Horse-Riding: Gymnastic Progress of the Horse

This system, repeated daily, consists of the following conceptual, qualitative elements:

Relaxation is indispensable to any further achievement. It must be both physical and mental. With a green horse, this goal must become the rider’s consuming task for the entire riding period. As the horse shows an absence of tension, transmits the propelling energy originating in his haunches through a relaxed musculature, his impact on the ground will soften and the rider will need to spend less and less time and effort on relaxation. He will be free to go on to more complex and sophisticated goals. Without relaxation, the horse cannot render himself attentive to the rider’s aids, accept the bid, and listen to correct guidance concerning his haunches. Without mental relaxation and trust in the rider, the horse cannot achieve substantial physical relaxation.

Balance can only be achieved when the horse has a relaxed musculature and when he carries the rider with a swinging, articulating back that is stretched and elevated. A balanced horse will be able to keep identical strides through straight and bent paths and will make transitions that are distinct, with demarcation, yet without impure steps. Longitudinal balance is completely dependent on regularity and evenness of rhythm. Lateral balance, in addition to the above-mentioned needs, depends on the perfection in the evenness of the horse’s lateral (spinal) bending.

Rhythm is born of the composite success of relaxation and balance at work. The horse moves with absolutely even rhythmic strides in all three gaits both on straight and curved patterns and remains fully attentive to the rider’s guidance of lateral bending. His gaits will improve in purity and gain expression. The clarity of rhythm is indispensable to correct gymnasticizing of a horse because his evasions to the rider’s aids can only be by changing rhythm or becoming crooked. The rider cannot be careful enough as a guardian of rhythm. He should be able to adjust it immediately upon the horse’s changing it. Both slowing and speeding are equally detrimental evasions to the rider’s aids. Horses that are allowed to use rhythm changes for evasions will lack impulsion and engagement.

Elasticity occurs when the horse can stretch and contract various muscles in his body. Consequently, he can move his joints with greater articulation. As a result, depending on his development, he can show proficiency in stretching or contracting his body, thereby also lengthening or elevating his strides. Thus, he can show modulation in his gaits and perform more extended and more collected movements. An elastic horse shows extension and collection without altering the rhythm of his strides.

Impulsion is controlled energy. Impulsion is the correct propellant energy emitted from the haunches. It is expressed by flexibility of the joints, causing increased articulation, particularly rotation. Impulsion depends on the equal and proper utilization of flexion in all the joints, rather than one joint overworking to save efforts in others. A horse in correct impulsion will not appear hasty. Rushing is the enemy of impulsion. To be sure, impulsion is born of the horse’s natural instinct for flight. Swift movement is the instinctive potential for impulsion. Yet only when that instinct is tamed, controlled, and educated will impulsion occur. Impulsion is manifested by the horse’s ability to increase the activity in his joints, yet decrease his tempo. It is realized by slower, yet more articulate, flexibility and rotation in the joints. Born of the horse’s instinct to flight, impulsion is the sophisticated, gradual controlling of the flight instinct into brilliant, yet majestically slow, activity. Instead of headlong speeding ahead with stiff, rapid, small strides, the horse achieves a schooled way of moving by economy of speed in a gracefully coordinated carriage. Thus, the horse’s natural tendency to run, to move with joy and alertness, are tamed gradually and by careful, gentle control. Impulsion must be based on the preceding developmental stages.

Suppleness is three-dimensional: longitudinal, vertical, and lateral. A horse properly connected from the haunches to the bit is longitudinally supple. This must include the feeling of muscular “liquidity” that allows the horse’s impaction on the ground to blanket him softly, dispersing any stress, trauma, or shock to his system. Longitudinal flexion must be in self-carriage, terminating on a contact with the bit so light that the rider feels only the combined, actual weight of the reins and bit hanging in the horse’s mouth. There should never be a feeling of connection with weight exceeding that of the equipment. The horse must remain moving on his four legs, rather than being pushed into and “nailed onto” the “fifth leg” of the bit. Vertical suppleness is commensurate with the horse’s ability to flex his strengthened joints so as to press his pelvis forward, lower his croup, and increase the vertical, lifting articulation in his joints. When vertically supple, the horse will not only lift his limbs higher with increased flexion at the joints, but also will sink softly down on them when contacting the ground. The importance of this distinguishing characteristic of the horse softly sinking on supple, strong joints at the time he is impacting the ground is the crowning effect of vertical suppling. The softness of the vertically supple horse’s movement allows the rider to sit on motion so soft and elastic that his perceptions of the horse’s haunches can be exquisitely accurate. The lateral suppleness of the horse is based on his spinal alignment being even and exactly parallel with the pattern of his progression. The horse’s ability to bend evenly ensures that his hind legs can continue moving in the direction of the forehand on the corresponding side. When a horse evades lateral bending by pushing out or cutting in with his shoulder, or by skidding out or curling inward with his haunches, he refuses to stride correctly forward. The correctly bent horse, however, is moving with his “shock absorbers.” Lateral suppleness is very important because that is the primary source for the horse absorbing the shocks from ground contact when moving on an arc. Without bending, nature’s shock absorber, the horse will be traumatized by his impact on the ground and gradually be damaged. Riding skills should emphasize the skills for bending the horse, because riders who cannot bend the horse’s spine also cannot straighten it. Longitudinal, vertical, and lateral suppling are totally interdependent. It is inconceivable to develop one beyond the others. They interdepend even regarding the extent to which they develop. Riders, therefore, must see to it that the horse is always correctly aligned, between all aids, in self-carriage and with maximum lifting functions of his joints. Suppleness allows a feline movement of utter softness, as if floating over rather than hammering into the ground.

Collection is based on impulsion. It is the horse’s ability to shift his center of gravity more toward his haunches. Collection refers to an increased assumption of weight by the haunches. It is not a shortening of the neck by a pulling rider. Increased weight assumption in the haunches develops from increased articulation of the joints, including the lumbosacral joint, which is pushed downward by the horse’s lumbar back muscles. That causes the important tilting of the horse’s pelvis more forward and under. The result of true collection, by definition, includes the lightening of the forehand. This is manifested not only by the obvious grace with which the forearms can float from liberated shoulders, but also by the absence of leaning on the shoulders, allowing the horse to bounce higher at the withers. A collected horse’s movement feels and looks as if he is progressing both upward and forward.

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