The Fun­da­men­tals Of Rhythm

In this book ex­cerpt, Eckart Meyn­ers dis­cusses how to es­tab­lish the horse’s nat­u­ral rhythm.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Eckart Meyn­ers Photos and il­lus­tra­tions cour­tesy of Trafal­gar Square Books

The “fa­mil­iar­iza­tion phase” is a tech­ni­cal term that in­cor­po­rates the first three abil­i­ties of the horse’s Train­ing Scale: rhythm, sup­ple­ness and con­tact. For the ed­u­ca­tion of a young horse, this is the early school­ing phase when the horse is made fa­mil­iar with the fun­da­men­tals of rid­ing. He should be taught to carry the rider’s weight with­out los­ing his bal­ance and also must learn the es­sen­tial body-lan­guage sig­nals of the rider: the aids. Most of all, how­ever, dur­ing this fa­mil­iar­iza­tion phase the horse should be able to move just as nat­u­rally and freely un­der the ad­di­tional weight of the rider as if he were not car­ry­ing a rider at all.

The term “fa­mil­iar­iza­tion phase,” how­ever, does not only per­tain to the ba­sic train­ing of a young horse, but to ev­ery warm-up phase: The goal of hav­ing the horse ini­tially get used to the rider’s weight, go in rhythm, be sup­ple and look for con­tact with the rider’s hand equally ap­plies to the be­gin­ning of ev­ery rid­ing fig­ure.

In this ar­ti­cle, I will ex­plain the sig­nif­i­cance of rhythm. In ad­di­tion, links be­tween clas­si­cal rid­ing the­ory and biome­chan­ics are meant to pro­vide nu­mer­ous tips for mak­ing this part of the rid­ing ed­u­ca­tion suc­cess­ful.

Rhythm in the Young Horse

The first time the young horse starts mov­ing un­der the rider is the dif­fi­cult time in his de­vel­op­ment: He is “loaded” with the rider’s weight. In prin­ci­ple, horses are able to carry weight, but only when the func­tion­al­ity of the mus­cu­la­ture—es­pe­cially the back and cor­re­spond­ing ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles—is de­vel­oped for this pur­pose. The un­fa­mil­iar load on the horse’s back (com­par­i­son: back­pack on your back) can ini­tially lead to up­sets in rhythm. This dis­turbs—to var­i­ous de­grees—the nat­u­ral­ness of the horse’s gait and thus the way move­ment is trans­ferred to the rider.

Ini­tially, the horse’s back mus­cu­la­ture arches to­ward the rider. Since the mus­cu­la­ture is not yet fully de­vel­oped, how­ever, it will fa­tigue quickly, lead­ing to slack­en­ing or sag­ging of the mus­cle groups. As a re­sult, the back will start to sway and the hindquar­ters be­come parked out. When the horse is now asked to move in the walk, trot or can­ter, the sway­back will have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the gaits. What was a trot with a clean rhythm with­out the rider’s weight will now be­come a gait with an un­even rhythm (no fluid move­ment from the back to front and vice versa).

Based on these facts, the rider is clearly re­quired, first of all, to have a reg­u­lat­ing in­flu­ence on the horse’s rhythm. This means, in de­tail, that the horse is brought back to his orig­i­nal sit­u­a­tion (mov­ing in rhythm with­out rider weight), but now with the rider’s weight.

Reg­u­lat­ing the Horse’s Rhythm

Only a rider who has al­ready de­vel­oped pro­pri­o­cep­tion (aware­ness of your body’s po­si­tion) is able to have a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on the rhythm of the horse’s gait; that is, to help the horse re­cover his rhythm un­der the rider.

In the op­po­site sit­u­a­tion—an un­trained rider on a schooled horse— the be­gin­ning of the fa­mil­iar­iza­tion phase means that each rid­ing sit­u­a­tion must be­gin by hav­ing rider and horse find and align their nat­u­ral rhythm dur­ing the move­ment, to have them find a com­mon rhythm.

Con­clu­sion: The first ob­jec­tives of the ba­sic train­ing of the horse and at the be­gin­ning of each rid­ing ex­er­cise are for the horse to find his rhythm and for the rider to ad­just to this rhythm or cre­ate rhythm by skill­fully in­flu­enc­ing the horse in each gait (see prac­ti­cal tips in the in­di­vid­ual gaits be­gin­ning on p. 40).

Rhythm in the Three Ba­sic Gaits

In each of the three ba­sic gaits, the horse has a dif­fer­ent rhythm, a dif­fer­ent se­quence of foot­falls and a dif­fer­ent num­ber of phases.

For a rider who wants to ac­quire the feel for half halts dur­ing her rid­ing ca­reer, know­ing about phases is im­por­tant, but it is even more es­sen­tial to feel what hap­pens to the horse un­der her.

Many are able to re­cite the phases by heart, but they are un­able to feel them and to draw con­clu­sions for their ap­pli­ca­tion of aids. The rider must learn how to feel which one of the horse’s legs is push­ing off, when it is in the sus­pen­sion phase and when it touches the ground again in or­der to find the right mo­ment to ap­ply her aids.

If the rider does not register the right mo­ment, her in­flu­ence—es­pe­cially her driv­ing aid—will be with­out ef­fect. For ex­am­ple, when the rider doesn’t drive at the mo­ment when the horse flexes in the joints and is about to push off, but in­stead drives at the mo­ment of sus­pen­sion, it is anatom­i­cally im­pos­si­ble for the horse to re­act to the rider’s aids.

Rhythm at the walk: The walk is a four-beat gait con­sist­ing of eight phases. It is the only gait with­out im­pul­sion. This means that the walk does not have a phase dur­ing which all four of the horse’s legs are in sus­pen­sion; there are al­ways at least two feet on the ground. In prin­ci­ple, the walk is well suited for teach­ing move­ment se­quences. This slow­est of the three gaits is the eas­i­est in which to com­pre­hend and prac­tice new move­ment se­quences for rider and horse. For this rea­son, the walk— within the frame­work of rider and horse ed­u­ca­tion—is called “the gait with ed­u­ca­tional char­ac­ter.”

The walk is also im­por­tant for the pro­duc­tion of syn­ovial fluid be­fore the warm-up. The walk is also used to in­cor­po­rate ac­tive re­cov­ery phases dur­ing a rid­ing les­son in or­der to al­low the horse to re­cu­per­ate.

Feel­ing Rhythm

There are a num­ber of ex­er­cises done from the sad­dle to help riders de­velop a feel for the rhythm of the horse.

Bending for­ward: Eyes closed, bend for­ward to the horse’s neck and touch the left and right sides of his chest. You should say out loud when the left or the right front leg moves for­ward.

Bending for­ward and feel­ing the se­quence of foot­falls: Re­main­ing in

the same po­si­tion, you should say when the left or right hind foot pushes off. If you have prob­lems, your in­struc­tor can help you and an­nounce when the horse’s left or right hind foot pushes off. This aid will help you feel the horse’s move­ments more con­sciously and af­ter that, you will most likely be able to iden­tify them more quickly on the ba­sis of feel.

Feel­ing the se­quence of foot­falls at the walk: Ride in walk (also with closed eyes) and fol­low the horse’s foot­falls. First, an­nounce the move­ments of the front legs, then those of the hind legs. Af­ter­ward, you should also try to feel the se­quence of foot­falls as they re­late to one another. For this pur­pose, you will as­sign each leg a num­ber. The left front leg, for ex­am­ple, will be 1, the right hind leg 2, the right front leg 3, and the left hind leg 4.

Prac­ti­cal Notes

Drive al­ter­nately at the walk: The horse steps for­ward with al­ter­nate hind legs, which cre­ates a pal­pa­ble pen­du­lum move­ment in his rib cage. The pen­du­lum-move­ment se­quence re­quires the rider to drive al­ter­nately. The in­ten­sity of the driv­ing aid de­pends on the ex­tent to which the walk cri­te­ria (rhythm, ea­ger­ness, free­dom of move­ment, length of stride) are fulflled.

Al­low the nod­ding move­ment of the horse’s head: At the walk, the horse’s neck is of spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance in its func­tion as a bal­anc­ing rod. In this gait with­out im­pul­sion the for­ward move­ment is sup­ported by a nod­ding move­ment of the neck. There­fore, it is es­sen­tial that you al­low this nod­ding move­ment. Oth­er­wise, the horse’s move­ment is un­able to flow through his en­tire body. You must be able to fol­low the move­ment of the horse’s head with your hands while con­tin­u­ously main­tain­ing a soft, elas­tic con­nec­tion from the hands to the horse’s mouth. There­fore, when rid­ing the walk, it is your hands that move the most.

Rhythm in the Trot

The trot is a two-beat gait with four phases, mean­ing it is a gait with im­pul­sion and a sus­pen­sion phase. The trot is most suit­able for ba­sic work. The rhyth­mic con­trac­tion and re­lax­ation of all mus­cle groups make it com­par­a­tively easy for the rider to ad­just to the rhythm of the horse or even to sta­bi­lize the rhythm by skill­ful ap­pli­ca­tion of aids. For many horses, the trot is the best gait for sup­pling work.

Feel­ing the se­quence of foot­falls at the trot: At the trot, say out loud when the left and right front legs and left and right hind legs push off and land on the ground.

Prac­ti­cal Notes

Driv­ing cor­rectly: In prin­ci­ple, driv­ing should en­cour­age the hind leg to step for­ward, thus cre­at­ing an even fow of move­ment through­out the body. In the trot—a gait with im­pul­sion— do not ac­ti­vate the hind leg on the same side; in­stead, al­ways drive equally on both sides. Only later can the in­ten­sity of aids on the in­side and out­side be dif­fer­ent.

Sit­ting and ris­ing trot: No mat­ter whether you sit the trot or rise, the ba­sic struc­ture of driv­ing is the same. Dur­ing the ris­ing trot, both of your

lower legs move away from the horse while you are stand­ing up. When you are sit­ting down, your legs touch the horse’s body: Both legs give the aid at the same time and in­flu­ence the same side. Dur­ing the ris­ing trot, ev­ery sec­ond stride is sup­ported by means of a driv­ing aid; when sit­ting the trot, the driv­ing aid can oc­cur with ev­ery step when needed. Just as in the walk, the in­ten­sity and fre­quency of the driv­ing aid de­pend on the in­di­vid­ual sit­u­a­tion.

Rhythm in the Can­ter

Only when the horse moves for­ward se­curely and rhyth­mi­cally un­der you in the trot can you add the can­ter work—at least in most cases. But the ex­cep­tion proves the rule: From time to time there are horses that have dif­fculty in be­com­ing sup­ple in the trot and feel much bet­ter when you give them the chance to frst be­come sup­ple in the can­ter and then in the trot. It is im­por­tant for you to fnd out which gait the horse prefers.

The can­ter is a three-beat gait with six phases and—com­pared to the trot—a dis­tinct sus­pen­sion phase. In this gait, you must con­sider that the horse can be rid­den on the right or left lead.

Feel­ing the se­quence of foot­falls in the can­ter: As in walk and trot, in the can­ter, say out loud when the in­side/out­side hind foot lands. There is no limit to the vari­a­tion of these ex­er­cises. The goal is for you to be­come aware of the horse’s move­ment: to feel what goes on in the horse. This can help you con­clude when to ap­ply the var­i­ous aids. Only when you clearly per­ceive the horse’s move­ments will you be able to

con­sciously in­flu­ence them.

Prac­ti­cal Notes

Strike off at the can­ter: Your guard­ing out­side leg se­cures the horse’s out­side hind leg (sup­port­ing leg of the can­ter), which be­gins the can­ter. Use the halfhalt tech­nique to alert the horse to the com­ing new sit­u­a­tion. Give the horse the nec­es­sary fex­ion, and guide his in­side shoul­der in front of the in­side hip. This se­cures the po­si­tional re­quire­ments so that the horse “jumps” into the can­ter af­ter you shift your weight to the in­side seat bone in com­bi­na­tion with the driv­ing aid of the in­side leg.

At a Glance

The frst ob­jec­tive when school­ing the young horse is to reestab­lish his nat­u­ral

rhythm un­der the rider’s weight. The rider must be able to cor­rectly drive the horse in the rhythm of the ba­sic gaits and be able to fol­low the horse’s swing­ing back move­ments with her pelvis. Dur­ing the fa­mil­iar­iza­tion phase, which fol­lows the Train­ing Scale and in­cludes rhythm, sup­ple­ness and con­tact, the rider cre­ates the pre­req­ui­sites for sub­se­quent school­ing work. When these pre­con­di­tions do not ex­ist, sub­se­quent school­ing will be rid­dled with prob­lems.

The first goal dur­ing the early school­ing phase is to reestab­lish the nat­u­ral rhythm of the horse in each ba­sic gait. Mandy Zim­mer trains with Ger­man Olympian Klaus Balken­hol. Con­tact is one of the three ar­eas of abil­ity of the Train­ing Scale that are de­vel­oped dur­ing the fa­mil­iar­iza­tion phase. Pro­fes­sor of Sport Phys­i­ol­ogy and Body Move­ment at the Univer­sity of Lüneb­urg in Ger­many, Eckart Meyn­ers has spent more than two decades re­search­ing how peo­ple learn move­ment in rid­ing and has worked closely with the Ger­man Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion to de­velop cur­ricu­lum for pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur riders, train­ers, in­struc­tors and judges. Meyn­ers is also the au­thor of Rider Fit­ness: Body & Brain and the DVD “Move­ment Aware­ness for Riders.” In his most re­cent book, Rider + Horse = 1, Meyn­ers, along with Hannes Müller, head of the Ger­man Rid­ing School in Waren­dorf, and Kerstin Niemaan, editor of the Ger­man eques­trian mag­a­zine, St. Ge­org, of­fers ad­vice on how to achieve the fluid dialog be­tween the horse and rider that leads to har­mo­nious per­for­mance. In the ac­com­pa­ny­ing ex­cerpt, Meyn­ers ex­plains what he calls the “fa­mil­iar­iza­tion phase” and ex­pounds on the sig­nif­i­cance of reg­u­lat­ing a horse’s rhythm. Used with per­mis­sion from Trafal­gar Square Books and avail­able at EquineNet­work­Store.com.

In or­der to sup­port the horse in re­dis­cov­er­ing his nat­u­ral move­ment se­quence when un­der the rider, Ger­man Olympian He­len Lange­ha­nen­berg must feel ex­actly when the right mo­ment for driv­ing has ar­rived.

Take a deep breath: Dur­ing a rid­ing les­son, rider and horse should re­peat­edly in­cor­po­rate ac­tive re­cov­ery phases. Here, the reins are com­pletely dropped so Kerstin Nie­mann and her horse can en­joy a brief time of re­lax­ation. The se­quence of foot­falls at the walk: There are al­ways two or three feet on the ground. There is no sus­pen­sion phase. There­fore, the walk is con­sid­ered to be the only gait with­out im­pul­sion.

Bending over for­ward on the longe line at a walk is very help­ful when teach­ing be­gin­ning riders a feel for the horse’s move­ment se­quence.

The se­quence of foot­falls in the can­ter on the right lead: The horse lands with the left hind leg, fol­lowed by the right hind leg and the left front leg at the same time. Then the right front leg lands while the three re­main­ing legs are in the air. Fi­nally comes the mo­ment of free sus­pen­sion be­fore the left hind leg lands once again.

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