Some times we just don’t know where or how to begin. In a recent article (Virtual Horse – A Must See!) I linked to a video showing the biomechanical differences between a horse being hand ridden and forced into a false frame; over flexed in the poll, chin on chest and one allowed to stretch and seek contact, and how that affected the horse’s movement. Following is a short (4 min) video that starts to show how you do the latter.
Though I don’t agree with everything said and shown (such as the reference to and title of video ‘engaging’ the back – why even go there?!), there are some really important things happening in the video that I’d like to point out.
First is the forwardness of the horses. Before anything else can happen, a horse must be forward. No forward, no nothing. That is not going fast, though for some it may appear that way, but rather having a purpose in getting from point A to point B. This is a major issue I often see, horses piddling about, dragging their feet, and otherwise lacking any sort of energy or motivation in their striding. The horse must actively and willingly move forward, be in front of the leg, and stay in front of the leg without being constantly badgered. Once that is achieved, the horse on its own will begin to relax into a rhythmic gait and stretch. This applies to our Western riders as well. You all should be riding forward as shown in the video until the horse has, over time, developed the strength and condition to slow down the stroke of the legs via right and proper engagement. The jog and lope that is so often seen today in the Western ring is an atrocity, but I digress.
A lot of the video shows the horse on the circle. The circle helps to encourage weight to shift back onto the inside hind, which in turn will lift the back and so on. But don’t get stuck in the idea that this can only, or should only, be done on the circle. Alternating between straight lines, circles and changes of direction will keep the horse thinking and thus forward. It will increase suppleness and straightness, and as you make the figure changes it’s a challenge and a check that the horse remain relaxed and rhythmic throughout.
I also liked that Mr. Faerber mentioned the rider lightening their seat and that this work is done primarily in rising trot. ‘Driving’ with your seat to get the horse forward only results in triggering the back to contract and then hollow, as does banging around like a sack of rocks in sitting trot. Of course, some riders also bang down on the horse’s back in rising trot, so the execution of the rising trot by the rider may need to be examined if the horse continues to hollow.
You can not achieve any of what is shown in the video via the use of side reins, draw reins, martingales or any other tack contraption. I repeat: CAN NOT. The horse must be free of restrictive devices including the hand, so put away the tack and lengthen those reins. The horse’s head WILL come down once it is forward, relaxed, and rhythmic, and its back will lift. Note that at the four minute mark a young horse is being longed with side reins on, but those side reins are overly long. They are not restricting the horse in any way. So why use them at all? In this instance it’s for the education of the horse’s mouth, to begin to understand weight in its mouth, and to encourage the horse to be straighter (not over bend) through the neck on the circle.
It’s important to also note the time period given in the video: One year to develop the topline of a horse, and that’s for a horse that hasn’t already developed inverted muscling and poor posture from bad riding and training; those horses are going to require even more time. This is not a process that happens over night, nor can it be fixed in 24 hours. But don’t think you should be riding your horse as in the video every single minute of that year. Stretching is not a static position either on its own nor as part of training. Remember that you should be testing your horse’s development, asking for the poll to lift little by little BY engaging the haunch. You’ll be doing other exercises and figures, cross training. And don’t forget, the horse’s haunch should be lowering as that poll lifts, otherwise it’s incorrect.
Even out on a hack, you should be encouraging your horse to stretch, to be forward, relaxed, rhythmic in its gaits, straight and so on. Horses are not toys and require constant consideration, care and management. There is joy and pleasure to be found in understanding that. You can enjoy the horse even while knowing that every step is training mind, body, and soul for better or worse.
Willingly move forward. To me, that is the key.
Nice video: the examples are very clear. This kind of active forward stretch is at the heart of what I’ve been learning through my coach and the Philip Karl “legerete.” The only thing I’d add is that it can take a lot of time and a lot of technique to get a horse to do this, and the video doesn’t dwell on technique at all. At the start it isn’t something that just happens naturally when the horse relaxes or warms up, and it is different than just having a low neck, like a contented trail horse. I only got my first walk/trot transitions keeping the stretch this past week, after four years with the Paint Mare, and only because the heat wave broke and she had enough energy to move out into the stretch instead of sucking back. If you have a horse who likes to go up high or upside down, or who has been ridden rolled under for years, you have to actively re-train how they carry themselves.
Also, looking at the names connected to the video: I’ve always found it interesting that Schleese himself by and large promotes correct riding (I’ve look in the past at the website and connected links), because Schleese saddles are the current local favorite of the rolkur inspired riders.
Yes, fixing a horse and being able to bring them to this point, whether ridden hollow or rolkured in the past is exceedingly more difficult. Regardless, this is where it starts and therefore needs to be a beginning goal.
We can certainly discuss the technique/s to get to this point. For instance some people may not know how to produce a horse that moves willingly forward and stays in front of the leg. I guess perhaps I need to put together that information next.
I like this article with Rich Fellers on establishing forward. It’s basically a nice elaboration of “ask-tell-demand”.
I think there`s a better way to use the whip, but yes, the three steps of ask, tell, demand work very well for horses when done consistantly.
Argh! Face palm! The dreaded long and low…the stretchy trot….everyone says to do it but omg easier said than done!! Only truly got it once with the saddle fitter helping who was a grand prix rider…I can now ( 3 months later) get two or three strides of it at a time…. 25 minutes in….my instructor is good but at 50 bucks a lesson I can only do one or two a month. Problem is Ruby gets so tense in the jaw and neck! I mess up once or the donkey brays or whatever…and its back to hollow. And its imperative we get this Bc of her kissing spine. I truly feel like a dunce about this! To be fair, we have not had correct help until this winter but I’m even thinking of trying bitless so we can just forget about that hunk of metal and focus on the body. I guess my point is…I know every horse and rider is different etc etc but so few of these dozens of videos and articles ive seen give the “how to “!!! And ive yet to find a consistent way to get Ruby there.
2. Ride the hind legs.
3. Correct timing of the legs aids.
4. Steady outside rein.
5. Asking for flexion with the inside rein, though, it’s better if most people just simply release the inside rein since most ride too much with this rein – such as seen in the video.
Sometimes a horse is stuck by poor posture, injury or general pain/soundness, so the cycle needs to be broken on the ground via a stretching and longeing/long line regime, or vet when needed. If the horse can’t stretch on the ground, it certainly won’t be able to do it with a rider aboard.
Of course ill-fitting tack can also prevent the horse being able to stretch, as can poor riding.
Conformation is also going to play a role.
Yes…the big issue I’m finding is Ruby not wanting that outside rein. Definitely a strength issue but previous instructor had me do lots of counter bending with the inside rein and…welll…now we are relearning to not be so busy with the hands. I am encouraged ( rather than discouraged) when they say it takes a year to rebuild proper muscle..and we did a solid month of ground exercises as per chiro directions before getting back on…slowly. I just get so frustrated when I hear ” long and low ” Bc frankly, if Id been able to get that, we may not have needed to start again…and again. Baby steps, I know! Atleast im learning and improving too 🙂
More inside leg when the inside hind comes forward will put her onto a steady outside rein. Start at walk on a 10m circle and work at being forward and straight on it. As soon as she accepts the outside rein, walk out of the circle into a straight line.
In our sequence, we teach the horse to give the jaw from the ground, and also to stretch towards contact with the bit from an upward (not backward) action of the reins. This is called “action-reaction.” It’s the same idea as what’s called “combing the reins” in some old cavalry or dressage books. From the saddle, you do the same thing at halt, walk, trot, eventually canter. You give the upwards signal, hands high; the horse reaches for the bit; and then you follow back down with your hands until the horse’s head is where you want it and your hands are in “neutral.” The horse is invited to actively stretch into the bit, and to keep that contact. Of course you need to have very kind and steady hands for this, so our four years practice wasn’t maybe just the horse’s fault. I don’t know how you would get this except accidently if a horse hadn’t been taught action-reaction. I realize people do get it through other methods, but I don’t think either the Paint Mare or me would have gotten there any other way. She didn’t come with problems, but she was green and very light on the bit, so floating above it all the time.
I do think this stretch is difficult for horses that don’t have the right muscles yet, and maybe a few steps is all you will get for quite some time.
One of my most enduring criticisms of all the Will Faerber videos is that he doesn’t comment on three things which most people do: (1) bad hands, puppy dog or piano (whichever you prefer to call it) positioning with the hands too low and not enough bend in elbows so that the upper arm is aligned with the torso and the elbows in to the sides; (2) improper posting technique, too much standing, not enough core muscle lifting the torso slightly up and forward towards the pommel; (3) riding moving out of tempo with horse in posting, ie, rider generally too fast, pumping away without regard to the horse’s natural tempo.
Your horse simply won’t stretch to a bit in the hands of someone bouncing and sawing backwards. Look at about 39-45 seconds in the video to a half halt on the inside rein with puppy dog hands. It is a several inch backwards movement, it has to be too big and harsh because of the poor hand position. No horse will agree to stretch into that.
Further remember that you want the base of the neck lifted as the horse reaches down and out, not just lowered, any peanut rolling qh in western pleasure has its nose low, few are lifting the base of the neck and actually stretching to the bit. To borrow from Dr. Deb, mechanically, the rein needs to come above the base of the neck for the to lift properly, that means that the hands should be above the withers, approaching the waistline of the rider. Watch the truly great riders, Nuno Oliviera, for example, his hands aren’t mired in the mane at the withers, they are up, even on a young horse The woman on the black horse (some location at a clinic) is an example of a neck lowered mechanically by a different set of muscles rather than lifting the base of the neck, and when she tries to transition the head up, the horse goes hollow, because it wasn’t prepared because the base wasn’t lifted. Sit up straight using the core muscles to align your spine with your shoulders falling back not pulled back (tension and tight arms that hit the horse if you pull your shoulders back), you should feel your spine lengthen as you use your core, your heald lift away from the shoulders, keep head level, chin not buried towards your chest. That should allow the weight of the head to balance over the spine, weight to fall down the back and land on the seat bones, which is what you want. Try it on a hard chair or stool, Then experiment, slouch, immediately you should be able to feel the weight roll back and land in your butt cheeks, your belly pooch out and your chest collapse towards your waist. You’ll feel heavier and more restricted in your arms. It will feel worse to your horse. No horse will stretch and lift its back if you are an anchor with all the drag falling towards its lumbar spine (ie, the place the back will go hollow and cause serious strain to your horse.) This is how to achieve the light seat Faerber is talking about. Serious core strength, good balance, an active posture where you are holding up your own weight. Sitting trot or rising, you are responsible for your own weight. You have a light seat not by barely touching the saddle, but by actively using your core muscles to keep your torso aligned and your balance on your seat bones.
Another point about the hands, short of emergencies or a young horse still learning to stay between the reins, hands shouldn’t be outside of your hips when riding on contact. Keep them centered in the torso, not crossing the withers, and as Arthur Kottas (former head (retired) of the Spanish Riding School) likes to say “Little fingers closer together”. That slight ( and good hands slight means very little, generally less than an inch of movement, frequently much less) inclination of the hand to keep little fingers together naturally brings the arms into the sides without any big muscle groups tightening up and causing stiff bouncy hands, and absolutely ends puppy dog hands.
Avoid quickness, hurried steps caused by nagging with whip or spur, tend to be short steps from a tense back. Influence the legs in natural tempo, ask the foot to step in and forward by timing aids as it leaves the ground and asking the rib cage to swing slightly more away from the advancing leg. Touch and release pressure, constant pressure will be ignored. Remember inward towards the midline of the horse is necessary to get full articulation of the joints and weight bearing. The rear foot needs to step in the track of the front foot. That is the beginning of straightness. Foward while the horse crabs or counterbends is useless in developing the horse.
If it takes a year to develop a topline, remember you have to develop you first so you can ride in a way that the horse can trust you to give it a comfortable place to be.
Thanks for tackling all the stuff that made me roll my eyes.
I so wish that ALL riding instructors would TEACH this!!!! Once a student has developed their basic position, musculature, use of aids, feel for the horse, etc…EXPLAIN the importance of this and TEACH them to do it! It is the beginning of being able to influence the horse in a positive way.
Perfect timing on this video for me. I just started working with a new horse. Now, saddle not 100% perfect for me or horse aside…. he was lazier last night than the other time I rode him and I found that he was far more sensitive to my seat “driving him forward” than when I used my legs at the post. This is quite the opposite of my old horse So, I’m glad I heard him say this was not a good thing, otherwise I would likely keep doing it. Sadly he’s ridden by two other people and I only ride once a week so he’ll never get any sort of consistency, and I think they ride him western doing mostly sitting trot. BUT, at least this has been brought to my attention and I’ll try to remember this when I ride. I really need to get him more used to the posting trot. Although, again the saddle fit is part of the problem but maybe I can adapt and adjust my weight a bit. One day, I will have my own horse and time enough for that horse!! Life would be so much easier.
Don’t give up on this particular horse and what it will or will not do for you specifically. If you ride the horse right, it won’t matter that others are riding it differently (other than from a musculature point) or you’re only riding it once a week. The horse will remember you and adjust to you.
Good eye, jrga. I was just so happy to see good posture in the horse that I wasn’t really looking at the riding at all. Yes, you absolutely can’t get this with jiggling or nagging hands or legs, it requires an alert stillness from the rider to really work. Also I’d add that you aren’t going to get stretch just by focusing on the head and neck. You need to get the hindquarters activated by starting lateral movements early, at the walk, in hand and then under saddle, what Deb Bennett calls “stepping under the body” and I know as shoulder-in on the circle, patterns and straigh. This is different from waiting until you are ready for your Level Three dressage test to force your horse into a fast trot shoulder in down the rail, just because you are teaching to the test. Shoulder in gets the haunches mobilized early. I say this because I think it’s possible that if you came from a “big lick” dressage background, you might see this video and only see the head and neck position, think this is all that matters, it is just a different headset or “frame,” and fail to pay attention to the hind legs. And if you rode a horse doing that stretch, you might not even know what you were feeling. I caught a moment of a lesson a few weeks back where a new student at the barn got some very nice consistent clear stretch trot on a classically-trained school pony, and was worried the horse was “on the forehand” because her head was lowered. Both the coach and I were saying no, no, it’s perfect, she’s tracking up beautifully.
Riding a horse with a lifted back and properly in a stretch can be a little disconcerting. We tend to rely on our visual reinforcements, seeing what the horse’s head and neck are doing instead of feeling what its feet are doing. A properly stretched horse means we can ride the feet without the distraction of staring down at the ears. 🙂 But most beginners panic a bit because they ‘ride the head’ not the feet. It also means the beginner wasn’t reading this blog and didn’t realize one could lower the head while raising the base of the neck so that one is still riding a level spine. 😛
As Mercedes said, if your horse isn’t offering a correct stretch under saddle and you’re not having any luck in getting one, then chances are you have to move back a step and do it from the ground instead. It may be that at this point, his body is so weak and/or his posture patterns are so strong that he is physically incapable of lifting his back while you are on it (and that’s assuming that some aspect of the gear or your riding isn’t also interfering). He may not even be able to lift it reliably when you AREN’T on it, in which case he sure as eggs won’t when you are…
I’ve got an older horse (24 at the end of this year) that came to me 6 years ago after a bad injury to be a pasture puff. His history is great – novice eventer and open medium dressage, and he has many times shown a natural ability to collect and extend in a beautiful balanced manner. For an old fart, he’s still pretty well muscled and his back looks fine. The old injury doesn’t appear to give him any issues any more, and yet the couple of times I asked him if he was interested in being ridden the answer was a resounding NO!!!!! – back extremely tense and very reluctant to move an inch. Sure, I could have pushed him, but he clearly wasn’t in on the game and I have no desire to get dumped which was next on the cards.
Then I happened upon Will’s blog Art2Ride, learnt how to really see if the horse was moving correctly from behind, and reassessed Hudson’s movement – and to my surprise discovered that his cute balanced trot and canter was actually a complete cheat. Yes, head and neck in the right sort of position for a horse of his level of past training and the back looked round, but No, the loin muscles were not lifting and bulging and there was a definite lack of impulsion/spring from behind. And sadly, the first time I put side reins on him (very loose, so he had room to stretch down to them), he sucked back even more so his chin was almost on his chest and they hung in huge loops – the poor bugger must have been worked in really really short side reins or draw reins an awful lot at some point.
So we went back to complete basics with lunging and I started insisting that I wanted FORWARD above everything else. At first, the only way to achieve that was to send him on a mad gallop around the lunge ring for a few minutes, then allow him to slip back into an active trot, as otherwise he’d just slip from a pokey trot into a pokey canter, still with no real impulsion.
When he was moving forward actively I then began rewarding every little stretch downward, which initially would take an entire 15 – 20 minute lunging session to get him to drop his head even for a second. He just didn’t understand, and once he did, he could barely do it for more than a stride. But within three or four sessions he was stretching down reasonably and actually using his back after a few minutes of warming up. I also started doing belly lifts and butt tucks daily. That all slowed down when winter arrived and I got short of time, but the couple of times I’ve bought him in he’s shown that he remembers I want an active forward stretch and seems to enjoy doing it.
And so far, with the limited work we’ve been doing, his topline has clearly improved – back at least an inch higher than it was and more muscled, and when I ask for a belly lift he can raise it three inches easily instead of one inch with effort. So it’s not just the sessions themselves – he’s started to use his body more correctly all the time as a result, which is kinda the whole point.
I’m really hoping that later in the year following a bit more work to strengthen his topline and get him moving more correctly, that we’ll be able to revisit the idea of riding, and he will be open to the concept – physically stronger and already consistently moving in a better manner and therefore better able to support a rider. If he still says No though, that’s okay – he’s earned his retirement, and at least I’ll know that he’ll stay stronger and healthier for longer this way (and I’ll just keep up the ground work and revisit the idea another time).
At the same time as I started working Hudson, I also started doing regular butt tucks and belly lifts with all my other rescue pasture puff’s, and they’ve showed improvement in their ability to do so (from very reluctant even to try, to lifting several inches in some cases) and their toplines. One knife withered TB has noticeably raised his back and started filling in the giant hollows behind the wither just from this, so now I think ‘yup, shark fin wither’ instead of ‘holy cow it’s Jaws!’ when I see it. While I’ll probably never even consider trying to ride him, I’m sure it is much better for his body to be able to use his back as it was intended. And one middle-aged mare is showing enough improvement in her exceptionally weak loin that I’d consider working on her next as a potential riding horse if I get the time.
Thank you for sharing your journey, Kahurangi. You’ve touched on so many things that are important for us to consider. Just a few:
The body, equine, human or otherwise, is an amazing healing vessel if given just a little bit of help.
It’s not quantity of time (unless building endurance/stamina), but rather quality of time.
Once we are able to ‘see’, it’s like a fog is lifted and you never look at horses the same way.
Keep at it and if you’re inclined to do before and after pictures for the blog that would be awesome.
Great post Merc. I have an OTTB on the radar in a few weeks and she has the typical inverted back / loin muscling of a horse ridden hollow and incorrectly. My main goal will be to get her to relax her back and lengthen her stride and hopefully help her learn how to use herself correctly. As I don’t even want to consider riding this filly until she starts to improve, our work will be on the ground. I will teach her to flex to the bit, lower her head to poll pressure, disengage her hind quarter (step under herself) and turn on the haunches. And she will do a lot of lunging at a trot as I feel it is the best gait for a horse to learn how to balance.
But this is where you and I will disagree. Once she has mastered moving in a circle, halting and has learned to give to the bit from groundwork, I will equip her with a German martingale of sorts to give her the idea of lowering her head and stretching. I believe horses that travel inverted can benefit greatly on the lunge with a loosely but effectively set martingale. Not only do I find that this helps them lengthen stride and relax their backs, it also corrects the stiff side that wants to shoulder in. As I expect this filly to spend considerable time on the lunge, I don’t want her developing even more evasive muscling on the lunge by hollowing her back, shouldering in, lifting her head and being in the only place she knows from muscle memory. She will be encouraged to reach to the bit, not suck back and be lazy and expected to maintain a steady tempo. I plan on documenting her progress in pics of her back/loin as she progresses and see at which point the positive changes begin to take hold.
Teach her to back one step at a time with her head properly lowered, it will do more good than a martingale on the lunge. Also when teaching her to step under and engage, add giving her head to create an inside bend, not at the neck but at the poll and lowering her head. Do the belly lifts. I also work specifically on the neck, do a carrot stretch exercise where she must lift the base of her neck and stretch properly, watch for the complexus muscle tube, build the right muscles where she moves voluntarily.
A loose martingale may stop a horse from getting their head too high, but too many horses still learn to push against it instead of giving to it. If you teach her to use the correct muscles and give on the ground, chances are she will give to the lunge line without any further mechanical devices being necessary. At that point it won’t matter that you put the martingale on, she will never engage it. But then you won’t need it either.
Martingale – Pfft! Don’t need one. Can get them to stretch without one. If you partook of a longeing cavesson…. 🙂
Ha! I saw one for sale on fb recently and thought of you. I almost bought it…….
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=E2Q3Q0v2dUg Ok, ladies….will you entertain me with your thoughts on this random video of a horse being lunged with side reins? I see a raised back, fluidity and swing through the body, no bracing, no inversion or shoulder in on the circle. I feel the reason this works is: a – reins are not overly tight, b – the horse is kept active by the handler. Although I don’t use donut side reins, the concept is the same and I’ve seen horses develop balance with their use. I had a very gangly WB 3 yr old to start under saddle. He was a wreck on the lunge – strung out, counter bent, hollow and hind end trailing the front. I put him to work in a martingale for possibly a week, it wasn’t long and he improved dramatically. I never used it again as he made the connection, developed balance and learned how to manage his mile long legs.
That said, lunging well is difficult. It isn’t a matter of snapping a line on a horse and chasing it around with a whip. A horse can and will learn how to lean on the line, shoulder in, haunches out, cross canter and a whole slew of other naughties which all need to be corrected.
My thoughts are that you aren’t seeing what you think you are seeing or what the commentator is saying you are seeing.
The horse is plodding around, trailing its haunch, and has simply adopted ‘the position’ he’s had pounded into him.
This is not a horse seeking contact, nor a horse swinging over and through the back. This is a robot holding a static position as it’s been programmed to do.
A horse can’t seek contact with a dead line tied to its sides, nor with a longeline flopping around.
I don’t listen to sound because I don’t really care to hear what the human tells me, I focus on the horse. Generally I will go back and listen in case the person was trying to demonstrate don’t do this, but I didn’t this time, so any mistakes based on the video showing what not to do, will be mine. The horse looks to be a fully mature (past ten at least more likely past 12 year old) Lippizan or Lip Cross. He is probably familiar with lunging and undersaddle work past training level. While not perfect, he is fairly close to level with an adequate back and hip.
In the standing horse, you can see the tube of the complexus muscle, the horse naturally will have a tendency to move correctly and lift the base of his neck, in his ridden work he has probably also been encouraged to lift the base on his neck.
As for the setup, it shows why Mercedes says buy the proper equipment, a lunging cavesson, preferably one with the heavy metal and leather nose piece with fixed rings that will operate on the nose, not the mouth, as cavessons are designed to do, and a surcingle with attachments above stirrup level. I will rely on Dr. Deb again here, but if the side reins pull back at what would be ankle or foot level of a rider, they will encourage the horse to fall out at the bottom of the neck. As the woman is going through her rather lengthy explanation, notice the horse shake his head and stretch enough to engage the side reins and immediately drop at the base of the neck and go hollow, losing the arch and the complexus tube disappears and the bottom neck muscles bulge. If the horse was moving, I posit that the exact same thing would happen. If the horse actually stretched its neck and made the side reins taunt, it would invert the neck and undo any good that one was trying to achieve by lunging in side reins.
The donuts are a gimmick. If the horse can pull the rein out a little more and the donuts stretch, it is rewarded for pulling on the rein. Eventually the donut stops stretching, but the harm has been done, the horse finds a reward and loses the reward for doing the same thing, it cannot differentiate and decide pulling is always bad so it learns pull, sometimes it works.
When moving, the horse shows all the signs of having been trained not to pull, it doesn’t ever engage the side reins, they are loose and floppy. The lunge line handler shows no sign of knowing how to get the horse to accept ‘contact’ with the side reins. So what are they there for? A stop gap measure for a horse throwing its head up? And if it does, it will go hollow because of the placement of the side reins on the saddle.
Note the horse is just lollygagging, dragging toes, look at the drag marks in the footing, virtually no suspension to the trot. The head is down, nose in, but the whole body isn’t really engaged. Near the end the horse does pick up a little bit, engages more, but still has dragging toes to some extent.
The lunge line is slack and bouncing much of the time, the horse is counter bent at times, and the lungeline handler wallers around following the horse instead of demanding the horse move correctly and create a circle around a fixed point.
Mostly, nothing in the way of significant positive training is happening here. There are much worse videos of lunging, and I personally stink at it, so I use other kinds of exercises more, such as the ones I outlined above.
If one is going to ride ‘english’, one must develop the ability to teach the horse to accept contact, which means contact must be consistent from the rider/handler point of view. On again off again rein pressure is wrong. Contact can also exist on a loose rein, but that is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Any horse can be taught to back off a bit and mimic correct head position. Again, the peanut rollers in WP prove that. The rollkurred dressage horses are allowed to return to ‘normal’ in the show ring.
And again, better a relaxed horse, you can work with that better than one that has been chased in circles to go fast with its nose to its chest. But look for the training value in the exercise, what did the horse need to learn, how could it be taught, and was the lesson actually taught and did the horse improve in its acceptance and movement during the lesson. If you can’t see that happening, it didn’t happen. So it was wasted time.
Yes, totally agree with jrga. A horse like this should be floating six inches off the ground at the trot, tracking way up with his hind legs, and probably does when he is loose in pasture (I’ve met a couple of Lippazaners and Lippy crosses). And instead he is doing the kind of cramped-in pony trot that I have spent four years training out of the Paint Mare. Taking a Lippy and making him move like a lazy green Paint on a hot day is some kind of accomplishment, but surely not the one we are looking for (unless he is headed for Western Pleasure)! Besides, he isn’t stretching. He is moving with a low head and a rolled-over tucked in poll. His poll should be more open than this for a stretch. Look at the hind legs first, always, not the head and neck. I don’t know that I am experienced enough to say that no-one, anywhere in the history of the world, has never gotten proper results from using sidereins or other lunging bitting rigs, etc. But I can say definitively that I haven’t yet seen a horse trained in sidereins going correctly, in life or in video, and that I *have* seen horses going correctly, trained or retrained, using only techniques that teach stretching in-hand and in the saddle, and that I have seen a couple of trainers in my immediate world who can get stretching on the lunge, using just a cavesson, by continually pushing the haunches out so that the haunches engage more. Of course, as everyone keeps repeating here, going correctly is not the aim of most competitive disciplines: dressage, Western Pleasure, saddle seat. All of these have developed into styles that intentionally destroy correct movement, step by step. So from the point of view of the competitors, it’s fine that their horses are going wrongly in the same style as the rest of the crowd. And finally, I see that this video is also from Faeber’s art2ride site. This puts the nice stretch video in context, and suggests that he doesn’t really understand what the stretch is all about, despite putting up this video. Sorry, but no trainer who really understood correct movement would put up this sidereins lunging video as a demonstration of how-to. So the stretch video is an anomaly, clearly.
There was plenty not right in the stretch video, but there was enough going right to use it as an example of where to start the process.
I agree, while it isn’t a ‘perfect’ lunging / stretching video, it has a lot more going for it than many other videos you see out there. It isn’t as good as the horse can give, but it certainly isn’t as bad as it might be either. I see it as better than average – horse isn’t a slug, just not quite as forward as we’d like (Will does point that out near the end) and tends to revert to an old ‘frame’ if not reminded to give something else. It all depends on what else you’re comparing it to though – if you’ve seen a lot of truly well trained dressage horses then yes, this still has something to desire, but compared to the average backyard horse it’s great.
For those that haven’t read back through the Art2Ride blog, the grey is an older Holsteiner that was previously draw-reined to death, and consequently tends to suck back off bit pressure if just the right aids aren’t given (there are other videos of Contigo on the blog, and the amount he engages his hindquarter and back can vary depending on the rider / handler). In that video, I’d personally like the side reins to have been longer to give him more room to stretch down, as well as some more energy from behind, and I suspect that giving him the first would have made him more inclined to offer the second.
As for ‘gadgets’ to help a horse lower his head (for really head high, hollow horses, that is), I like a Chambon, set so that it only comes into action when the head is clearly higher than ideal. Once the horse learns to keep his head at a more realistic level (not forced down, just not nose-in-the-air), then I usually dispense with everything and just free lunge, unless the horse is having a specific issue that needs additional support. I don’t use side reins much, and I’m not a fan of donut’s regardless (hate how they bounce about and bang on the mouth; those things are heavy!).
Hmmm, I do use body wraps though to help maintain awareness though and that often has a good result. And in-hand exercises to learn how to use the body more correctly in the first place so the horse understands what I want before we even think about lunging, let alone riding. [That said, it’s not like I do this much – almost all my horses are retiree’s or currently unbroken – it just depends what comes into the rescue ]
“…set so that it only comes into action when the head is clearly higher than ideal. Once the horse learns to keep his head at a more realistic level…”
Ideal for whom? Typically that answer is: higher than what the human wants, mostly based in ignorance.
It must never be forgotten that there is a reason for the horse carrying their head ‘higher than ideal’ and simply stopping the horse from carrying it there doesn’t change that fact, but more often than not simply buries the reason deeper.
It is the REASON that needs to be addressed, not the head height in and of itself. When the cause is resolved, the head will be exactly where it needs to be.
Nothing good can come of a horse that isn’t allowed to put its head where it needs to be in a moment.
I repeat: Nothing good can come of a horse that isn’t allowed the freedom to carry its head where it needs to be in a moment.
Nothing good can come of a horse that is required to hold their head in a static position, or required to hold their head in a small window (range).
The movement of the head is one of the ways a horse communicates to us what is truly going on in its body.
There are but a few rare occasions where head restraint overrides everything else and becomes for the safety of horse and/or rider. Otherwise, it serves no good purpose for the horse.
Ah yes, I ought to have defined ‘higher than ideal’, since everyone has a different view on where that is. For myself, I mean giraffe impressions with the neck / head significantly higher than the wither where the horse is completely incapable of lifting the back. A horse that tends to move that inverted can sometimes be really hard to get to lower his head enough to even begin thinking about bringing the hindquarters and back into action, although of course I prefer to start with assessing for pain and teaching him the basics in hand first before even considering work on the lunge so he has some chance of doing the right thing. The horse that only ever races around at the end of the line with his nose to the sky should NOT be being lunged, he needs a bunch of other work first. As you say, you need to figure out why he’s moving that way before you have any real chance of fixing it; just forcing the head down will probably be counterproductive if you don’t address the real cause.
When I use the chambon it is set so that it only comes into action if he reverts to a major giraffe impression, and it’s removed as soon as he learns to keep his head a bit lower (since otherwise it’s likely to become a hazard as the cords tend to hang too low when he does actually stretch down and out).
At what extreme are we discussing? You state yourself that you have seen only a couple trainers who can get appropriate stretch on a lunge line. A ‘few’ ‘trainers’. Would you estimate that puts those able to achieve this is the 90th percentile? Higher? What I’m getting out of the comments about the Lippi video is that few of us have the knowledge to train a horse to the correct level. And this is true. What’s being missed here is that the rest of the horse world is in the process of improvement, being better than yesterday, riding and lunging the journey. I find nothing incorrect about the movement of the Lippi. He is relaxed, long, loose and covering ground. His hind legs are following his front tracks, he is in slight bend neither over flexing or inverting. The rider’s leg has been replaced with a whip to which he readily responds. What he doesn’t give is suspension or lift. As we haven’t seen this horse under saddle to evaluate his ability to lift with rider’s aids, how do we know he can’t or doesn’t? Does a horse need to be ridden at Level 4 movement every day all day? Do we hack down the trail with suspension? And if not, are we damaging the horse because it isn’t moving correctly? I think not. What is deemed correct is movement that the horse executes on its own in short, infrequent bursts. No horse that isn’t running around playing travels from one end of the pasture to another ‘in frame’. They move the most efficient way they can with the least amount of effort. True of horses, true of people.
I find that this type of over criticizing is the stigma of the Dressage world which turns people off to the sport entirely. Nobody wants to feel like they have no business riding if they can’t have a horse scoring 8’s and 9’s at 4th level. A first level horse scoring 7’s and 8’s is most likely moving quite well and staying healthy and happy in its work. And this may be where the horse stays for his life as its rider doesn’t have the skill or drive to move beyond that level. This is certainly nothing to be ashamed of not is it damaging to the horse.
As the Lippi is so far off the mark of working well, where does this horse fit in on the lunge scale? There is tension, imbalance, inversion due to confusion and fear. This horse can be lunged quite a few times in this upside down posture before it will accept a new way of being. A light, loosely attached side rein would help this little guy pay attention and find that way quicker than repeating the same wrongness time after time. Line lunging starts at 3:05.
One can not improve daily, if one thinks this video shows what to aim for, and that’s the truth. Once you ‘accept’ a subpar standard, you’re doomed to fail the horse. This horse is not moving as you think it is and that’s been explained in detail. Reread jrga’s post.
“No horse that isn’t running around playing travels from one end of the pasture to another ‘in frame’. They move the most efficient way they can with the least amount of effort. True of horses, true of people.”
You’ve just never seen ‘those’ horses (the ones that move naturally in SELF-CARRAIGE (not ‘frame’) at liberty), so you don’t think they exist. I assure you, they do exist. Just as there are people in the world who move about their day in impeccable posture because they a) were born with a natural tendency towards it, and b) they work at it every day.
Moving correctly is in fact the most efficient and healthy way for a horse or human to move, even more so while in ‘play’ (and work) as that is when the body takes the most pounding.
“I find that this type of over criticizing is the stigma of the Dressage world which turns people off to the sport entirely.”
That’s one way of looking at it and gives the person an excuse for not even trying, by attaching a negative connotation to it. There is, actually, another way to look at it and come at it, but you have to be willing to change your perspective.
“A light, loosely attached side rein would help this little guy pay attention and find that way quicker than repeating the same wrongness time after time.”
No, it wouldn’t. Side reins are DEAD. They only offer a wall to the horse, to which it quickly learns to stay behind by evading and bracing.
Some day I`ll be travelling your way and I`ll bring my longeing cavesson and show you just how easy it is to show a horse to a proper stretch, even a horse that`s locked in poor musculature. What`s hardest is undoing the psychology that manifests in the horse because of restraining the head.
I agree with the end result Merc but I find that this conversation has gone too far into perfection and not close enough to what the average rider and horse need to change. There is blatantly wrong and there is correct and 50 shades of grey in between. Most of us are in the grey, some can lunge and not ride, some can ride and not lunge, some can do both about the same level. Maybe someone with a 10 mover would be willing to share a lunging video showing their horse in self carriage – I personally would find this more helpful than finding fault with the Lippi without showing a comparison video of proper movement.
This is not traditional lunging, but the best moving horses I’ve seen so far and some great ideas for working a horse in hand.
Note the ‘snake line’ exercise with the cones, this is similar to what Ray Hunt always used in clinics, I’ve recommended it here for under saddle, the ladies that developed this video do it on the lunge. Note that this established bend and responsiveness to the hand and sideways driving aids. They use a lunging cavesson.
Note that while this woman tends to walk along with the horse, she uses barriers or cones to establish the horse’s path, so the horse isn’t constantly fading in and out several feet on an exercise, it is guided to move by the cones, cavalleti or the walls. If you are lunging in a circle, you are to be a fixed center, a small circle with your feet. I had lessons with a bereiter, his foot tracks would be slightly larger than a dinner plate, he stayed put, he gave the horse enough line for a 20 m circle and the horse had to bend to stay on that circle. Note that bend is maintained by this handler, that better contact is kept on the lunge line and half halts applied to the nose through the cavesson compared to the other video. Note that the initial work with the horse is done close up with giving the head and correct stepping up and under occurs before the horse is sent out away from the handler.
Also note that most of the time, the horses’ feet don’t dig up lots of dirt, they pick up their feet and place them down lightly. That is always a give away to a horse using itself properly, if they lift and stretch, then the big muscles of the back and torso do their work allowing the legs to move freely. Look at the degree to which the horses have taken the weight off the hind foot as it moves behind the body, these horses, while never in a particularly high state of collection are not dragging themselves along on the forehand and trailing the hind feet.
Everytime you watch a horse move, you should be evaluating these things, walk, trot or canter, see where the feet are contacting the ground and leaving the ground vis a vis the body of the horse, where is weight being carried, under the body on the hind feet or trailing out behind, is the neck showing the gullet that means the base of the neck is lifted, is the bend correct, is the horse ploughing dirt or barely disturbing it.
Again, if someone wants the tape broken down by time period to see these things, speak up.
That video is a great find!
I’m often a walker when I longe like the ladies in this video. I like to do straight lines, arcs, changes of bend etc, rather than just circles because I’m usually having to fix trashed horses that simply can not negotiate a 20m circle in a forward, relaxed and straight fashion, nor are they ready for long lines. But I stop walking (for the circle) once the horse is fixed.
Again, that’s one way to look at it and deeming it with a negative connotation. Or, you can look at it from a different perspective and look at it as always doing your best in the moment AND THEN doing better the moment you know better, ever and for always.
I don’t believe is striving for ‘average’, even if I have less than zero chance at being anything other than average. At which point of realization, I move on to something else because, again, I don’t believe in actively striving for ‘average’ and therefore am not content to do or be such.
I do want to slap her hand position now and again. The line should be held as if it were a rein, thumb on top, elbow bent at her side etc…
This video is something I can sink my teeth into. Back 25 years when I was working with my reining trainer we lunged all the time in roundpens, before everyone had one. We always used the walls of the pen to teach bend. We didn’t allow the horses to move around the pen like a board – we engaged their bodies to the wall while asking for give to the line. All groundwork was done with a bosal. Our focus was on the tracking of the horse – when the horse became supple, the inside hind track crossed the front either on top or to the inside of the track. This could only be achieved by keeping the forward, softening to the bosal and up against the wall. The ribcage had to push to the outside of the circle to allow the stifle and hindquarter to track up and bear more weight. We taught them to step around while maintaining a pivot foot, to leg yield from the center of the pen to the wall. We got them pretty broke before we ever stepped onto their backs. The head was never of concern as long as it wasn’t flailing around and the horse gave to pressure.
What we didn’t have is swing, lengthening, contact into the bridle. Not to say there was no contact but it had to be subtle, responses needed to come from leg and seat with the mouth / nose as the last resort, more as a correction. So we ended up with pretty broke horses that were also a bit too tight in the back in retrospect. Funny how similar speed control at a trot, the gait we trained the most, was similar to stretchy trot. We pushed and pushed with our legs to get them to the brink of breaking gait, sat down softly but quickly to achieve an immediate return to jog. All the while maintaining bend in the direction of travel with an inside leg bump at the girth. Hindquarters couldn’t fall out, rear had to follow front. Very close to stretchy trot but not quite there.
Now I’m at a point of channeling the energy into something more forward, something that allows for heavier contact that feels wrong to me – trying to find the right feel between holding / pushing, softness without leaning. I don’t have ideal horses for Dressage and won’t try to claim I do and they’re a challenge but I do believe that any horse can benefit from better riding and that tomorrow can be better than yesterday. This is what I ride for – not perfection but improvement. You’ve seen my pony and thank you for not saying we look like a trainwreck as we do try hard and I love him dearly. I’m not above knowing I need to learn more – and I want it but it’s hard to look at us where we are now compared to the elite. It can be very discouraging and seem unattainable.
Blondemare, nothing is ever perfect, I never say perfect movement, I say correct movement. And all we can do is work for improvement, baby steps, a little better, from where we started. I always caution people as well that is not good to dwell on what you have not yet accomplished, but to look back to where you started and see that concrete improvement has been made. From the young or poorly started older horse that couldn’t even be caught in pasture to the horse that now greets you, stands patiently for its halter. From that horse to the one that still pulls once the halter is on, to the one that stands quietly, leads well, etc. We overlook how much we do accomplish.
But those re thepersonal observations each must make at home. This blog is about showing people what is correct. To build knowledge based on the reality of how horse’s bodies really work instead of the pablum from traditional conformation classes or articles, to seeing these things in photos and videos so the literal bare bones become horses in movement. I know I sound like a broken record, but once one truly can see the difference between pretty good and truly correct, one has the ability to achieve correct. Correct rarely wins in the show ring, and you won’t see it there. So my standards, Mercedes’ standards, aren’t about having a ten mover at 4th level or higher in dressage. Who gives an ‘expletive of some sort’ about people doing things wrong to the detriment of the horse? Who wants to emulate that? Only people who can’t truly see. So stop thinking this is advice geared to creating a so called elite. This is for every backyard horse. This is for every horse broken down by the elites of sport and racing who still needs a home and a happy, healthy life. This is for every person who wants to trail ride or go twice a year to a local fun show and even the rare individual who still even wants to get into a big time show after learning to see.
This isn’t about accepting lower standards either, you do hear DQ’s who say, that is for people who really can’t ride well, as they tighten their crank nose bands, shorten the reins, put on bigger spurs, and pound another great young prospect into the ground so it moves like that Holsteiner, still nice, the horse was built to be nice, but nothing of what it should be.
As for having more from behind needing more contact, I don’t know if it was inartful phrasing or truly a misconception. A horse moving from behind, properly trained to accept communication through a bit should get lighter the more it sets its weight back. This might be an area to explore further.
J – I do want better and I know where I need to improve but I can’t say it doesn’t get cloudy along the way. You make a good point about not expecting to reap rewards in competition. I recently had a decently scored ride where my horse hung on my hand the entire test, chomping the bit (separation anxiety from a barn mate at the show) and then two tests in which he stayed with me the entire ride, any mistakes were mine and mine alone, he was supple, soft, kept a reasonable cadence….and our scores sucked. That one hurt the most as there are few if any judges who know how to judge western dressage according to the rules. And as such, I didn’t know how to ride my horse.
That said, after discussions with a gal whose opinion I respect, I am on a new journey in one direction, regardless of the judges or what the competition does. I am going to ride for me and my horse and let the cards fall where they may. He’s very long-backed so it’s a struggle to keep him light in front and I was getting lazy. I’ve found he’ll lighten up quite nicely with a whip tap on the shoulder / corresponding leg bump. And lateral work is a must as are transitions. And being the western gal I am, we’re backing circles to build strength behind and lightness in front. Sometimes I’m amazed at how poorly many “English” horses rein back. Backing teaches a horse to get under itself, to ‘collect’ its body. A horse that backs well is a horse that will stop well and this can apply to halt at X – not just a sliding stop. Just an observation…..
You knew how to ride your horse and the judges failed. How could they not, neither traditional dressage nor traditonal WP has anyone with judges’ credentials who has an eye trained to see that a horse is moving correctly. A couple of the older O judges in international dressage quit in disgust.
And stop worrying about the long back unless it is a weakly conformed back. Good LS placement, ribs carrying well back and good muscling over the loin and length of back isn’t going to hold the horse back from moving correctly.
If you are backing circles routinely and well, his back isn’t an issue. Just ride him like he’s a horse. He won’t ever look like a warmblood. But you aren’t trying to make him into one. You are just riding him for the benefit of him and what you can learn along the way.
What Mercedes is trying to offer here are the pieces of horsemanship that will let you be in that top 10%. The keys to the kingdom, if you will. Whether anyone wants to go the distance on that journey or not is up to the individual. And Mercedes will help people go a little ways or a long ways. But that is what is on offer. And you have to look deep inside and ask if you really want to see horses and the state of horsemanship in all its ugly detail, because most of it is ugly when you can see. And you have to stop defending what you do and ask if you can do better by trying to move beyond your old beliefs. I’ve seen your video, you ride very well with good rapport with your horse. If you changed nothing, your horses would still be well off. But if you care to sharpen your eye, to be truly critical of what you see and apply it against the standard of how that horse should move based on what you are learning about the horse’s body, then you can easily do more. But you have to let go of ‘good enough’ and what you think you know.
The horse can move correctly or it can move incorrectly. High collection such as in the upper levels of dressage (recognizing that most sport dressage horses can’t move in high collection any more because the training is just wrong) isn’t the only standard for correct. Look at any horse the Dorrances rode, Ray Hunt rode, Buck Brannaman rides, trained in a whole different school, one I actually like and try to emulate more than dressage, and those horses collect as necessary for their jobs, more importantly they move correctly.
And, quite frankly, you either spend your time asking the horse to move correctly, ie, straight, and as level in the spine as possible given the horse’s conformation, or you are slowly but surely adding to aches and pains, back and joint problems, foot imbalances, etc. in your horse. Do they survive and remain mostly healthy and ridable, yes, most of the time. But a horse that is trained to move of its own volition with the base of the neck lifted, the spine leveled, and no contractions along the top line, does move that way all the time if they have a choice. It becomes as natural to them as the stance of a martial arts sensei. And those horses, well into old age tend to retain their backs in good condition and correct musculature. Furthermore, to the extent that the top line is functioning correctly and the horse is encouraged to move straight, whatever faults in leg conformation that will cause problems over time tend to be minimized over letting the horse plod along in its ‘natural’ movement, which is going to be crooked and on the forehand.
As Faerber said in the first video, dressage horses used to have working life spans into their 20’s and now these horses can no longer compete, no longer move well at all, after five or six years. So, yes, you are either helping your horse to remain sound when you ride, or you are slowly breaking it down.
As for what I thought was a Lippi, Kahurangi says it is an older Holsteiner, but same general principle, a riding horse built well enough to have good movement naturally as compared to our downhill qh’s, paints and tbs. This horse is a retraining project, so it takes more to get it to truly relax and stretch. And no head restraining device can teach a horse to stretch one quarter so well as an educated human hand. Gimmicks are unnecessary, and frequently detrimental.
You have to learn to believe that if you in fact get the horse straight, correct bend for the track it is moving on and rear feet in the track of the front feet, the horse will choose to start stretching. And none of that has to do with where it starts out with its head, and none of it is fixed by messing with the head excessively or by a fixed hand or fixed device. It is about asking the horse to give its head and instantly removing the pressure as it makes a try. The lunging cavesson works because you can ask and release effectively on the bridge of the nose, leaving the mouth alone. It allows you to reward the horse by letting it move freely until it hollows or counter bends. But a well fitted halter and lead rope can do the same thing. This isn’t about equipment ultimately but feel and timing. Proper equipment, well fitted equipment just allows the feel and timing to work without delays or contrary signals.
The link to the other video you referenced didn’t work or isn’t there, I couldn’t find anything to click.
If you want me to talk about the first lunging video in greater detail with reference to time on the video, I will. I’ll even look for good movement, the eye has to be trained. And you are right, you will see good movement less than 10% of the time.
Great discussion! I’m learning a lot from this blog…keep it coming 🙂
I needed this.
I have people telling me I want perfection, or I’m to hard on my horse and myself. I may never obtain perfection, but I can get better, my horse can get better, then together we can reach for ‘perfection’.
The reason I want perfection is I want a horse that will last. Travelling properly, using his body properly, will help him last. If we win a ribbon or two at lower levels of dressage, that is just icing on the cake.
Mercedes, I do agree with you; if your goals aren’t ‘lofty’, how will one soar?
I like the journey, the learning, and then the actual achieving.
The videos were wonderful. Thank you!
PIcking up on a few things from the last several days of posts. When I said I knew a couple of trainers who can get stretch on the lunge line with no gadgets, these are both people who are learning classical dressage techniques. Most of the trainers/owners I see don’t even try; they race their green horses around in tight sidereins at high speeds to get a “frame.” I think more people could do stretch without gadgets if they tried, and I am currently working on this. Using a proper lunging cavesson as opposed to a rope halter does help, though I have seen it done in a rope halter too. I don’t think it is beyond the average horseperson’s ability, just that it hasn’t occurred to many people to try.
I glanced at the Course on Lunging Video and liked what I saw; she even gets a tiny pony moving up smartly from behind!
Which shows that engaging the hind end and tracking up with the hind feet is not at all the same thing as having inborn Grand Prix length of stride. Every sound horse can and should be moving up with the hind end, even if the overall stride length is naturally relatively short. It should be their regular way of moving, and nothing you school should interfere with this. My experience here is with riding a Paint who was very disconnected front/rear when she was green. Her front and back legs seemed to be going at different speeds at the trot, high knees and little steps behind, and people wondered if she was actually gaited. She has a thick neck and a short back, so she didn’t look ewe necked or hollow, but in fact that was how she was really going, with her head in the air. I have spent four years now getting her to diagonalize her trot, move the hind up and under, and stretch toward the bit. She is never going to have Grand Prix movement obviously, but now I can get her moving more or less correctly, and I don’t have to worry that she will break down in the hocks or stifles. My coach would not be happy if I was letting the Paint Mare move like the white horse in the video, with little tiny steps behind!
I’ve also seen people use these same techniques reschooling warmbloods and the results are much more dramatic, suddenly the horses find their own natural movement (what they show in the pasture) and stride out floating off the ground. Even if up to this point they have been ridden rolled under, with knees flinging up and hind end dragging, and even if they have been more or less crippled being ridden this way. In fact a lot of people come to classical dressage because they need to re-hab a horse that has broken down physically and emotionally under other disciplines (like competitive dressage).
What I’ve learned from all this is to look at the hind legs first, not the knees or the head position. I don’t have the experience and study to see everything that is going on when I watch a new horse, but I do know that I can now see the hind-end, particularly since I have spent so much time thinking about it in relation to the horse I ride.