Tips from Trainers Who Teach
Ana Gilmour explains how to tune your riding position to spark your horse’s forward desire.
To understand what it means to have the horse “in front of the leg,” imagine driving an automatic car. You shift into drive and when your foot is neither on the gas nor the brake the car rolls forward. A horse is in front of the leg when he is thinking forward and traveling forward of his own accord. Some cars are set to a high idle while others have a lower idle. Similarly, some horses are more naturally forward while others need a little more encouragement from the rider.
In Front of the Leg
When a horse is in front of the leg, he feels as if he is taking the rider somewhere as opposed to the rider making him go somewhere. The rider’s leg is quiet, her seat is supple and swinging with the horse’s back and the horse is pushing from behind into the contact. I know my horse is in front of my leg when I can sit relaxed through my hips, drape my lower legs on his sides and follow his movement without a driving effort. When I apply slight leg pressure, he has an immediate and appropriate reaction. This is important because when you ride a movement, your leg aids can then influence the impulsion, which is the horse’s ability to thrust from behind. Instead of using the leg just to go, when the horse is in front of the leg you have the flexibility to ask him to move more forward, more sideways, more upward or to swing more during the exercise. This allows you to make the gaits and the essence of the movement more elastic and expressive.
The qualities of being through and in front of the rider’s leg go hand in hand. Throughness is when the rider’s commands can influence the horse freely through his body because of an absence of resistance. The horse must have a degree of throughness to maintain a supple topline and allow him to be in front of the leg. If there is resistance in the horse’s body, then he is not through and cannot be in front of the leg. Make sure you can consistently maintain a steady rhythm and tempo (note that being in front of the leg does not mean going as fast as possible), suppleness and relaxation. Then the horse is soft and elastic with a connection from back to front and he can be responsive to subtle suggestions from the rider.
Rider position is key to putting the horse in front of the leg. You must be in a position where your ear, shoulder, hip and heel are all aligned vertically. The rider’s seat should be supple and relaxed with legs draped just behind the girth.
To get the horse in front of your leg, use a systematic approach with your driving aids and be consistent—ask with the same aid for the same response every time. Keep your seat loose when you use the leg. I say, “release your hip” because this gives my students a good visual. Now, let’s use the aid for walk to trot as an example. Begin in the medium walk. •Apply pressure with the upper calf area
of both legs momentarily. •Immediately release and soften the pressure. The horse should make a transition to trot right away. •If the horse did not respond make a
correction immediately by giving a
Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin show what it means to be in front of the leg. uhe horse always looked as if he were taking the rider somewhere as opposed to the rider making him go somewhere.