In our highly competitive world, with increasing specialisation in particular disciplines of riding, it is easy to forget, for some, that the principal training and education of horse and rider is universal. A horse is a horse, it does not come with any ideas of competing in a particular sphere. Certainly the temperament and the physical attributes, in other words his nature, may more or less be suited to a certain type of work. The nurture horses receive though is hugely significant in the ultimate development of their potential.
The establishment of trust and respect between horse and handler/rider is pivotal to the success of further training. This can be achieved through a consistently fair, reasonable handling and schooling both ‘in hand’ and under saddle. The art of producing horses requires us to have a deep understanding of the horse’s instincts and nature. Age appropriate training, excellent embedding of voice and body language communication will allow the development of more advanced and complex work without anxiety and negative tension inhibiting the performance in any discipline.
An example of the sort of problems that can cause confusion in the horse is found in training and using the ‘Half Halt’. It is a very useful way towards developing a degree of collection but can also produce quite a lot of confusion, if badly or prematurely introduced to both horse and rider. For the half-halt to be effective and useful the horse has to accept it without resistance and in order to do that he has to clearly understand our signals (aids). If he is confused by them, tension through anxiety will set in and the intended half-halt will be blocked causing an interruption of the forward, loose swing that should be evident in the horse’s movement. The half-halt needs the horse to perceive and respond to the energising aids of leg and freely moving seat and simultaneously accept the containing suggestion of the rein. IF this is possible then the rider and the observer can sense an increased engagement in the horse, a feeling of ‘poised for action’ with energy stored in the body ready to be deployed to a purpose, yet without an increase of speed.
The contradiction is evident; we are attempting to invite the horse to respond to two opposing suggestions: 1. go more actively, which intuitively to the horse would be telling him cover more ground, travel faster and 2. go steady, don’t go faster or longer in stride. These two separate suggestions in the first place would have to be well trained so that the horse can respond to each one distinctly but then we have the vital task of somehow bring them to be meaningful at the same time or at least in really close temporal proximity to each other. This is were the use of the well established, from early life, voice aids in ‘transition’ work between paces is critical. Progressively bringing transitions between paces closer together and the horse responding willingly to contrasting upwards and downwards transitions the possibility of an effective half-halt becomes comprehensible to the horse. In the gradually quicker succession of transitions good judgement has to be applied to use the appropriate impulsion level and suitable location within the geography of the arena or schooling area used. The circle, the corner or the perimeter fence can be put to good use in addition to the voice and smoothness of the applied aids in achieving a successful outcome.
The horse’s ability to flex equally well to the left and to the right in response to a guiding aid is also a crucial factor so that we can have an inside guiding and bit stabilising rein enabling the outside rein to suggest the containing signal. A clear understanding by the rider of the coordination and role of the aids is of critical importance. An ability to maintain a steady ‘neutral’ contact that elastically moves with the natural movement of the horse will allow the rider to successfully deploy either a containing aid or a momentary release of the contact.
Small degrees of collection gradually achieved result in greater ultimate collectability, without resentment and resistance. Proceed in small incremental steps of progressive work, aim to maintain the horse’s willingness to try for you, be playful in your workouts! Schooling should be fun not boring or a torture!
Passionate for sound Dressage training.