What is Lightness for an Equestrian?
Lightness is a characteristic of classical dressage, sought by riders throughout the centuries. For me, lightness is the ultimate goal of dressage training, it brings a unique expression to each horse throughout their work, and it directs all my work and teaching. When a horse is truly light, dressage is elevated to another level, something that, once you have felt it, is never forgotten.
Lightness means to be nimble, with a lack of weight, or a lack of weightiness or force and each of these interpretations are relevant to classical dressage.
Horses are naturally weighted towards their forehand, and through correct training, the horse gradually learns to use their strength to bring their balance towards quarters. As training progresses and the horse engages their haunches more towards collection, their forehand elevates, and the horse becomes more manoeuvrable. This lightness in the forehand can ultimately create piaffe or even a levade.
The aspect of lightness in character should not be dismissed. Both horse and rider should enjoy the work. Where training becomes an effort with riders becoming stronger and the horse becoming resistant, the joy of dressage is lost.
Without lightness in movement, dressage horses become physically blocked and laboured, unable to produce the full beauty of which they are capable.
The pictures below show two very different piaffes, the bay horse is heavy in the fore hand, it’s head and neck are blocked, which has disengaged the hind legs which are stepping to the side, and the fore leg is drawn too far back under the horse’s body. The horse shows resistance throughout its body
The grey horse also shows a piaffe but in a completely different way. There is lightness in the fore hand, the hocks flex as the hind legs are brought under the body of the horse and the head and neck are elevated with the poll raised. There is no tension or resistance in the movement.
Diane Followell - Training Riders, Transforming Horses
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Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer
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