What really defines a supple horse?
In our work, the suppleness of the horse is key. For me, it is the golden key for both welfare and performance. To be able to ride or lunge your horse into relaxation is a great way of both;
1) prevent injuries
2) make your horse trusting and happy
3) get rid of tension
4) giving your horse a easy reward while training
5) maintaining a safe way of training all horses
As in the dressage we base a lot of our training from the principles of the German training scale,
And just to repeat it, it goes like this:
2) Suppleness/ relaxing
These points are all dependent and each step must be achieved before moving on to the next. These are again divided into three phases where relaxation, rhythm and contact make the first phase.
During this phase of training, the horse should be encouraged to relax, find its natural rhythm and seek an elastic contact with the rider through the reins. Through exercises made to make the horse strong, flexible and supple, it is desirable to remove tension in the muscles and increase flexibility in the neck and back, this is done by strengthening the abdominal muscles and muscles of the hindquarters responsible for progress.
Relaxing and tension removing work should be a natural part of your daily routine during both warm up and through the last part of your training. It should also be the natural reward for your horse when it does something difficult correct.
The most natural way to move your horse into suppleness is the "long and deep" head and neck position. This type of training is described as a longitudinal flexion with extension or stretching of the horse's back. It should be a natural part of warming up because it both stretches and loosens the muscles while putting the horse in a relaxed mental state.
Riding your horse long and deep is not the same as letting the horse trot around on long reins to stretch. Do you see the difference between the two pictures?
Theoretically, the method evolves from a "bow and string theory". The biomechanics describes how the spine is affected by the leg muscles and how the spine supports the horse's mass. The spine, pelvis and upper muscles respond to the arch held tight by the string. When the bow is under tension, the horse's back will be better suited to carry weight from above. The string is referred to as the breastbone and abdominal muscles. When the protractor in the front legs and the retractor in the hind legs contract, the arch will be tightened so that vent flexion occurs in the spine. The muscles contract when the leg is weight bearing.
A bit complicated? Well, this theory helps us understand why it's important to engage your horse's hindquarters to create a rounded top line and a relaxed horse.
The looseness we are talking about is achieved when the horse will stretch his head and neck down and forward with stable contact in all gaits. The indications of looseness are a swinging back, wheezing and a closed but not immobile mouth. In order for a horse to be supple it must have regular steps in each gait. The steps should go the same distance and pace. This rhythm should be maintained through transitions, turns and straight lines.
A horse is also not supple until the contact between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth is soft and steady. The horse should advance rhythmically from the rider's driving aides and seek contact with the rider's hand by "going to the hand". Proper and steady contact allows the horse to find balance under the rider and to find the rhythm in each gait. In dressage this is called "self carriage", it happens when the force from the hind legs comes through in gaits and in all aspects of the forward movement. A horse can be said to have self carriage when it pushes well from the ground and swings its legs well forward. The rider should use the horse's natural rhythm and add forward and ease.
These are all the scientific view of how to train a sound, healthy and functional horse - but this is also the first step in how to rehabilitate horses. This is our key tool to help solve behavior problems, fix tendon injuries, neck and back problems, and so on. This method, with special knowledge of how to move the muscles can fix the asymmetri, injuries, remove tension and help establish a sound horse ready to start it's further training. This is my favorite way of moving a horse because it causes the horse to feel relaxed, happy and trusting to it's movement. It also builds confidence and builds a good connection to the trainer.
Is stretching a natural part of your training? Please leave us a response and do not hesitate to email us questions if you would like to engage in a discussion of this topic.