The first thing we have to have is a horse and rider that are present. The natural state of a horse is freedom- they prefer to move than stagnate so we want to ensure our riding allows that natural state to continue unimpeded. Depending on the horse, rider and the day, the method to getting to a state of freedom will look different but here is a quick overview.
HORSE: Warming the horse up at the walk with little to no contact- letting them or encouraging them to stretch down.
RIDER: Standing up in the stirrups while the horse walks to let their back have room to lift up and to practice balance.
This can be the entire focus of a ride for the traumatized horse or rider.
Chiropractic adjustments, Massage, TTouch, Yoga, Meditation are all helpful therapies to assist in maintaining freedom in horse and rider.
Essential oils can also be a great addition! The nervous horse and or rider may benefit from lavender. I put a couple drops in my hand, rub it together to warm it up and then let my horse sniff it and if they respond positively, I'll wipe around the ears *sparingly*.
Once freedom is established, then it is time to add more energy and direction. Flow will require a gas pedal that is functional (we can't flow without forward momentum). So, this stage means training your horse to reliably respond to your leg. The goal is that we can tell our horses to walk/trot/ canter and they stay in that gait without constant nagging or gripping. This stage is a continuation of the first one, so still maintaining constant stirrup pressure and balance is key. This is when we start to ask the horse to lift and engage their back. We want our horses on the contact and "through" so that they are using their bodies in an efficient way and so as to recycle their own energy through their bodies. This happens when the horse is able to stretch their hind legs under the body, push forward with the use of the hind legs, round their back up and engage the core, and relax their necks down into the contact. This creates an energy feedback cycle that keeps the horse flowing. Rhythm is also highlighted at this stage because rhythm denotes harmony and relaxation which will be necessary for the next stages.
Rider: mind is open and clear, forward focused with soft gaze. Energy is directed yet not narrowed or gripping physically or energetically.
Horse: large, energetic strides with consistency and fluidity. Rhythm is consistent because of the lack of resistance. Working over the back and into the contact. Neck is long no matter length of rein.
This is where a lot of horses and riders get stuck. The goal of this stage is to master balance and organization without losing the relaxation of the previous steps. This is where suppling exercises are very helpful such as: circles (8,10, 20 m), leg yielding (on/off wall, down the wall) and lateral movements (shoulder in, shoulder fore, travers, ranvers, half-pass) that are appropriate for rider skill and horse fitness level. I find it necessary to deeply understand rider and horse imbalances and how they interact with each other. For best results I like to including circles and leg yielding in every ride, if theres not a lot of time just focus on working the more restricted side of the horse once in the saddle and of the rider before getting in the saddle.
Rider: Balanced with ears over hips and hips over heels. Open hips, still gentle hands, connected seat, and rooted in the stirrups.
Horse: All aids are respected even when used simultaneously or in quick succession. Responsive but not reactive. Balanced on all axis'. Right and left side of body are equally supple and strong and work in tandem to create a comfortable ride and attractive frame.
This is where the boundaries get tighter and the focus becomes on shifting the weight onto the hind legs. This means that the front end will become lighter and begins to reverse the natural weight distribution of 60% of the horses body weight being on the front end and 40% on the hind. Exercises like downward transitions, halting, backing up are all helpful at training this.
The quality of the conversation remains the same but everything is sharper and tighter. Precision is the focus of horse and rider. Obedience is necessary. Harmony is the undercurrent but ambition and intense effort is at the forefront of the conversation.
Horse: Sitting on hocks, hind legs reach further under the belly and front legs become light and expressive.
Rider: Riders position becomes more grounded, tail bone tucking at times and upper body staying back over the hips, and at times behind the hips.
When the energy is flowing so reliably and yet so easily controlled that you can move it reliably in any direction including UP! Impulsion in the gaits now makes the trot animated and highly expressive- think passage and Piaffe. The extensions become more airborne that not and a new sense of freedom is discovered, within the boundaries. Playfulness comes back into the equation. Beauty, grace and MASTERY at the forefront. The foundation must be solid or the bounce and collection will be false, hollow, tense and fleeting.