Food for thought…
It’s a good job I have arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger from hauling muck buckets and bales of hay around each day… It means I can wrestle my horse into an outline…
Sadly this is something I witness all too often. I see a lot of horse and rider combinations where the schooling becomes a battle of wills… who will give in first? This shows me that their partnership is not based on happiness and trust to find harmony and lightness in their work but more on gadgets and force to pull the horse into a less than natural shape where the horse is often very much on the forehand and rarely working over their back. Surely this can’t be enjoyable for the horse or rider.
I have a question for you…. How many of you would say you reward your horse enough when he/she does well?Something I see often when nosing around at livery yard and competitions is how few people reward their horses... As riders we can get a bit carried away with what we are trying to achieve and can often forget to allow the horse a few minutes of rest and stretching in schooling sessions. We often strive for more of that good feeling…. For example, if I am asking for collection in the trot and my horse, who may be new to this, gives me 3 strides of a more collected trot, I will soften my hands and allow the horse to move forward back into a working trot, I always praise using my voice and often with a pat if the horse is in balance. Offering the ‘release’ and a verbal reward for doing as I asked is important to keep the horse engaged in the task and will help to keep the horse relaxed. I can then ask for a bit of collection again. But we must remember to give the ‘release’ and not ask too much from them at once.
I have another question for you… How do you deal with your horse when something goes wrong? Do you get flustered? Do you get angry? Do you take a deep breath and move on? It fascinates me to watch how a rider deals with their horse when communication breaks down. I see a lot of instances where a horse has not ‘done as it was told’ and been punished by a boot in the ribs or a smack with a whip. Did this rider take the time to think “did I ask correctly?” or “was I in balance when I asked?” or “was the horse in balance when I asked?” We can be very hasty to blame the horse for these failures and not the quality of our communication and aids. I think you will find that most horses will try and execute the correct movement if they are able and asked accurately.
We are also very guilty, as riders, of pushing out horses for more technical ‘show off’ moves before they are really strong enough. This can be detrimental to the end result as the horse will often try and do as you ask but if it is not strong enough or your aids are at all lacking then they can get confused and this could hinder you when asking this exercise or movement at a later date. Horses have very good long-term memories.
Implusion…. A term used to describe controlled power in your horse and create an elevation in their stride. Riders often mistake speed for impulsion… and the horse being on the forehand for an ‘outline’…. You can increase the speed of the horse without necessarily gaining any useful impulsion. In order to create impulsion you must engage the horses mind and body. The impulsion comes from the engine (hind quarters) and it is the rider’s job to learn to regulate and channel the energy so the horse has more upward lift and not just running forward. The horse needs to be responsive to light leg aids so you are not constantly nagging them, the leg should be used to move the horse sideways or for an increase in speed or impulsion. The leg aids should not be used to keep the horse moving forward, they should be able to maintain a steady tempo. I use breathing techniques to help generate fluent transitions.
A common questions I hear is “how do I get my horse in an outline?”…. In order to get a good ‘outline’ and true self-carriage you must first have sufficient impulsion, only then can you can start to work on the collection. The mistake a lot of riders often make is they first try to create the ‘outline’, and I use the word ‘create’ for a reason as this is often a false and forced shape, and then they seek for impulsion. Whereas this should be the other way round. If you have generated true impulsion the head carriage and balance will be sure to follow. It will not be instant, as nothing with these creates happens instantly, but over a period of time with good balance, light hands and the horses ever increasing strength and balance you will develop self-carriage. If you are getting into a pulling war with your horse, communication has gone horribly wrong somewhere.
It is not your job, as the rider, to physically hold your horse up and carry them around the arena… Every time we are holding them up we are denying ourselves and our horses the feeling of true lightness and self-carriage. We are basically saying “I don’t trust you enough to let you go!” But yet we are expecting the horses to trust us in return?!
The feeling of riding a horse who is light in your hands, well balanced and with an abundance of energy and impulsion really is truly magical… And you don’t have to be sat on a 17.2h Warmblood to feel it and my aim is to prove it to you…