Per­fect bal­ance

How your hip po­si­tion can con­trol your horse’s step

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

DRES­SAGE IS THE art of be­ing in bal­ance with your horse — that was the main mes­sage from lead­ing dres­sage trainer and judge Sandy Phillips at this year’s In­ter­na­tional Event­ing Fo­rum. Un­til you have that bal­ance, you can’t put en­ergy into your horse’s move­ment. You need en­ergy in or­der to have qual­ity and that in turn leads to higher marks. So, to in­crease your chances of bagging a glossy red rosette, you need to heed the fol­low­ing ad­vice.

1 Don’t block with your hands

Your hands are the main point of con­tact with your horse’s mouth, so use them wisely. Ob­vi­ous, you might say, but it’s a fault that many rid­ers make. “If you try to con­trol your horse’s front end with your hands, all you do is block the horse’s for­ward­ness,” ex­plains Sandy. “Your hands stop the hind­leg step­ping through to show enough up­hill ten­dency for an eight from the judge. If you fo­cus on rid­ing the horse’s back end, you’ll im­prove en­gage­ment of the hindquar­ters and get him off the fore­hand.” Achiev­ing this, adds Sandy, is only pos­si­ble if you have a strong core. “Ev­ery rider must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own fit­ness so they can ride with­out de­pend­ing on their hands to bal­ance.”

2 Learn to con­trol ev­ery step

When a horse doesn’t en­gage and step un­der with his hindlegs, his point of hock be­comes the fur­thest end of his body and it’s dif­fi­cult to show he’s up­hill and bal­anced. “You have to teach the horse to work with his hind­leg more un­der his body so that he gets greater lift in his step,” ex­plains Sandy. She adds that the top-level rid­ers can con­trol the step of their horse’s hindlegs — and you can work to­wards achiev­ing that too. “Ride into a cor­ner and ask for a smaller step for the turn. Then ask for a more for­ward step so you come out of the cor­ner up­hill.” This doesn’t mean block­ing with your hand to shorten the step. You should feel the rhythm and, as you ride each step, use your hip to in­flu­ence it by mov­ing it more or less. This takes prac­tice.

3 Be quiet with your hands

When your horse is work­ing in a pace you’re happy with, sit still. Soon he’ll re­alise your hands aren’t there to re­strict him. “If you sit back in the sad­dle to slow down, it’s a neg­a­tive aid that brings the horse be­hind the con­tact,” says Sandy. Your horse needs to learn to push his shoul­ders for­wards, rather than pulling his hindquar­ters along. To achieve this, in sit­ting trot, use your hips in a quicker rhythm to en­cour­age your horse to spring off the ground. Re­mem­ber that when you’re ris­ing, a big­ger rise by you leads to a slower step by the horse.

4 Ride the cor­rect beat

Can­ter is a three-beat gait and you need to ride for­wards on the first beat so that your horse is light in front and lifts his fore­hand. Count the three beats out loud. This is of­ten more ef­fec­tive than count­ing in your head. It will help you es­tab­lish a reg­u­lar rhythm and recog­nise the first beat, which is when the out­side hind­leg touches the ground. “This makes the horse push his back end for­wards into the ‘one’ beat,” ex­plains Sandy. “Don’t drive on to get the for­ward­ness. All that does is make the pace flat. “The haunches need enough time to take the weight so that the back end can lift the front. A flat can­ter stride makes this harder to achieve and the smaller the cir­cle the more you have to let him jump.”

5 Find the sweet spot

Mon­i­tor ex­actly where you’re sit­ting in the sad­dle. “There’s a spot where, ev­ery time you rise, the hind­leg moves and steps un­der. So you’re not fol­low­ing the trot, the hind­leg moves with you,” says Sandy. “You don’t want to be a pas­sen­ger. You are the leader in this dance and you con­trol where he puts his feet. Then you can con­trol the size of the step.” Be to­tally black and white about when you want your horse to go for­wards or to shorten his step. This is how you should think about slow­ing down — do­ing it in an ac­tive way.

6 Half-halt with your hips

“Horses spook be­cause they’re be­hind the leg,” ex­plains Sandy. “Stop and start­ing your hip is your half-halt. All you’re do­ing is fol­low­ing the move­ment with your hip and then not fol­low­ing.” She adds that half-halt­ing with your hands is a back­wards aid, be­cause it starts at the front of the horse and pre­vents the hind­leg step­ping through. Us­ing your seat in­stead short­ens the step with­out tak­ing away the ac­tive­ness. “Putting your leg on doesn’t have to mean for­wards and faster ei­ther. You want spring in their step so that it gives them more air time to get their hind­leg un­der,” says Sandy.

You are the leader in this dance and you con­trol where he puts his feet

Your hips are a vi­tal aid, says Sandy, and a quick rhythm en­cour­ages your horse to spring off the ground

Ask­ing for a smaller step into a cor­ner and a for­ward step out helps your horse be up­hill

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