For any given attitude or movement of the horse there is an optimum position that the rider must adopt. As soon as the rider strays from this optimum, riding becomes more difficult and the unity between the two creatures deteriorates. For example, when circling, the horse is evenly bent from poll to tail in direction of movement. The rider must sit with his outside leg back, his inside leg stretched down, and his upper body turned slightly into the bend so that his shoulders are parallel to the horse shoulders. When riding a figure of eight, the rider must change his position at the cross-over point and adopt the mirror image of the original position to conform to the opposite bend that the horse takes as he moves onto the other circle. Sloppy patterns result if the rider is imprecise or careless about his own position.
When attempting a shoulder-in, the rider will sometimes complain that the horse is escaping through his outside shoulder. The popular advice in such a case is to take a firmed contact on the outside rein. This will provide a physical barrier that prevents the horse’s shoulder from drifting outwards. There is a disadvantage in this way of tackling the problem, however, because the horse may become dependent on the outside rein, and habitually lean on it every time he is put to the shoulder-in. As the strength of the contact increase, it begins to interfere with the purity and freedom of gaits. In short the method does not foster self carriage.
There is another way of looking at the problems of the
falling out through a shoulder.
Imagine a line emerging at right angles from your chest, and extending forwards. The line is curved to conform to the bend of the horse. You must at all time keep your body in such a position that tis line runs along the top of the horse’s crest. Watch a rider who has allowed his horse to fall onto the outside shoulder during a shoulder-in, and you will notice that the imaginary line has moved well to the inside of the neck. The rider has moved to the shoulder-in position without taking the horse with him. You must always position yourself according to what the horse is actually doing, rather than the exercise you are intending to ride.
There is another imaginary line which emerges at a right angles from your back. You must keep this line coincident with the horse’s spine behind the saddle, so that it points to his tail. The rider who fails to keep this line in place will complain that the horse’s haunches have fallen in. The horse will notice that the rider has moved out of alignment, thus making his evasion that bit easier to accomplish.
We know that on a circle the rider’s seat bone is supposed to carry a little more weight than the outside seat bone. This is true if the horse is carrying himself properly, lowering his inside haunch and taking the weight on his inside hind leg. Sometimes the rider will fell that the inside haunch is being held up high, and that the leg is not bending sufficiently. In effect the horse is behaving as if he were bent the other way. This is another case where the rider has not conformed to what the horse is actually doing. When entering a bend and starting to weight the inside seat bone the rider must ensure that the horse responds by bending in the right direction and by taking enough weight on the inside leg. It is not good going through the motions of the position change if it has no effect on the horse. When the horse’s inside haunch feels high the correction is for the rider to realign himself with the horse by weighting the outside seat bone and then starting again in asking for the required bend in the hind legs.
If you stay attentive to keeping yourself in proper alignment with your horse then you will find it is much easier to keep his forehand in line with his hindquarters so that the thrust is directed straight ahead. With a straight horse, many of the task that we struggle with become easier. For example, transition into canter from a walk will flow and require only minimal aiding. The rider who is unable to keep properly aligned with is horse will struggle, and will probably resort to the whip or spurs to achieve the transition.
The issue of correct alignment is a good example that illustrates the problems of schooling horses depend more on the rider developing skills than on the horse learning. As a rider it usually pays to analyse schooling problems by considering how one’s own equitation can be improved before berating the horse for fallings.
by Michael J Stevens
Classical Riding Club.
- SocietÓ Italiana di Arte Equestre Classica