In Search of Balance
All horses, despite their seemingly effortless beauty in motion, have some inherent balance problems that are both longitudinal and lateral in nature. Longitudinally, or from back to front, the horse has a natural balance problem simply because his neck protrudes from his otherwise table-like structure; his balance is innately on the forehand. To counter this issue, you need to help the horse build topline muscles so he can carry himself well and move more easily. The horse’s second longitudinal balance issue exists because he is a four-legged creature: When left to his own devices, he’s always eager to use his front legs and is somewhat unconscious about his hindquarters. This also puts the horse out of balance and onto the forehand. Riding half halts and transitions can help both situations.
Laterally, or from left to right, the horse isn’t straight by nature. Because his hindquarters are wider than his shoulders, his natural balance is, once again, on the forehand. Straightening the horse is easy in theory but sometimes difficult in practice.
For now, let’s look at the longitudinal issues. Think of your horse’s hindquarters and his forehand as his two engines—one for pushing and the other for pulling.
Your horse’s forehand engine wants to pull your horse along. It’s the pulling engine. This engine is important, but when it does too much pulling, the hind end becomes like a wagon trailing along behind a tow vehicle (see Illustration A on p. 36). Because your horse naturally wants freedom of the forehand, he prefers to use this front-end engine more than his hind engine. He doesn’t realize that overusing his forehand puts too much weight on it, which actually reduces his freedom. As soon as the horse takes a step with the front end without bringing his hindquarters along the same amount, he becomes a bit long in his frame, hollow in the back and unpleasant in the hand. The horse needs his rider to explain that real freedom from improved balance comes when he uses his hind end more
and his forehand less.
You want your horse’s hind-end engine to push your horse along, which creates a connection from his hindquarters to the bit (see Illustration B on p. 36). The pushing engine has to create enough energy to make that connection. The energy has to get all the way from the horse’s thrusting hind leg through the horse’s topline to his reaching poll and to the bit. Then it can lift and free the front end—your ultimate goal.
The Faux Runaway
As you know, horses don’t inherently know that the way to gain freedom is by energizing the hindquarters rather than the forehand. Fresh young horses or hot older horses are a tough test for the
In her book, When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics, trainer, author and Dressage Today technical editor Beth Baumert helps readers discover how to use “positive tension” and “Powerlines” to become balanced and effective in the saddle. Use of positive tension and powerlines allows the rider to be strong but still soft. In this excerpted chapter of the book, Baumert discusses the inherent balance problems that all horses face and how riders can help overcome these issues by better understanding balance.
This excerpt is used with permission from Trafalgar Square Books. The book and the DVD are available through www. EquineNetworkStore.com. To learn more, visit dressage-dynamics.com.
TOP: Annie Morris rides Weltdancer in a balance that makes her work easy. ABOVE: By nature, the horse’s forelegs are more eager than his hind legs. Under saddle, the rider does half halts and asks for transitions that encourage the hind legs to be more responsive and the forehand to wait.