Dressage Horse Training: Carry versus pull – Fast equals Flat-Communication is Key

Hello Everyone,

Horse and Rider Balance

There is a delicate balance training a horse and a rider and it is always nice to have a schoolmaster to train a new rider.  It is easy to see the difference between a horse that is carrying weight on the hind leg and moving forward with power versus the extreme opposite, a race horse pulling themselves along with their front legs.  When learning to ride you are developing the feel of balance versus the tipping forward on the horse.  This is challenging for a new rider (especially when you add in sitting trot) who’s focused on balancing their own body and trying not to use the reins like handlebars on a bicycle.  The horse also needs to warm up into a balance point because a horse is happy to carry themselves along on the forehand.

What is the Visual?

When you move the horse forward it is better to think about the hind legs pushing or even better yet, carrying the weight of horse and rider.  If you were watching from the ground look to see more space between the hind legs created by larger, more elevated steps (think basketball player going in for a layup) instead of the hind legs moving more quickly (think roadrunner cartoon).

For me as a rider, I spent a lot of time in lessons always pushing forward out of balance trying to follow my instructor’s directions.  It seems like I would just start to find an equilibrium and the instructor would say go more forward.  As a new rider it is not very clear that forward does not mean faster.  It is no small feat to ask a relatively untrained horse to go forward, not faster.

As a diligent student I would add my leg and from the saddle it would feel like we were tipping forward onto the forehand.  My trainer would say “good” and I spent a lot of time confused.  What Kris, my husband and ground guy, helped me figure out was I could feel the horse tipping forward before the instructor could see it manifest from the ground.  Before you could see this tipping forward happen, the horse would indeed take a couple of good steps with more power, hence the “good” comment.

What I realized is that when I pushed the horse forward trying to be an attentive and responsive student, I was doing too much.  What I’m working on now is to think about lifting the horse up and forward a very little amount (including the diagonal aid inside sits bone to outside rein NOTE:  This description in so many books conveys to me sits bone and then outside rein.  What needs to happen is a simultaneous sits bone and outside rein so the energy lifts up and doesn’t bleed out the shoulder) so we still feel in balance and then waiting to see the feedback from the instructor.  Being more judicious seems to be a better approach for me.  Of course there are also the more timid riders who need to be pushed a bit more but I still think the baby step approach as a rider will be okay.

Out of the Comfort Zone

It is a delicate balancing act as an instructor to push a horse and rider out of their comfort zone to improve but not so far they are always in a state of running on the forehand.  As always is the case, developing a good dialog between student and instructor helps.  Checking in with the rider to verify what the rider is feeling aligns with what the instructor is seeing from the ground gives the instructor more information to work with to develop the pair.  I do not mean that the lesson is a talking experience.  A lesson should be primarily student ride and listen but it is helpful for the instructor to see where the student is mentally.  For example, as an Instructor of Biology when I was going through the discussion of how a cell produces ATP, I would randomly check in with my students and ask what part of the cell we were talking about.  If the students couldn’t tell me we were in the mitochondria then I knew I had to figure out what else had been missed or where my students had become lost, before delving into further details that would be completely out of context.

Teaching Feel

Begin the lesson making sure the student understands the difference between carrying versus pulling and forward versus fast.  Set the student up to feel the difference.  Do some fast on purpose to highlight the difference for the student’s feel.  Give the student the basic feel and then let the student do the homework and comeback for adjustments.

Good Riding,

Tara, Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

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