The development of suppleness should be at the forefront of our minds when training horses. Suppleness creates a horse who is light, balanced and maneuverable. A horse that is out of balance will carry weight in one shoulder, which often shows with problems with the canter lead on one side, your horse is unable to stay on a circle and is being heavy in the hand.
Much like humans, horses find things easier to do on one side than the other. This is most recognisable on a circle. When the stiffer side is to the outside of the circle, the horse stays reasonably on the line of the curve. But when the stiffer side is to the inside, the horse continually falls in and the circle gets smaller and smaller. This asymmetry can overload one foreleg can result in tendon problems and the asymmetry of the whole horse can develop into neck, back or joint issues.
The exercises you chose should encourage your horse to release on their stiff side and strengthen the softer side to create a straight horse. Over the centuries, the classical masters created different exercises to supple horses. These exercises are still in use today; correct circles, shoulder-in, half pass, travers and renvers being the five key movements.
All horses can achieve these five basic movements, provided the rider considers the horse’s conformation. A cob may not show as much crossing in their legs as a more lightly build horse, but this does not mean the movement is incorrect.
Choosing an appropriate exercise encourages the horse to release any blocks they may have by developing suppleness, strength and balance. Sometimes it is necessary to be a little creative and adapt an exercise or develop a new pattern of work that is more effective for the horse. If the exercise is not working as you expected, analyse where the problem is and make the necessary changes or use a new exercise.
In all these movements the rider must be well balanced in the center of the saddle. It is remarkably easy for your body to tip to the side which will block your horse. Pulling the inside rein back will also block your horse by preventing their inside hind leg from moving through and dropping them onto their outside shoulder.
Creating a balanced horse who moves straight through their body allows the energy from the haunches to be used efficiently. Work in the school does not need to be complicated but must be precise. A few hours in the school riding, circles, spirals, yielding and serpentines can develop a more supple and responsive horse that is safer and more comfortable to ride.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer
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