Although we revel in our various disciplines, riding and training styles and breeds of horses, there is simply no denying it: the basics are the basics and they are the same for us all.
Can you distinguish the difference between good and bad movement?
Even if the you are unfamiliar with a discipline's competitive or technical requirements, chances are, you can tell if a performance was well done. The fact is that all movements share several components to them that are fundamental to the quality of movement.
Despite our differences, we are all working toward the same basic purpose.
Every aspect of riding is rooted in rhythm. Without a sense of rhythm, all riding movements will be sabotaged and become relegated to a lurching, uneven-striding, uncertain series of steps, reducing our rides to a series of jolts, whip-lashed starts and stops, and tension in both the horse and rider.
Take the competitive trail horse, for example. When negotiating miles and miles of uneven terrain, there is no substitute for efficient, energy-saving movement. Whether at the walk, trot or canter, the gait must inevitably become regular to be non-taxing and economical.
Watch the hunter horse. The best mover is the one that masquerades as a metronome - each stride ticking away in an unwavering time measure.
Anyone who has participated in a western trail pattern knows the essential dance that must occur in order to negotiate the obstacles in a smooth, cadenced manner.
I could go on and on, and cover all the disciplines I know of, and even those that I don't. The point is that rhythm is one of those commonalities that we all work toward.
There are two types of flexion: longitudinal and lateral.
The first allows the horse to stretch over the topline and use his back effectively. The second allows for side to side stretches. Both are essential to allow for soft, released movement that permits lighter strides and even use of musculature.
Flexion is what allows the horse to be supple left and right, and to lengthen or collect in movement. All figures, patterns and tricks require both kinds of flexion to be performed with ease and strength.
This one is pretty self-explanatory.
Every aspect of riding horses begins with impulsion. The key is to have good enough communication with your horse so that he can put in the energy needed at the right time.
If you are heading into a corner with the horse trotting into the arena walls, horses will often slow their forward inclination. You need to ride through the corner or turn so that the horse can maintain the established rhythm. This is when "go" enters the scene.
Imagine a barrel horse without "go".
What would a road horse be like without an easy ground-covering gait?
I might call it contact, and you might call it connection. It is the language that you and your horse share.
In the end, we are both talking about the same thing: the horse reaches to your aids - seat, weight, legs, hands (and bit or hackamore or whatever other kind of equipment) and there is a communication process that you both participate in.
The better the connection, the more subtle the interaction. The onlooker might only notice the results of the process - but you know how amazing it feels when the horse is "on the aids" and you progress together as one.
After finding bend and flexion, all horses must also discover the beauty of straightness.
Without body alignment, all movements lack strength and suppleness. The shoulders must be in line with the hips. The straighter the horse's body, the more efficient the movements become.
Moving straight, even on a circle, is a lifetime goal that is often difficult to achieve.
Many disciplines discuss the relatively complicated concept of collection. All higher level movements rely on it. Many of us claim to do it.
But don't be fooled! Most of us probably achieve "roundness" and confuse it with collection.
Collection is achieved only when all the above components are in place and practiced on a regular basis. True collection starts with a flexing of the joints in the hind end, a tilt of the haunches and a high level of activity that results in an elevated front end. When you first discover collection, you might be amazed at the energy surge and strength it takes to even begin to collect.
But if you look carefully, you will recognize it in many riding disciplines.
The Training Pyramid
If you think I've pretty much described the dressage Training Pyramid in my own words, you're quite right.
If you think my point is to illustrate the commonalities between horse activities, you're also right!
How does the Training Pyramid work into your daily rides? Comment below.
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‘Go and No’: The Connection Between Forward and Half-Halt in Horse Riding: How to develop the two seemingly opposite aids.
Why You Should Ride the Left Side of Your Horse Going Right: In order to help straighten the horse (and elongate the muscles on the right, and help the horse bear more weight on the left hind leg), we need to work on the left side going right.