Dressage training; Elastic contact- A key element of successful horse/rider communication.

by petros on November 29, 2016


One way of thinking about riding a horse is to focus on channelling the dynamic energy that the horse is able to produce in order to propel its and our body mass in the desired direction. That ‘desired direction’ of course has to be arrived at by consensus between horse and rider. The process of establishing a common language for us to be able to negotiate a clear understanding with the horse starts from the earliest days of a foal’s life. The manner of  handling that it receives and the upbringing it experiences within the pecking order of the herd all play a part.  As we have discussed in past articles, one of the requirements for good riding is for the rider to be able to allow as much freedom of movement as possible. Positively influencing the horse’s performance without inhibiting the natural paces demands excellent ‘adaptation’ to being on horseback so that our body can accommodate the movement of the horse and maintain balance. This would  lead to not needing to grip or hang on to the horse unduly which would perhaps either create anxiety in the horse or inadvertently cause us to apply the ‘hand break’ on while trying to ride forward.

The same problem could also be caused by the rider attempting to force the horse into a so called ‘outline’ or ‘on the bit’. We absolutely must avoid this as a correct frame of collection is arrived through the horse taking up the contact confidently, able to flex equally willingly to the left and right while simultaneously prepared to think forward and also wait in acceptance of the half-halt. This acceptance of the half-halt is arrived at in time through the repetition of progressively prompt transitions, I call these ‘pause and play’ transitions as part of the ‘waiting’ and ‘get going’ games that form our training  towards greater understanding and ability of collection without confusion or anxiety by the horse.

A vital part of the work the rider need to undertake particularly at the early stages of their own training as well as throughout our riding lives is work without stirrups both while on and off the lunge. The proviso of course is that the horse is suitably trained and ready for this sort of work and that an experienced trainer assists the rider to choose the right time to do this as well as to employ suitable exercises that would challenge but also maintain safety. Work with out the reins would also be necessary at some point to enhance the level of skill which ultimately will enable the rider to achieve a better contact. Through this kind of work a good balance can be developed with a good ‘seat’ and relaxed position that allows the rider to act deliberately and smoothly and the horse to move freely and confidently.  A picture of harmony requires elasticity of contact in the rein so that our hands can follow with a spring like action the natural movement of the horse, particularly in walk and canter while in trot isolating our body movement (perhaps in rising trot)from our hands so they can be still in relation to the horse’s mouth. This elastic contact is largely achieved in the rider’s elbows that have to be flexed and relaxed enough while the shoulders can also allow and regulate the necessary elastic tension. The softly closed fingers of the hand can take or release pressure, supplying micro adjustments, while the thumb and index finger between them ‘anchor’ the desired length of rein.

Tip pf the day: Avoid straight, rigid arms with hands too low into you thighs. Do carry your hands up so that your elbows are flexed and feel heavier than your hands. Feel elastic elbows and relaxed shoulders.


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