‘Tis the season to hit the refresh button on your flatwork foundation! You’ll see the extra effort pay off not just in improved dressage scores, but in improved performance in the jumping phases as the year goes on. Has your practice plateaued? Struggling to feel inspired? In partnership with Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com) and our sister site Horse Nation, we present #FlatworkFebruary, a month-long series of book excerpts from leading dressage experts around the world.
This week: In this excerpt from When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics, Dressage Today Technical Editor Beth Baumert explains how good contact really involves the horse “bouncing off” the bit at every stride.
When your horse reaches for the bit, he “pushes” on it slightly. We sometimes hear riders complain: My horse is pulling, but the horse, from his point of view, can’t pull on the bit. (The rider sometimes pulls, though.) The horse reaches for the bit and pushes on it slightly. If he pushed on it more than slightly, he might end up “leaning” on the bit and using your hands as a “fifth wheel.”
Most riders know how the energy goes from a thrusting hind leg, through the back, and to the bit, but when I ask students in my clinics, “What happens to the energy after it gets to the bit?” most riders don’t know. Here’s what should happen:
Ideally, instead of leaning on the bit, the horse should yield to it respectfully, “push away” from it, or “bounce off” it. This moment of “pushing away” should happen every stride, and during that moment, the horse shifts weight from the bit back to his hindquarters. In that moment of shifting the weight back, your horse becomes lighter in front and his self-carriage improves.
There’s a little “Go” and a little “Whoa” in every stride—just as there is a little “Go” and a little “Whoa” and “Soften” during every half-halt.
Here’s how the dynamics of that works:
- During the “Go” moment, your horse thrusts and reaches with a hind leg, and the energy flows through your horse’s topline and goes to the bit. Your horse pushes on the bit, and because of your dynamic, connected riding position, he draws on your Connecting Powerline, including your elbow, which engages your Vertical Powerline, including your seat. This connection causes the “Whoa” moment.
- At this “Whoa” moment, your horse pushes away from the bit, shifts weight to the hindquarters so he carries himself better, and becomes instantly lighter in the hand, which invites the next moment.
- This is the moment within the half-halt when you “Soften” all your aids, which invites the next moment, the “Go” moment of the next thrusting stride.
“Pushing away from the bit” should be an ongoing situation that happens within the self-perpetuating rhythm of pure gaits, and it results in the horse’s proud self-carriage.