The history of horsemanship is not a smooth, steady linear progression. It is rather an evolutionary, migratory, exploratory, and experimental state of affairs. And, like anything else, it has its regression periods as well as its progression periods. The regression times are highlighted by people generally having too much to do in a compressed period of time, being prisoners of technology, trying to ‘grab the brass ring’ by living 7/24/365, which the human body is not designed to do, with little time for serious deep reading and reflection.
We are in one of those regression periods now. However, horses are not involved in these things as we are. In fact, horses are not too much different mentally and physically than when we domesticated them thousands of years ago. It is just the human who has lost touch with how to be a partner with them. In times past, humans spent more time in learning how to work with horses rather than demanding that horses do something for them. This period of time resulted in many of the past master horsemen writing books about how to relate to horses and to work with then in a manner that the horse understood to have him complete a task in a willing fashion. Sadly, we believe that we do not have the time to read such works of accumulated knowledge and instead default to visual means such as DVDs, Youtube presentations, etc. to learn to ride horses, with sometimes, dire results.
So, as part of my continuing attempt, gathered from my own experiences as well as from past master horsemen, to give you some more information about how to work with the horse instead of against him, I am presenting this fourth edition of Tidbits from the Saddle.
ATTRIBUTES OF A WELL-SCHOOLED ALL-ROUND HORSE
- A horse that does his isolations (front end around the back end and vice versa) and oblique (lateral movements like leg-yield & half-pass).
- A horse that can move all its parts when requested.
- A horse that weighs the same on both ends (not heavy on the front end or carrying too much weight on his haunches).
- A horse that breaks in the rib cage.
- A horse that can do flying lead changes both to the right as well as to the left.
- A horse that shortens behind the saddle.
- A horse that carries his head a little in front of the vertical or at the vertical.
- A horse that easily moves away from the leg.
- A horse that readily st eps away from the outside rein.
- A horse whose shoulders can be regulated.
- A horse that flexes at the poll and not behind it at the third cervical vertebra.
- A horse whose weight of the head and the neck is on top of the front legs not in front of them
- A horse that is willing to accept training. A horse that follows directions and takes instruction willingly.
- A horse who will wait.
- A horse who hunts for peace.
- In 1885 Gustav Steinbrecht said that “no stride should be allowed without the horse’s hindquarters acting energetically.”
- To get more activity from the horse’s hindquarters, squeeze alternatively with each leg at the girth in rhythm with the horse’s walk. Your leg should touch the abdominal muscles along the horse’s side which are the ones that pull the horse’s hind legs forward. So you would touch and release each time its hip is in the ‘up’ position so that the horse’s leg will give more forward thrust. Once the rate of movement is achieved then cease the activity with your legs until the rate falters, then reestablish it again.
- A note of caution. If you move your legs further back from their normal position, you will not be as effective because you will be touching ‘mush’, i.e, the false ribs.
SQUEEZING OF THE REINS
- The art of squeezing the reins depends upon what you are trying to accomplish.
- For example, you would squeeze the rein when the horse’s inside front leg is moving forward (the shoulder will be down and moving forward) in order to get his head lined up with his inside front knee which will, in turn, bend the horse around your inside leg.
- In another instance, in order not to give the horse a chance to ‘get heavy’ in your hand OR displace his lower jaw to avoid the bit, you would squeeze and release the inside rein when the horse’s inside front foot is on the ground for three strides, let the fourth stride alone, and then begin again with squeezing and releasing the rein for the next three strides, etc. So the rhythm would be: 1st stride – squeeze & release; 2nd stride – squeeze & release; 3rd stride – squeeze & release; 4th stride – no squeezing; 5th, 6th, 7th stride – squeeze & release; 8th stride – no squeezing, etc.
REBALANCING (LIGHTENING) THE HORSE
- Etienne Beudant, former captain in the French Cavalry, in his 1931 book HORSE TRAINING-OUTDOOR AND HIGH SCHOOL said “establish balance and you will get everything.”
- But as everyone who has ever ridden a horse knows; balance is a fleeting thing. But how does one define it? I offer a working definition as follows: BALANCE is the ability of the horse to rapidly and efficiently master his momentum without bracing and without resistance. It resides, for the most part, in the hindquarters of the horse and it is constantly being established and reestablished by both the rider and the horse.
- One effective method to reestablish the horse’s balance is as follows:
- Lift UP on both reins simultaneously
- Keep going forward at the walk
- Step alternately in each stirrup and as you are doing this rock your body from side to side and also move your hands from side to side in time with your body motion. You can additionally ‘touch’ the horse with the spur on the side that you rock to. As the horse moves to the right from you rocking to that side, you are already moving your body to the left and as he reacts by moving to the left you are again rocking the the right, etc.
- Get 6 or 7 steps, release and ride forward, then start again
A METHOD TO OBTAIN A STOP IF THE HORSE IS NOT IMMEDIATELY RESPONSIVE TO YOOU CUES
- Be specific. Pick a definite location or place to stop
- Then, as you approach that spot, simultaneously step into your stirrups, flatten your lower back, i.e., momentarily ‘brace’ your back and lift UP on the outside rein
- If the horse fails to respond, set him back on his hocks for three or four steps
- Repeat this procedure until his understanding of your request improves
USEFUL INFORMATION AND REMINDERS
- Remember to ‘sweep’ the corners of the arena with the horse’s hind end
- In general, keep your hands 5-6 inches apart
- Use the spur with quick lively touches (no jabbing or kicking) to get the horse to ‘come to the bit’
- A short rein just means having a quicker ‘take and release’
- If the horse drops its head, close your legs on the horse to get him more active behind. This works only if the horse is immediately responsive to your legs
- If the horse leans on your hands, lift UP your hands, bring your shoulders back and give a ‘quick prick’ with your spurs
- You want the horse to push you not pull you along
- Step into both your stirrups to go from a canter to a walk
- The horse’s ear must be back to you to have a conversation – if not, touch with the spur
- When the horse’s nose gets lower than the stifle joint then the horse is out of balance and any half halts can’t get to the back legs
- We need to address the ‘how to’ part of horsemanship to be technically sound, but we need to also investigate the ‘how come’ part of the equation
- It only takes ten minutes of mediocre riding to maintain dullness in a horse and some of the more adept riders can do it in half that time
- Problems arise when there is no relaxation period – just pressure; or conversely, when there is only relaxation with no pressure
- A lot of times people are just teaching horses movements or teaching them a job. They are not teaching the horse psychologically
- You must have positive contact with the reins to be precise with your aids
- Bad repetition trains the horse as well as good repetition – just the wrong way
- We are always putting ‘feel’ on a horse or unintentionally taking it off. It is all about weight distribution on the part of the rider through stirrup-stepping, body movement, etc.
- The higher the horse’s head is, the straighter its neck will be
- Without knowledge of the nature of the horse then practice will be uncertain
- Loosen the horse’s parts to open its mind, e.g., ride through corners, go sideways, move the front end around the end end and vice versa, etc.
- In general, schooling a horse in a leverage bit causes the bit to twist in its mouth. So it is better to use only a smooth snaffle bit for more effective communication
- When turning, think about chasing the outside shoulder around using the neck rein and your outside leg at the girth and not so much about pulling the horse around with the inside rein. This applies to everything from big sweeping tires to full canter pirouettes to turnarounds (spins)
- Let the horse learn; don’t make him learn
- Even the most willing of horses cannot respond to a request to move its hind leg, laterally or longitudinally, until that hind leg is at a place physically where it can leave the ground. Incorrect timing can turn the most accommodating of horses into gangsters eventually
- A horse will try to avoid keeping its hindquarters behind its shoulders because that is where the work is. He instinctively knows that his power resides in his hindquarters and he may not willingly hand that power over to us
- Most of our problems arise when we can’t get control of the inside hind leg
- A good horse sweats where he works – between the hind legs and not on its shoulders
- We should always try to keep putting the shoulders in front of the hindquarters instead of shoving the hindquarters behind the shoulders
- If you are dealing with the effects of a horse pulling or leaning on your hand then you are certainly going to have to know how to restore the horse’s balance. As the horse’s balance gets better he will be more willing to work for the simple reason that he feels better. Just don’t expect him to be too crazy about the idea of working harder especially if he has been allowed to be on his shoulders for months if not years
- Keeping the spinal processes perpendicular requires the horse’s backbone to rotate, which allows the ribcage to get out of the way, which means we have to be able to move the forehand and the hindquarters where we want them, which requires the horse to bend evenly from end to end, which requires efficient distribution of weight, which requires the base of the ears to be horizontal, which requires the inside hind leg to step under the mass of the body sufficiently, which requires the pelvis to tilt – and that is just the half of it