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Long and Low, Is it Really That Important?

Dressage

Stretching is Important to the Development of the Horse (Photo credit: Thowra_uk)

Stretching is important to the fundamental development of the horse. Stretching, or allowing your horse to go ‘long and low’ and forward is the primary step in the systematic development of the horse’s top line for all disciplines.

The strength of the topline of the horse is what determines:

  • how much collection a horse can obtain
  • how large a horse can jump
  • how fit and sound a horse will be.

Young Horse Training

In the beginning of a horse’s training the young horse has very little muscle development on his top line. As a result, some horses need more stretching to promote their back coming up and their stomach muscles to become engaged.

In general terms, horse’s have two sets of muscles, those which extend and lengthen, and those which contract. The muscles over the top of the horse should be longer so they can extend the horse’s legs forward.

2012 Olympics - Team Dressage Final

In General, Horses Have Two Sets of Muscles (Photo credit: lhourahane)

The muscles underneath the horse, along their stomach and barrel, should be shorter so they can draw the horse’s hind legs under the horse’s center of gravity. When the horse naturally lowers his neck, with a light and positive contact, the horse’s back will lift up and the stomach muscles will engage and draw the horse’s hind legs underneath the horse.

If you see a horse with it’s top line shorter than its stomach, it is hollow and inverted. The hind quarters are usually left behind without power, the horse’s back is dropped, and the horse’s neck is concave (ewe necked).
For young horses and horses in training, stretching can be and should be a fundamental exercise for development. Stretching correctly, with the back up and the horse pushing from behind, can be done for 10 strides at a time and as a requirement for 1st and 2nd level horses, a full 2 metre circle at trot and canter.

Stretching for Advanced Horses

As your horse progresses through  his training allowing them to stretch serves a different purpose. Advanced horses are fit enough and have developed the needed muscles and do not have to perform stretching exercises for muscle development. Stretching can be used as a  way to relax a horse and release tension as they progress through their daily program.

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The Classical Training Scale

Here is a explanation regarding some challenges we face with our training.

I like

IMPULSION

IMPULSION (Photo credit: JAMART Art Photography)

where the commentator says some thing to the effect of ‘it takes a brave judge to place a ‘back mover’ over a ‘leg mover’ in competition.’

I think people should take a step back and remember the 6 classical dressage training steps….

Do you know what they are?

  1. rhythm
  2. suppliness
  3. contact
  4. straightness
  5. impulsion
  6. collection

If you keep these 6 steps in mind while riding you will find your training ‘deficiencies’  and understand which step you need to go back to to develop and strengthen before proceeding.

Where do you find you have to do the most word before proceeding to the next step?

Post a comment below and let us know what your biggest challenge is.

 

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When to Stop Taking Lessons?

Well I say never! You never stop learning and you always can learn from someone new.

English: Central Illinois students conduct an ...

You Never Stop Learning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now whether it is a formal lesson or not it doesn’t matter it is still a lesson and you will still learn from it!

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

I am amazed how much I learn from my horses every day. Each day is a lesson in learning and I learn from my students as well, equine and humans. I’m still amazed at the stuff I learn when I talk with other horse people. It can be about saddle fit, brushes grooming tools or specific training techniques, as simple as holding your reins a certain way.

A Cossack training a horse

You Can Learn From Watching, Listening, Doing and Being (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I discovered long ago I have a lot to offer as far as horse training goes but I also know I can still learn. If I can learn one thing, one small tip, I will improve on my horse sense.

You can learn from watching, listening, doing and being. You do not ALWAYS have to be sitting on the horse, in a formal lesson, in an arena. You can be in a stall, watching, listening being a part of what is going on.

The important thing is to be engaged, listening and open to new, and possibly new ideas.

This was certainly true for me, after many years of being told to:

Sit up

Use your seat

Push with your seat

It made no sense to me to drive my young horse’s back down. So rather than driving down a friend of mine said to me one time, one ride, on one horse:

Sit up, and allow the horse’s back to come up to great you!

This is when the light bulb moment went on. This made sense to me. Lighten your weight into the saddle and allow the horse’s back to come up to great you.

Since then, I have been asking riders to lighten their horse’s back so it can round up and be used correctly. I often get stunned glances from seasoned riders who say to me, “I thought I was supposed to push with my seat”.
Yes using your seat is correct BUT pushing down on your young horse’s back is no way to encourage it to raise it’s back up. And once you get to the advanced collection portion of your training, then yes, by all means your horse IS strong enough to carry itself and you!

Your horse can only bring up its head onto the bit, and use its back correctly if it is strong through his topline. The way to strengthen the topline is by allowing it to free up his back and round his back up. This requires a systematic program which begins at the beginning with allowing the horse total freedom of his back and using himself correctly.

Take a look at this fantastic video:

So I challenge you to open your eyes, open your ears, and be engaged with your horse and those around you. New ideas -to you – are the foundation of proven techniques to others.

We all can learn and when we continue to learn, we improve ourselves everyday.

 

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