Dressage Training to Help Any Horse

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1 Dressage Training to Help Any Horse Learn a dressage-based exercise created by Ellen Eckstein and Tom Dorrance that teaches your horse the beginning of self carriage. An Excerpt from Bringing It Together, by Ellen Eckstein and Betty Staley Photos by Betty Staley From the America s Horse library americashorsedaily.com 1 americashorsedaily.com

2 Reach Forward Exercise The reach forward exercise is a type of turn on the forehand, with several important differences. The horse is not confined to a particular frame. To begin, only one aid is used. The reach forward exercise is a deliberate and quiet use of the rein that teaches the horse to relax and take large confident steps, with the hind legs moving further to the outside of a circle. It teaches the horse to initiate transitions with a hind foot, first. Connecting the rein to the hind leg is the beginning of self carriage. In a nutshell: With the horse standing still, the rider s hand slides down one rein to a short hold. The reaching hand comes out and forward, gathering, or scooping up the horse in a forward motion. The rider s hand is held high and relatively wide, slightly away from the horse s neck, in a sense leading, or inviting the horse to move. The rider waits on the horse to respond. When the horse begins to step sideways and forward with the hind legs, the rider releases the rein. The rider reaches, directing her horse in a turn to the left. Lauren Robinson, riding Domingo, Oldernburg, owned by The Domingo Group, BIT

3 In asking the horse to move, the seat of the rider is also involved (see Reach and Release, page ) (left photo) The rider waits on the horse to move the hind legs. In the early stages of teaching this exercise, to avoid putting the horse in a bind, the rider leaves slack in the outside rein. This slack is also about safety, and avoids trapping the horse. (right photo) Searching for the answer, and the way out of his own pressure on the rein, the horse begins to activate his hind legs. BIT - 1

4 2 - BIT This large hind step sideways is the practical core and philosophical essence of the reach forward exercise. Allowing the horse s hindquarters to slip sideways gives the horse a place to go, creating space for the inside hind to step under (engage). Stepping sideways teaches the horse how to engage and eliminates the horse s natural anxiety at being trapped, or forced into a frame.

5 The horse steps under, with the inside hind, into the space created by the previous step of the outside hind, sideways. When the horse responds with his hind legs, the rider releases the rein, allowing the horse to step straight forward. Stepping to the side and forward allows the horse to relax and move. As the horse progresses, relaxation as a conditioned response becomes even more beneficial: when the rider asks the horse for collection; in preparation for a transition; or asking for more uphill carriage from the horse. Fundamentally, the reach forward exercise teaches the horse to engage, one hind leg at a time. Timing the rein release to the movement of the horse explains to the horse that the rein is connected to the horse s feet. Critical Concept It is vital riders allow their horses to sort out the meaning of the rein for themselves. The rider s contact on the rein is only as much as it takes to elicit a response from the horse, no more, no less. The horse comes into its own pressure and the horse yields to its own pressure on the rein. (See Reach and Release, page ) The reach forward exercise gives the horse a chance to respond and prepare to move, before experiencing pressure from the rider. BIT - 3

6 Progression of the Reach Forward Exercise This exercise progresses from the horse stepping out, in a type of turn on the forehand, with large confident steps from behind, to stepping under and forward with large confident steps from behind. It also explains to the horse that when the rider reaches for the rein, the rider wants activity. That the rider wants the horse to come from behind, and step up to the rider s light hand. Timing of the rider s release Riders with good feel and timing can be particular about the horse s response from the beginning. However, for many riders and horses, it pays to break the exercise down even further. At first, the rider can release the rein when the horse moves any leg, in any direction (including backwards). Once the rider can feel which leg has moved, then the rider can time the release to when a particular foot moves. When the horse understands that the reach forward rein means to move its feet, the rider becomes more exact about which foot, by releasing the rein only when a particular foot moves, in a particular direction. To further fine tune the rider s sense of timing, the rider can release the rein when the horse shifts its weight to move. Ultimately, the closer the rider s release is timed to the horse s intention to move a specific foot; the quicker and easier it is for the horse to follow the rider s ideas. Position of the rider s hand As the horse s confidence improves, the position of the rider s hand becomes more subtle, eventually becoming an almost invisible lifting thought that engages the hind legs of the horse. As the concept becomes clear to the horse, the rider can become more subtle and lower the reaching hand. A soft outside rein is added. This explains to the horse that the desired response is not bending the neck, but rather, moving the hind feet. - BIT

7 Isolating the interaction to one rein, allows the rein to become attached to the feet. It is essential that the rider not become anxious, forcing the horse to move by adding the rider s legs too soon. Adding a Quiet Leg Gradually, the rider adds in a quiet leg; making a complete transfer from one rein to the rider s inside leg. This transition from the rein to the leg transfers the same relaxation and forward meaning to the rider s quiet leg. Teaching the horse to respond to a quiet rein, and then a quiet leg, allows the rider to do less and get more from the horse. A rein yield can become a leg yield. Yielding to one rein softens the horse s steps. If the rider s leg becomes involved too soon on a young horse, or a troubled horse, the horse is more apt to become anxious. The legs of the rider often cause the horse to move with tension. With the reach forward exercise, even older horses that are troubled can learn to relax and respond. Beginning this exercise by isolating the interaction to one rein gives the horse and rider a clear starting point. In addition, exploring this exercise with advanced horses, often reveals what the advanced horse does not understand, and that often comes as a surprise to their riders. BIT - 1

8 So, what happens, when nothing happens? There are horses, typically horses with prior handling, that have learned to ignore the rider and/or pull against the rider. A light reaching lift of the rein means nothing to some horses, or worse, to the horse it means the opposite of what the rider intends. In fact, some horses have learned to brace or fight against a rein. What does the rider do then? Waiting on the horse is essential. The goal of this exercise is to allow the horse to learn. (How much did you learn, the last time someone rushed you?) Additional Technique: Reaching for Both Reins, With Offset Hands With horses that have learned to brace against the rider, the rider can change the reach forward from reaching for one rein, to a reach with both reins, with one rein offset higher. This allows the horse to put more pressure on itself and search for a way out of its own pressure. Ellen Eckstein riding Latego, Danish Warmblood, owned by Nancy Bareilles, Critical Concept No matter how the horse responds, it is vital that the rider reach forward and allow the horse to put pressure on itself. To make it clear that the horse is putting pressure on itself, the rider becomes part of the horse s hindquarters. (See Reach and Release, page ) The rider s rein can be firm. However, firm is not the same as pulling against the horse. The object is for the rider to do as little as it takes to encourage the horse to search for the desired response. If the horse becomes anxious, the rider may be incorporating the outside aids too soon in the exercise. In this instance, for the sake of clarity and safety, the rider must fully release the outside aids, at least momentarily. 2 - BIT

9 Additional Technique: The Pull Through To achieve a short rein hold, without displacing the rider from the saddle, the rider can reach for one rein, while simultaneously sliding the off rein toward the rider s hip. A short rein reach can also prevent overbending the horse s neck. Common Rider Errors There are common errors, where the rider prevents the horse from yielding its feet to the rider. On the other side of the scale from pulling is the rider who does not draw the rein to a short enough length. This can leave the horse without any clear direction and/or give the horse little reason to search for the answer. Another common error is when a rider leans forward, to one side, or back, getting in the way of the horse. Waiting on the horse, the rider maintains equal weight in both stirrups, staying balanced in the saddle. If the rider puts body weight over the leg the rider wants the horse to move, the horse will not be able to move that leg. The rider may momentarily lean forward to slide one hand down the rein. However, even then the rider maintains equal weight in both stirrups, remains balanced in the saddle, and part of the horse s hindquarters. BIT - 3

10 Common Problems There are also common problems, errors, or (really) efforts in different directions that horses make. (left photo) OVER-BENDING, the horse gives at the poll, without preparing to move his hind feet. In this photo, the horse is wallowing around in a muddled circle. The rider waits for the horse to take a larger step with his hind feet. (middle photo) In this photo, the horse has weight on his right hind. Which means he is STANDING ON THE LEG HE NEEDS TO MOVE. The rider waits for the horse to shift his weight onto the other hind leg, which allows the right hind to take a step. - BIT

11 A similar exercise that can cause rider confusion The One-Rein Stop Many Western riders have also learned an exercise called a one-rein stop. As a safety and control measure, this technique alone has benefited numerous riders and their understanding of horses. However, despite similarities, both the rein action and intended response in the horse is different from the reach forward exercise. For the one-rein stop, the horse is already moving forward. The one-rein stop uses a circular drawing out of a single rein to affect the horse s feet, but the draw of the rein is back toward the rider s hip. Similar to the reach forward, the one-rein stop teaches the horse to step the hindquarters sideways. However, in an effective one-rein stop, after the horse has stepped the hindquarters forward and across, when the horse stops moving, remains bent and giving to the rein, then the rider releases the rein. The one-rein stop and the reach forward are at opposite ends of the scale. The one- rein stop disengages one hind leg of the horse to stop. The reach forward engages one hind leg of the horse to move forward. (right photo) The horse MOVES OFF WITH THE FRONT FEET, first. In this case, the rider waits to release the rein in time with the horse s hind feet. Many riders familiar with the one-rein stop ask, If I use the reach forward exercise, when my horse already understands the one-rein stop (or vice versa), won t this confuse my horse? In a word: no. Horses are capable of reading subtle physical signals in the rider s body. Horses are also capable of reading the rider s intentions. The same horse can learn and understand both the one-rein stop and the reach forward exercise. BIT - 1

12 Responsive and Ready As Ellen reaches for the rein, Latego prepares to move; his joints are flexed and he has weight balanced on all four legs. He can move any leg, in any direction, at any time. Benefits of the Reach Forward Exercise The horse learns which foot to move first and where, giving the horse ultimate flexibility, relaxation in forward movement, and develops the individual horse s highest quality of movement. Relaxed forward movement allows the neck of the horse to fall naturally into a pleasant relaxed posture, as well. The rider learns to determine which foot moves first and where, giving the rider optimum control. 2 - BIT

13 Stepping Forward from Behind Latego undertands the reach forward exercise. He steps forward from behind to the rider s hand, engaging one hind leg at a time. The rider, who has control over the horse s feet, can adjust the arc and placement of the feet, developing the ability to shift the horse s balance to any particular part of the horse s body. This control over the feet will fix the shoulder, the back, the hindquarter and just as important, the horse s mental balance. Horses that yield to the rider with equal weight in all four feet are in balance. Responsiveness to quiet aids become even more meaningful as the horse s education becomes more complex, such as teaching the flying changes (See Reach Forward Video). BIT - 3

14 Copyright 2009 by Ellen Eckstein and Betty Staley ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed to Bell Mare, Attn. Rights and Permissions, 55 Bell Horse Trail, Sheridan, Montana Printed in the United States of America Production and Design by Betty Staley Studio ISBN For more information and to ORDER BOOKS: - BIT

15 Order your copy of Bringing It Together at bringingittogetherdressage.com today!

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