Squeezing with the lower legs
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 06:57 PM
Recently I gave a clinic to young riders at a summer camp. And when I asked riders how do we send our horses forward every group answered me that we need to squeeze with our legs. I find it very sad to the point of being disturbing that children learn wrong ideas and develop wrong skills which are so hard to change later.
The definition of a word squeeze from the Oxford dictionary: Press on from the opposite side or from all sides.
This definition shows that when we squeeze the force is applied continuously until desired results are met. Usually squeezing action is required to change shape of an object or squeeze a toothpaste out of the tube, etc. None of those results are what we are looking for from our horses. When we want our horses to move forward either from a halt or increase speed inside a gait we have to ask for the change. You can argue with me and say that rider is asking when she is squeezing. I don't agree and below I give a few points why.
  • When you squeeze and wait for the answer it is similar to expecting someone to answer while you are still talking. The polite way for a conversation is one person is talking while other is listening. These rules apply to our silent conversation with horses. It is even more important to give them chance to answer because they cannot talk.
  • Another point is with squeezing you are bound to be late to release the pressure if your horse answers promptly. In reality you keep asking when he has already answered your request. This does not give him any clear definition on what it is that you want.
  • And the last but not least is prolonged squeezing makes a rider stiff in her hip joints which are absolutely vital in absorption of the horse's movement.
Now comes the question. If not squeezing than how do we ask our horses to move forward. We touch. Our legs must be in a state of a positive muscle tone to deliver clear and definitive touch and than be quiet again. The last Dressage Today (August issue) has a wonderful article about developing positive tension in our horses. The instructor talks about our legs delivering an impulse. The touch is so short in time it feels like an impulse to the horse. Because we stay quiet with our legs until we need to ask for a change the horse will "hear" us very well. If for some reason he decided not to answer you can repeat your request with the stronger impulse (touch). If that is not enough I do not recommend increasing the force and start kicking. I use whip. I'm not saying to hit or punish. I want you to deliver just a quick tap. Very often it is quite enough and gets results. The quick tap with the whip is similar to the leg's touch, it is very short in time like an impulse. I teach my horses to understand action of the whip from the ground. I do not want to surprise them with it in the saddle. Many riders delay the whip action in hope that their horse will answer and they do not need to resort to it. They are trying to be nice to their horses. It is a false perception. This usually leads to squeezing and kicking. Tap with the whip delivered right after your horse didn't respond to your legs gets the job done and there is no argument. When the whip is used correctly even sensitive horses start accepting it very quickly and respond to it properly but calmly.
You can improve your horse's response to the legs if you work on the following points:
  • Work on your seat and posture so you do not use your lower legs to hold yourself in the saddle. Click here to read more on the subject.
  • Develop enough awareness in your legs to recognize when you start squeezing and holding.
  • Develop enough awareness to feel your horse's energy level during your ride. Imagine your horse's energy level is like a sound volume. You want your horse to keep it constant until you tell him otherwise. You want to catch it diminishing and pump it up again to keep it even. Riders very often fail to recognize that and let their horses to drop the level of energy quite substantially before they do something about it. Usually it is too late and requires much more work
  • Always ask with very light touch at first, you can promptly increase the intensity if required. However, do not resort to squeezing and kicking, tap with the whip.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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