Train versus muscle car
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 02:45 PM
If you ever watched how a train starts to move you remember well the very characteristic beginning - a locomotive starts first and then every next car starts just a moment later. It creates a chain reaction from front to back. Now compare it to a start of a rear drive car. The back wheels start moving and pushing the whole mass of a car forward moving from back to front. When you are riding your horse remember - a horse is not a train like mover, he is a muscle car mover; pushing power from behind not pulling power in front
Lots of times riders encourage and create in their horses train like attitude toward transitions. When a horse doesn't move off the leg promptly riders lean forward, lose contact by giving reins away too much and sometimes start bouncing trying to make their horse move. The horse in such situations will pull his neck forward and up, lean on his shoulders and pull their body forward dragging their hind end like a train car. I see two main reasons why riders fall into such behavior:
  1. Riders are very keen to help their horse, they basically start moving themselves before the horse initiates anything
  2. Riders are impatient and lack focus and observational skills. They just want to go regardless of the quality of a transition
In either cases the horses are learning to drag their bodies around. They usually have their necks stretched out and heads way ahead of the vertical lines creating even more overloading of their shoulders and front feet. Such horses are very hard in the mouth because they need their necks and heads to balance themselves and cannot adjust them easily upon a request from their rider. If a horse pulled into a frame by the rider's hands there is no lightness because the horse is not in self-carriage and cannot sustain the frame without rider's hands.
The most fundamental lesson a horse has to learn is to initiate the movement from the hindquarters. This will make him a nice riding horse and preserve his body for a long healthy life
ALL transitions have this principle in mind from as simple as walk- trot to as advanced as halt to collected canter or piaffe. When a horse carries you with his supple back and powerful hind end it feels amazing. When they drag you forward by their forehand, their backs are stiff and dropped there is no ease of mobility or comfort for either horse or rider.
The best way to teach it to a horse is a walk- trot transition
Several important considerations:
  • A young or green horse does not need to be on the bit yet. However, contact is a must for a future dressage horse. This contact is established in walk and it should not change for trot transition. If in walk the contact is not consistent and a horse feels unsteady or fighting it work on it first before asking for trot.
  • The main request comes from the leg. The leg aid is rather quick (pulse, touch, bump, kick) not squeeze and hold. Later, the aid will be more sophisticated and requires less leg. Seat will be sufficient - tipping pelvis by engaging core muscles.
  • Refrain from leaning forward or tightening lower back muscles. Doing that will make you stiff and ahead of the horse.
  • Do not be in a hurry to go. Observe your horse's reactions. If he is hesitating or plainly ignores your request use sharp enough correction - spur, whip - to make your point. You must convince him to start the trot from the hind end - pushing himself into trot, not dragging himself into it. This is most difficult part for many riders and the biggest challenge is rider's attitude not horse's,. Riders try to be nice to their horses and using sharp corrections is perceived as "mean", "wrong", etc. Riders have a "ceiling" and do not go beyond that. Horses very quickly learn rider's ceiling and do not bother to be very responsive.
Always remember - you are not the one who does the movement. It is your horse! Your job to have a quiet, balanced seat to make his job easier. Your job is to be a good boss/manager who observes and corrects if necessary and leaves the horse alone if he is doing well. Easier said then done. Patience and ability to see require experience which only comes from practice and making mistakes. Without mistakes there is no learning for ether horse or rider! Turn your horse into Ferrari instead of allowing him to be a Train :D
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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