In front of the legs
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Sunday, September 22, 2013 05:54 PM
Since I bought my truck and trailer I started taking monthly lessons with Sharon Merkel-Beattie. She is the owner of a beautiful dressage facility Windhaven Enterprises and my favorite dressage instructor in Edmonton area.
So far I took 3 lessons by now and the main theme of our lessons is to get Santo in front of my legs. For me it was a big eye opener to realize that my horse is not listening to my legs as needed.
What are the signs of a horse who is moving in good balance and alignment, engaging his hindquarters and responding promptly to rider's light leg aids?
  • The horse is tracking up and steps forward and under himself with each hind foot
  • The horse does not require constant reminder to keep going
  • When rider uses the leg aid the horse steps under more, pushes off the ground more without tensing his back or lifting his neck
  • The horse does not run through rein aids if leg aids are used
  • The horse does not stop using his haunches if reins are touched
  • The horse feels big in the movement but not fast, the movement feels round and uphill with great animation. The movement comes through the whole body like the horse is swimming.
  • It is easy to sit on such horse. The horse's back moves with elasticity and control.There is no rigidity or hard bounces. The horse feel lifted in front.
When you riding you can ride the movements or you can ride the gaits and use movements to enhance and improve the gaits. After initial introduction to a certain movement such as a half-pass, for example, it is very important to pay strict attention to how your horse is executing it. Slowing down or shortening the trot so you are able to sit through the half-pass and finish it is not a good approach. Kicking your horse every step in order to preserve the appearance of the movement is not a good idea. The better way would be - starting a half-pass from a big expressive shoulder-in, doing a few very good steps and depending on what is happening change it into shoulder-in, leg-yield, medium trot, ranvers, etc. Anky van Grunsven talks about speed control. She changes the gait inside the movements all the time, extension, collection, extension again, slower tempo, faster tempo. She also rides movements differently - more bend, less bend, more angle, less angle.
Horses are very clever at gradually diminishing their effort in order not to work hard. They do not do it in big changes or very obviously. The changes are very small and sometimes hard to notice right away. They use the same approach when listening to our aids. It is not easy to keep the bar high and correct your horse quickly when he is ignoring the light leg aid, or diminishing his effort after being told to do something. This mental training is very important. Horses need time to accept the demands and work with more focus and effort. This is why it is important to start very early. As soon as horse has been started the goal is to develop and enhance the horse's understanding of leg aids, encouraging and eventually requesting big forward movements without running away or tension. When a young horse has learned to move big under rider it is much easier to preserve and develop it further. Older horse who got trained to higher levels without proper engagement and understanding of rider's legs will be very hard to impossible to retrain.
A few more comments from Sharon during my lessons regarding being in front of the leg:
  • Quiet hips, quick legs
  • Take the horse to the edge of the trot
  • Fight with legs not hands
  • Bridge the reins for couple circles to ride more from the seat and leg
  • Expect immediate response to inside leg with more engagement and expression
  • Gallop forward to get your horse more in front of the leg
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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