will execute the departure on a straighter line as opposed to him over-reacting to the rider’s outside leg (or being pushed by the rider’s leg) and doing the canter depart with his haunches crooked to the inside. Here is how to do it:
- Ensure that the horse is ‘together’ and in an energetic walk
- Step into the outside stirrup, then
- Using the inside leg, touch at the cinch with the spur for a canter depart
- Use the inside rein as the ‘flex’ rein (4th rein effect)
- Maintain contact with the outside rein
- Transition to the walk by bringing the inside foot forward
Canter Departs Using Reverse Timing
TO prevent a horse’s head from ‘popping up’ during transitions to the canter, when the shoulder starts to move forward, bring the horse’s head down by creating a ‘barrier’ (although the ideal is to have the head hold steady) by breaking up his ‘flight time’ which causes more ‘hang’ time in the air so the horse gets more ‘up’ and ‘forward’ – same stride, but shorter. This requires timing on the rider’s part and lots of practice.
More on Turnarounds
When a horse bobs its head up and down in a 360-degree turnaround maneuver, it is because he has lost his forward motion and he is not moving his outside shoulder over or getting his inside hind leg under himself to provide a base of support. This also causes a “coke bottle” turn i.e., swapping ends. To correct this problem, you must ride the outside of the horse around the inside of the horse using the outside rein (the “brace rein” [2nd rein effect]) to push the shoulders over (rather than pull him over with the inside rein) as well as “loading”, i.e., stepping into the inside stirrup when the horse’s hip is in the ‘up’ position in order to anchor (hold) it on the ground longer for support.
Thoughts on the Education of the Horse
The horse must be willing to accept training before the training can start. So there might be a ‘persuasion phase’, which could last quite a while (and even longer if the handler is not technically proficient in his/her craft and lacks a solid understanding of the biomechanics of horses), before the education phase begins.
Horses (as well as their riders), if given incorrect information at the start, will not reject it as being not correct because they just do not know. BUT, if given good information at the start, then they can tell the difference when given bad information.
It takes about 120 days, with consistency, to re-pattern a horse’s muscles, tendons, and ligaments and just as long, if not longer, depending on the individual horse and his previous encounters with the human, to get a mental and psychological change. In the end, unwilling cooperation may be as good as it is going to get, because most of his forgiving nature has already been used up.
How correctly you explain all the various movements to the horse in the beginning of his education (step by step and little by little) by making correct use of the five rein effects (and their innumerable combinations), weight distribution, leg aids, (opening, closing, and pressure) and stirrup stepping will have either a positive or negative effect on his physical and mental being for the rest of his life. Therefore, as both a teacher of the horse as well as being a student of the horse, it behooves one to accumulate the necessary knowledge before the schooling begins – not during or after it, which is an impossibility anyway.
If you do not synchronize yourself and your actions with the horse without resistances, you will not ever ride in harmony together. You cannot overpower the horse’s resistances with force, but if you do manage to temporarily do so, you will be teaching the horse to do whatever you forced him to do with resistance. You must learn to deconstruct the resistances as they occur in order to gain his cooperation or, better yet, feel when they are about to happen and ‘fix it’ before they happen.
Balance and Rebalance of the Horse
The word ‘balance’ is used in equestrian terminology to indicate that a horse performs movements and exercises easily and without any apparent difficulty in maintaining its equilibrium. However; perfect balance is precarious and momentary. So balance and return to balance is what riding is all about. It is achieved by schooling the horse with specific exercises that build strength and suppleness, thus improving its balance. The rider assists the horse in returning to a state of balance after falling out of balance through the use of what is called the ‘leveling function’ which is the distribution of our weight using our torso, pelvis and the lumbar part of our back as well as ‘stirrup stepping’. In its most basic form ‘stirrup stepping’ involves the placing of added weight in one or both stirrups momentarily to signal a change of direction or a change of gait to the horse or hold a specific leg on the ground longer or make a leg ‘spring’ off the ground with more energy.
Riding Exercise to Address the Issue of Rebalancing the Horse
- Ride the horse in a square pattern (about 60 feet per side) at the shoulder-in position, keeping him on a straight line on each side of the square (use his outside shoulder as the ‘line of travel’) and use the inside rein to lift up his front end
- Always ‘set back’ the outside shoulder with the outside rein. Setting back the shoulder basically means to rebalance the horse’s forehand and lighten the shoulder. It is more about getting the front foot on and off the ground quicker because the longer the foot stays on the ground the more the horse will tend to lean on it and get heavy in your hand
- Set the outside shoulder back for two strides (never more) when the horse’s shoulder is in a backward position by closing, then softening the outside rein and ‘taking and giving’ with both hands, i.e., pushing the reins forward in order to keep the horse ‘light’ and ‘up’ in the front end. The horse will stay that way for only two strides and then you must begin again to ad- dress the issue of rebalance once more
- Also touch with the inside spur at the girth at the same time as you close then soften the rein. This is to energize the horse to pick up its inside leg
- Keep the horse’s head in a position between being straight and over his inside knee
- Ride a ‘volte’(small circle), about 6 to 8 meters (20 to 26 feet) in diameter, in each corner of the square maintaining the same bend in the horse as you had in the shoulder-in
- Then go back into a shoulder-in position on the next side of the square
Transitions are the exercises that consist of changing from one gait to another or varying the speed within a gait. They are tests of the horse’s ‘lightness’ and his ability to change (or ‘reset’) his balance and are the best tests for clarity and correctness of movements. Exercising the whole range of transitions allows the rider to bring the horse’s speed under control and leads to the complete mastery of balance that determines its maneuverability. Upward transitions are easier to achieve than downward transitions so the rider must always prepare the horse for the transition before it occurs in order to avoid using aids that surprise the horse. So, if a horse still ‘rushes’ into trot/walk from the canter or hesitates going into the canter from trot/walk then there is more work to do before the rider can claim to have a balanced horse. If the rider is a “hand” rider, downward transitions will be his or her downfall. Every gait creates an ‘echo’ in the one that follows so to ‘sharpen’ (or tidy up) the walk, for example, do walk to energetic trot back to walk transitions and to ‘sharpen’ the trot do trot-canter- trot transitions.
Frequent repetitions of closer together transitions, i.e., canter – walk/halt – canter and trot – halt – trot transitions, will improve the horse’s balance and attention to the aids as well as ‘sharpen’ the rider’s use of the aids. Specific examples are:
- Riding in a counter-clockwise direction (and, naturally, also in a clockwise direction), trot 20 strides (the exact number of strides to be determined by the rider in each case AND the rider should count out the exact number of strides. It is a serious matter to re- member to do this because it ‘polishes’ the rider’s rising system) – canter depart 10 strides – trot 20 strides. Reduce the number of strides, over time (not in the same session), until you can ride trot 4 strides – canter depart 2 strides – trot 4 strides, etc. Then increase the difficulty.
- Riding in a counter-clockwise direction (and, naturally, in a clockwise direction also), walk six strides, then canter depart on the left lead for three strides and then back to walk for six strides, etc. Repeat this exercise four or five times in a row or until you can get smooth, precise, and prompt up and down transitions. Reduce the number of strides until you can do the exercise with only two walk strides – one canter stride – two walk strides, etc.
- Then progress to: walk six strides, canter depart on the left lead for three strides, back to walk for six strides, then canter depart on the right lead for four strides, etc. Repeat this exercise until the transitions become smooth, prompt, and precise. Then reduce the number of strides until you can do the exercise with two walk strides – one canter stride (left lead) – two walk strides – one canter stride (right lead), etc. This will lead the rider directly into performing flying changes.
The Horse’s Thoughts
Horses are prey animals. They sense everything they need to sense to survive. They can see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and otherwise sense everything in their environment to a more highly sensitive level than humans. Their ‘ON’ button is always ‘on’. However, when they are with us they must be taught that they have to keep their thoughts with us at all times. In other words, you want to keep the horse’s brains between the reins so you can put a thought where you want it. A thought weighs absolutely nothing – but there is nothing heavier than a thought that the horse doesn’t want to let go of. So a horse that can’t flee physically will try to flee mentally with the result being that if you can’t get the horse’s attention back between the reins so you are able to direct it where you want it you will end up having NOTHING but a dangerous situation. For ex- ample, when a horse’s head comes up and his chest goes out it means he doesn’t want to give up his thought, i.e., his body is caught between his thoughts and your thoughts. So you may have to do something to “unstick” his brain in order for him to realize that you are more important that what drew his attention away from you. One of the things you could do is to disengage his hind- quarters to break up his train of thought and then replace it with something you want him to do. In the final analysis, the horse MUST learn (and we must teach him) to stay with us mentally when we are together.
A better educated, more skilled rider means a better trained, safer, and more reliable horse. Safe, trained reliable horses are more valuable horses. Safe, trained, reliable horses are more pleasant under saddle.
Additional Tidbits from the Saddle
Many of us become frustrated when we want the horse to do something and he doesn’t do it or does it in a way that we didn’t ask for. Frustration, to my way of thinking, is unsuccessfully trying to do something that we think we know how to do, but, in reality, we don’t know how to do, and we don’t want to take the time or expend the effort to learn how to do it correctly so we can do it successfully. Unfortunately, where knowledge ends, frustration begins, followed shortly thereafter by the use of force, which, in my mind, is nothing more than ignorance in action, and the horse suffers the consequences. One must bear in mind that the horse you ride is the horse that you made that way, so, if all is not going well, don’t blame anyone but yourself. So, in an effort to alleviate this problem, I offer the following items to increase your knowledge base and reduce your frustrations.
Riding in a Double Bridle
- When setting up the double bridle, arrange the two bits so that the top rings of the curb bit and the bridoon are equal (level with each other) and both are not set too low in the horse’s mouth.
- The FIRST TIME, with the horse wearing the double bridle, start on the ground and do flexions, a la FRANCOIS BAUCHER, A Method of Horsemanship Founded Upon New Principles, and JAMES FILLIS, Breaking and Riding, with both the bridoon AND the curb bit (but no curb chain). Be sure to reread FILLIS concerning lateral, direct, and di agonal effects.
- Do in-hand work – circles, keeping the horse’s hindquarters lined up with its shoulders – holding one, then the other, then both reins (with the outside rein over the horse’s neck).
- The purpose of the double bridle is to send subtle messages to the horse. You can use the double bridle on a horse ONLY IF you don’t use it for control – as that work should have been done using a snaffle bit.
Using Weight Distribution and Stirrup Stepping For Transitions
- Down Transitions (trot to walk/canter to walk) – step straight down into both stirrups (be careful to not stick your legs out to the side) and stretch your upper body ‘up’ (like someone was pulling up on a string attached to your helmet or someone was about to take your picture).
- Slow down the horse by stepping straight down into the stirrups and rolling your pelvis slightly forward, i.e., slightly arching your lower back (the lumber area of the back).
- Really slow down the horse by stepping straight down into the stirrups, arching your lower back, and then turn your toes inward which will close your thighs on the horse.
- Stop the horse by stepping straight down into the stirrups; bring your shoulders back to ‘open up’ your chest but without leaning backward; keep your upper and middle back straight so as to not let the horse’s movement cause you to sway from side to side; tighten your lower back muscles (the lumbar area of the back) which will stop your hips from moving in rhythm with the horse’s hips; and tum your toes slightly outward to keep your calf muscles on the horse so that his abdominal and oblique muscles stay contracted to keep his back ‘up and round.’
- Enlarging Circles – step straight down into your outside stirrup when the horse’s outside shoulder and foreleg are swinging forward but before the foot touches the ground.
- Decreasing Circles – step straight down into your inside stirrup when the inside shoulder and foreleg are swinging forward but before the door touches the ground.
- Rock your weight from side to side if the horse’s feet ‘get stuck’ and he won’t move them. This action will cause him to start shifting his weight from side to side to regain his balance and when that happens then just ask him to move his feet where you want them to go.
Thoughts on the Training of the Horse
- What a horse does is not what you should be working on. What he doesn’t do (which you must uncover through exploration) is what you need to fix. You want a horse to oppose what you are asking him to do until he has a change of mind. He may get tired and sore, but he must change his mind.
- You must push the horse out of his comfort zone and find out where the trouble spots are and then work on them to diffuse them. The horse will be stressed until he gets a better understanding. Then he can work in a stress environment and be more comfortable in it with less/no bracing.
- Massaging the nerve bundle at the end of the neck at the withers will have a tendency to calm the horse.
- If you loosen the musculature of the horse, you will loosen his mind.
- Horses can put up with ‘annoyance’, but when confronted with ‘trouble’ then they don’t know what to do because what they did to get away from or tolerate ‘annoyance’ doesn’t work – so now they must figure out how to get out of ‘trouble’. For a horse not to want ‘trouble’ then sometimes they have to find out how much work ‘trouble’ can be.
- A horse must struggle to find its balance and a psychological change may take place. You must have a logical ‘line of questions’ AND must know what kind of questions to ask. Additionally, you should understand WHY you are asking the questions as well as knowing HOW to ask the questions. Whatever line of questioning you present to the horse it should be designed to get the horse to try to find a peaceable answer, but the horse may have to go through some not so peaceable responses getting there.
- When a horse has to guess what we want him to do, it is usually not going to come out in our favor. If we are not particular, the horse will learn not to be particular also.
- Don’t wait until the basement is flooded before you get the leak fixed.
- BOUNDARIES: The establishment of boundaries creates the foundation of respect. They set a line between what is acceptable and what is not. At the root of a horse’s ‘rudeness’ is the human’s failure to establish and enforce boundaries. It is the handler’s responsibility to establish those boundaries and ensure that the horse respects them. When they have been carefully thought out, put into place, monitored, and enforced, boundaries maintain order. A horse who does not respect boundaries is a dangerous, disrespectful animal. Some boundaries that you should establish are:
- It is you who moves the horse’s feet; the horse does not move yours-Stand your ground!
- If the horse needs to move his feet, you direct where they go.
- The horse moves because of you; he does not move in spite of you.
- You must create a ‘space’ bubble around yourself; the horse must respect it.
- Where you place his feet is where he should stay until you direct him otherwise.
- Your attention is always on the horse and the horse’s attention is always on you.
- All horses of all disciplines have the same body parts.
- The use of ‘automatic’ aids for the rider will always precede the use of ‘instinctive’ aids which will only be developed after hundreds of hours of riding coupled with gaining a feel of the horse’s movements. NUNO OLIVEIRA, From an Old Master Trainer to Young Trainers said “In all Arts, the artist learns the technique, all the details of that technique, and now he makes his masterpiece, which is the result of all that technique with love.”
- Be wary of discouraging a movement of the horse in the present because in the future it might be the next step in its development.
- The most important thing to remember is what a specific exercise (movement) can do for the horse. Each and every movement has a purpose to allow us to access the horse’s body in different ways. Use exercises to develop the horse; don’t use the horse to ride the exercises.
- The bridle on a horse’s head is NOT meant for control, but only to send messages. You have to have something in mind that you want the horse to respond to before you pick up on those bridle reins.
- Riders MUST have control over their bodies – aimless, wandering hands; chattering, ineffective legs; whacking, non-effective use of riding whips; and flaccid, flopping bodies will only confuse and irritate the horse.
- Your chances of success in training the horse improve if you know yourself, know your job and your capabilities, and know your horse. Two out of three won’t get it.
- Time and form are important; teach the horse the correct form, give him time to think, and speed will come by itself.
- Never bend the horse much; when you lift the inside rein and the horse tips his head, the straighter you can keep his neck and just get his head to swing out on the end of his neck – that’s flexion.
- Just do not take ‘NO’ for an answer, even from the worst horse.
Isolation Movements to Get the Horse Better Balanced
- At the trot, moving in a counter-clockwise direction on a circle, move the horse’s hindquarters to the outside of the circle using you inside leg and also squeeze and soften the outside rein to set back the outside shoulder. Try not to send the outside hind ‘into space’, but rather try to make the inside hind leg get closer to the outside hind leg
- Riding on a circle, move the front end of the horse around the back end of the horse by stepping into (“loading”) the inside stirrup when the horse’s inside front leg is about to touch the ground (the inside hip will just be getting into an ‘up’ position) in order to hold the horse’s inside shoulder and leg on the ground longer. Then move the horse’s outside shoulder over to the inside of the circle using the outside rein as a neck rein (2nd Rein Effect) and driving the horse using the outside leg a little back from the cinch area in a ‘sweeping’ back and forth motion (not a ‘pressing’ in and out movement)
- Riding on a circle, move the back end of the horse around the front end of the horse by stepping into (“loading”) the outside stirrup when the horse’s outside front leg is about to touch the ground (its outside hip will just be getting into the ‘up’ position) in order to hold the horse’s outside shoulder and leg on the ground longer. At the same time move the back end of the horse to the outside of the circle using the inside leg a little in back of the cinch area in a ‘press and soften’ motion against his flank area every time the horse’s inside hip is in the down position as that leg will be in a non-weight bearing mode and it will be easy for the horse to move it.
- The isolation of moving the back end of the horse around its front end is so very important for loosening and directing the shoulders and most people don’t get that it’s more about the front end of the horse than it is the back end of the horse
- Do these movements with the horse’s head up – this puts the horse’s head and neck over the shoulders which shortens the horse’s front steps so that he will not pull on the reins. Once the horse gets the inside of himself ‘loose’, he will drop his head and HUNT for the contact, but he might have to go seek the contact up high at first before dropping his head down
Influencing the Horse’s Feet
You can put the horse’s front foot on the ground quicker by weighting that foot when it is leaving the ground (the shoulder will be back but starting to move forward).
The horse’s front legs stay on the ground too long because when the front leg is back beyond a vertical position it stays on the ground too long by making too big a step (disengaging too much). Similar to a hind leg making big steps and over-tracking but disengaging too much after it passes a vertical position. They should not go past being straight down from the shoulder.
In doing what is termed by the Old Masters a ‘working walk’ (a very slow cadenced walk) you don’t want the hind legs to deeply engage. You want them to not go beyond a perpendicular line dropping from the point of hip plus you want the horse’s head and neck weight distributed over the horse’s front legs. This helps with a horse that wants to stop and rear.
A horse should step his inside hind leg inward toward the mass of his body and in front of the outside hind leg when the inside rein is activated. If the inside rein is used too much with no hind leg stepping over, then the horse will just shuffle his hind end around.
Most riders do not ride a circle although they go around and around. In order to ride a geometrically round circle the radius from a fixed center point out to the edge of the circle must stay the same throughout the entire circle and in the narrowest of tracks so that a fourteen-inch wide rake could erase the entire track. The rider must finish the circle in exactly the same spot on which the circle was started. Any deviation, meaning that the horse is stepping with its front end more into the circle or stepping more to the outside of the circle or ‘drifting’ his hindquarters to the inside or outside of the circle, signifies that the circle is no longer round You want the horse’s inside hind leg to step inward toward the mass of his body a little AND the outside hind leg to step wide. You can hold the horse’s outside hind leg on the ground longer by keeping the horse’s neck straight with the outside rein When the horse’s outside (or the inside) ear moves, you want the shoulder on the same side to move also, not have one following the other Keep the horse’s hindquarters behind the shoulders and ride LOTS of circles of varying diameters
At The Start of a Riding Session
The following exercises are designed to loosen and stretch the musculature of the horse so you can access the skeletal structure:
- As a reminder, always ride the outside of the horse around the inside of the horse, meaning that you don’t pull the horse around when turning , changing direction, or riding lateral movements – use the outside aids of rein and leg to accomplish this.
- Ride enlarging and decreasing circles by primarily stepping into (weighting) the stirrups.
- Ride isolations on small (10 foot diameter) circles (meaning that you isolate [concentrate on] one part of the horse to work on); moving the horse’s hindquarters to the outside of the circle and then moving them around the front end of the horse – all the while keeping the front end moving in a smaller circle.
- Then, do the same with the front end of the horse moving around the hindquarters.
- Ride extensions and shortenings in both walk and trot.
The Horse Accepting the Contact and Then Seeking the Contact
Ideally, we want the horse to seek contact with the bit rather than coming to the bit through actions of the rider’s hands which could result (consciously or unconsciously) in the rider pulling on the reins. To achieve this goal, set your hand and wait for the horse’s acceptance. Then HOLD until the horse provides ‘resistance’ and ‘pushes’ against your hand to seek the contact, then soften the contact – then improve on it little by little to make it quicker and lighter.
The “Leveling” Function
- ‘Loading’ (weighting) and ‘Unloading’ (unweighting) the various parts of the horse will ‘turn loose his back’. For example, ride more out of the saddle; put more of your weight on the front end of the horse by arching your back to free up his back end or, conversely, flattening your back a little to lessen the weight on the front end of the horse.
- Move the horse’s shoulders in and out of a circle by weighting the corresponding stirrups. Step into the stirrup when the horse’s foreleg is about to step on the ground (the shoulder will be moving forward) and then step into the stirrup again when the horse’s foreleg is just leaving the ground (the shoulder will be starting to move backward). This will have a leveling effect on the horse’s forehand and shoulders.
- If you have a diagonal imbalance with the horse, then you must have a diagonal rebalance to fix it. As an example, if the horse is ‘heavy’ on his inside shoulder (there will be more weight in the inside rein), it could be because its outside hind leg has become unbalanced and is not carrying its share of the weight. SO – you must get that weight off the inside shoulder and send the weight back to the outside hind leg. Therefore, you could rebalance the horse by using the 5th rein effect (indirect rein of opposition in back of the withers) with the inside rein to set the horse’s weight back over the outside hind leg OR split the difference between the 4th and 5th rein effects and come diagonally across the withers with the inside rein (The angle of the rein for the 4th rein effect is toward the rider’s opposite hip or shoulder. The angle of the rein for the 5th rein effect is toward the horse’s opposite hip).
A Note on Flying Changes
Sometimes one might try, instead of moving the horse’s shoulders over when changing from the right canter to the left canter, cantering on a straight line that bisects the horse and moving the horse’s left shoulder to the right onto that line; then keeping the shoulders straight, move the left hip onto that line. This keeps the horse straight and equal on both sides. Otherwise, if you move over into more of a ‘travers’ movement onto the line, you will elongate the outside of the horse and for some horses it will be difficult to change leads out of that position.
The Horse’s Neck
The horse needs great freedom of the neck each time he has to modify his equilibrium because the horse’s head and neck play the role of a balancing pole. Any constriction affecting the natural play of the horse’s neck muscles, like riding with too much contact on the reins, puts the horse at a distinct disadvantage in maintaining his balance.
If the rider causes the horse to over-bend his neck, especially at the third cervical vertebra, by pulling his face backward with the reins in the mistaken belief that this is all you have to do to get the horse into the correct frame (‘collected’) then, in actuality, the flexibility and suppleness of the hindquarters is adversely affected because by pulling his head backward it stifles the free forward movement of the horse’s shoulders which, in turn, shortens the stepping forward of the horse’s hind legs and also causes his back to sink down, i.e., ‘hollow out.’
When straightening the horse’s neck it is essential to not bend it in front of the withers. The muscles in front of the withers need to be built up on either side of the neck so it can become steady in front of the withers so that when a rider activates the right rein, for ex ample, the horse will flex at the poll and does not simply bend in front of the withers which would increase the weight on the shoulder and hold it on the ground longer making the front end heavier.
Too much pulling around of the horse’s head from side to side (as some modem day Western clinicians advocate), thus making it ‘rubbery’, will result in the horse’s reluctance to move his shoulders as well as causing him to bend too much in front of the withers. So, for example, when you pick up on the reins and ask the horse for a turn or change of direction (the assumption here is that you are using the outside rein and leg aids to direct the horse) and the horse’s either right or left ear, depending on the direction you want to go in, gets lined up with the saddle horn or the middle of the pommel you want the shoulder on that side to move with it.
When you are schooling the horse you want to get the horse’s head high (nose almost perpendicular to the ground) so that he gets his weight over his shoulders – this will also stabilize his neck.
The Horse’s Shoulders
- Loosening of the horse’s shoulders is a forgotten part of equitation. HARRY BOLDT, Das DresseurPferd (3rd Edition) states “The great Masters of riding have always viewed the suppleness of the shoulders rather than the horse’s suppleness as being the most difficult attribute to achieve, yet it is so necessary to make all movements ”
- You must have mobility of the horse’s shoulders to move them on and off the ground so the horse does not lean on your hand. So you should do exercises to enhance and encourage this, such as, for example, moving the front end of the horse around the back end of the horse and the back end of the horse around the front end.
- You must get the shoulders moving first, NOT the hindquarters. If you work on the head and neck exclusively without including the shoulders, then you will only dig yourself into a deep hole. A well respected trainer from the West Coast, now deceased, once said, “When you pick up the horse’s head and neck that shoulder better come with it.”
- You must work on weight distribution and the horse’s response to it.
- A horse doesn’t want to hold his head and neck high because it is uncomfortable for him. But once he finds that he can use his shoulders and not his neck and head to move his front end, then he will find a comfortable place to carry them and keep them steady.
- By keeping the horse’s head and neck in an ‘up’ position then his shoulders can move quicker.
- You can use the horse’s head and neck to ‘load’ and ‘unload’ his shoulders
- Keep the horse’s head and neck ‘up’ and his nose out (beyond the vertical position) and steady so that you can influence his jaw with the action of the reins which loosens his back.
- If the horse is leaning on your hand, and you use a half-halt to lighten him up, make sure that you don’t shorten his neck or have him tuck in his face to accomplish this. You want him to bring his weight back over his shoulders so that he is equally balanced over all four legs. Keeping the horse’s head and neck over his shoulders will shorten the step or stride (length of step, height of step, shortening or lengthening of stride, etc.) of the front legs so they don’t travel back too much under the horse. Thus, by not keeping the front legs on the ground too long, the horse will not have a chance to get heavy in your hand.
- Dennis Magner, The Classic Encyclopedia of the Horse (pages 71-80) describes a method of wrapping a rope around the horse’s head from the poll through its mouth tightly for a period of eight to not more than twenty minutes to reduce the chance of the horse from leaning on the bit.