This week in dressage land I learned a lot about activity of the hind legs, balance, and collection and how you put all that together on various horses. On my sale horse Justina we are preparing her for a show and I need her to be on her haunches and collected. I need her collected so her hind legs don’t trail in her extended trot, and I need her collected so she stays in balance in her canter for a great canter half-pass and flying change. Here is a look at some old video from last fall. She has come so far since then! https://youtu.be/yQdzQGvLEP0. To help her get her hind legs under and stay more collected and active behind this week we schooled a lot of reinback to turn on the forehand. The trick to this exercise for her is that she is NOT allowed to move her shoulder or escape through it. She has to only move her hind legs when I ask for the turn on the forehand. It feels awesome when she does this exercise correctly because I can feel her balance shift and be centered like dribbling a basketball under your hand. This is the most awesome exercise – and once Nina understood how to do the reinback to turn on the forehand we added in reinback to turn on the forehand to trot! It totally changed her balance.
Greater activity behind means the rider has to be better at controlling the horse’s balance. On this sale horse her balance sometimes feels like a bouncy ball that is about to get away. https://youtu.be/3dIBwu8P3ss. She is very easy to ride and her gaits are really smooth, but it took me a long time to figure out how to not let her escape “out the front” and let her balance fall on the forehand. Do you see that beautiful canter and how she holds her balance? We lived in quarter turns in the canter and reinback in hand all winter in order to get her balance back. It worked! Her canter is lovely now, her flying changes are clean and uphill, and she has super activity behind and a quick hind leg. Her piaffe is going to be awesome!
So what do you do if you want to start asking your horse for collection and you are light years away from third level? One of my favorite exercises to start placing and weighting a hind leg is to ride a quarter turn off your outside aids without pulling the head down and make them lift and move their outside shoulder around the quarter turn. Do that four times on the square. Eventually that will be your half halt. I do not ride that exercise with inside bend. If I am riding a square to the right then I flex the horse’s head to the left and push the shoulder (with my left leg at the girth) with a bump bump (not a nagging hanging squeeze) and a little timing when the outside front leg is in the air over to the right. That teaches the horse to LIFT the shoulder and when they do that then you can start placing and weighting the hind leg. That exercise is your secret sauce to fixing most canters too! Meaning, do that in the canter!!!
What if your steering is a bit of a cluster and you can’t seem to coordinate that on your own? Or what if the horse is an anxious hot mess and you would rather teach it from the ground? Or maybe you are afraid and would rather keep your legs on the ground? You can start this idea in hand too. If you pick up a normal work in hand position with your left hand on the bit and your right hand controlling the outside rein and then you can ask your horse to step over at the shoulder and cross the inside front leg over to the outside while (at the beginning/young horses) keeping the head straight (eventually bending). BUT STOPPPP! Just one step and then put the whip on the horse’s chest and ask them to reinback a step or two (with the whip on the chest not pulling the bit with your hands) and play with that balance and feel until your horse can take three steps without leaning and pulling foreward through their chest. This is how you teach balance, and that is the beginning of how you fix things like bad balance and going out the front. If that sounds super confusing and you want more assistance, please text me to schedule a work in hand lesson – on my horse, on yours (I travel) or a pivo phone session.
5 year old pinto Westphalian for sale!