An article from Sustainable Dressage


Riding Front to Back – Hand Riding

To address the outline of the horse from the front is like painting a loaf of dough brown to make it baked. It is simply going about it the wrong way. It’s trying to mimic the finished results by adding it’s appearance, not by developing it’s prerequisites. The rein aids are a fact in dressage, there is no way around that. Some of the more sterner “purists” hardly acknowledge that the hands have any role at all to play in dressage, but renouncing rein aids is, of course, equally wrong. Relaxing the jaw, positioning to the inside, bending, etc is all done with the aids of the hands. So it’s not about that.

It is about the way the horse works. Energy, rhythm, balance and collection are generated in the quarters. The quality of the work of the quarters influences the quality of work of the whole horse. The influence of the rest of the horse on the quarters is literally non-existent, unless the horse is working correctly behind to start with. So training should start with, and continue to concern the quality of work of the hindquarters. Without that, one can bend and twist, stretch and loosen every part of the horse, and the quality of movement will still not improve. Most proficient rollkur riders know that. That is why they extend the trot and canter explosively forward, frequently, and also the reason for rushing around in medium trot working to get “active hindquarters”. Since the horse has to contract his underneck muscles in this work, and since the attention goes backwards to the chest or between the knees, these horses have to be chased forward for them to become active behind.

Signalling Submission

A horse shows his inferiority to another horse by lowering his head. The lower the head the more submission. It also works the other way around; if you lower the head of the horse he feels inferior. It can be a way of managing the relation between horse and rider. It can also be a way of robbing the horse of his pride, depending upon the extent to which it is done.

Field of Vision

The horse is very dependent on being able to adjust the head to focus his eye-sight at different depths. A horse that looks for something at the horizon lifts the nose to almost horizontal level, and looks along the back of his nose. When a horse focuses on something close, he changes the angle to approach the vertical, and looks at it straight out in front. 90 degrees to his nose.
Alison Harman, University of Western Australia, rider and neuroscientist:
“The field of view runs in the direction of the nose. Instead of it being in front of their head the way it is for us, it’s actually down their nose and sort of towards the ground. Above and below the nose, the horse simply couldn’t see.” Catalyst: Riding Blind – ABC TV Science >>
When the horse is made to hold his head well behind the vertical in deep or rollkur, this means that he, at the most, sees the ground immediately before his feet, in focus. You can clearly see that on showjumpers approaching a fence with the neck curled in. As the rider finally lets the horse up, he realises there’s a fence ahead. Ears point forward and he seeks the fence. If the rider were to keep the horse curled in, the odds are that the horse would not clear the fence because he cannot see it and because it restricts his freedom of movement.

There is much talk about riding forward when riding deep. The trouble is that the horse cannot see forward, and therefore has trouble thinking forward.


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