I’ve been working on riding more forward into a receiving hand with my young horses. Riding forward with receiving hands, never pulling and yet making many half halts along the way.
Bending the horse from back to front into a receiving hand, means the energy created in your horse is received in the soft hand and from there roundness and self carriage is created.
Self carriage simply means the horse is not blocked in any way to use his whole body properly as he performs the movements required. He is able to use his whole body and carry the rider, lifting his back and coming through his whole body.
Oh how easy it sounds and yet it’s not easy at all. At the end of the day it boils down to the rider having knowledge of the rules so as not to let the horse dictate how we do things. Beyond that it requires good balance and an independent seat and hand from the rider. So we ALL must continue daily too work on our position and balance. Yoga and Palates certainly help if you don’t have a lot of horses to ride every day.
I’ve always said when the horse is well behaved, trained, soft and supple it’s easy to ride well, however as riders and trainers we are required to ride well even when things are going wrong and with young horses things happen quite quickly.
While competing in the Grand Prix with the Dutch stallion Kevekko and the PRE Stallion Tamaro, I had to learn to be quick in order to get the movements done correctly. In the Grand Prix movements are coming up so quickly that the horse must really be in front of the leg and attentive at all times.
In front of the leg is an advanced term for forward. It means the horse isn’t running. He’s waiting for my leg and jumping up in front of my leg aids. When the horse is in front of the leg it should feel as though all the energy is in front of his withers. Usually when a horse is truly in front of the leg it’s easy to keep our reins short, sit quietly and the feeling is of controlled power.
Young horses have taught me a different quickness. With young horses it’s about being mentally quick to respond correctly when they make a mistake or are not sure what to do.
They get all their knowledge from the rider/trainer. They only know what we can teach them. For dressage they must learn the aids, except the aids, and execute the movements. Once young horses learn rhythm and relaxation and trust the rider the next faze is teaching timing. Timing is so important and it’s what gives the horse the ability to do advanced movements from the third level and beyond.
Going around the ring in a nice frame will get you through Second level with a good well balanced mover, however timing for the horse and rider is required to go beyond second level. It’s critical for the lead changes, and difficult transitions like piaffe to passage.
Don’t worry about making things perfect just trust the exercises and do them frequently and remember in the beginning with a young horse it’s only the rough draft, reward your horse for his effort as this will give him the “heart” to try again.
Timing is taught by doing many small transitions. These transitions are extremely helpful in putting a horse on the bit if you only believe in them. In other words sometimes if my horse is a bit difficult in the neck just moving forward and then making a half halt to shift the weight to the hind quarters for only one stride and then going forward again teaches the horse the timing of the half halt. More often than not this works at getting them easier in the neck. Remember it’s the forward and the giving the horse likes.
They will be more willing to carry weight behind if they learn that there is always a release and forward after each half halt. The result is self carriage.
So the half halt should go this way in trot. Lengthen the stride a bit and then bring the horse back using outside rein then inside rein then back to outside rein. Take a breath, make them loose in the neck and then go forward again. Repeat until you feel the horse relax and start doing this almost on his own from your body language rather than your hands. Your hands should remain with a soft contact on the mouth. Before every half halt grow tall close your thighs slightly letting the horse know a change is coming. Pretty soon he does the half halt just from your weight and change in body language and then he is able to stay soft in the hand as there is no pulling going on.
Another exercise is to go forward and come back for only one step. Discipline your self whether you like it or not to just do one step and then go forward again. Horses absolutely love this exercise!
Teaching the horse to be adjustable and in self carriage in canter goes like this in the beginning stages. Move your horse forward from your outside leg only even if he’s a bit in head to the wall position, then bring him back to working canter with inside rein only, then go forward again from the outside leg and back on inside rein. This teaches them timing as well as the difference between their right and left side. When you bring the horse back on inside rein in the beginning follow that rein a bit, lets say onto the second or third track or even a turn in the direction of the inside rein is helpful. In all work from beginning to end the horse must follow the reins. He must understand about the left and right side of his body. This is necessary to do half passes, lead changes, pirouettes and proper halts to just name a few examples.
Once you feel the horse responding to this and not breaking from canter to trot remember the greatest reward is to stop asking the question and move on to another subject or quite for the day.
Eventually all transitions are done in the shoulder fore position but teach the forward and back the way I described and remember when you bring the horse back on inside rein you are creating a moment of shoulder fore. Eventually the principle in lengthening and shortening doesn’t change but the horse easily stays in shoulder fore naturally.
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