BD Training Director Paul Hayler, continuing his Balance-themed lecture demonstration at Belmoredean, West Sussex (10 March), examined some of the issues of balance that face both riders and judges at novice level. His guinea pigs in this second session were local rider and trainer Di Grinyer and her substantial 17hh-plus Dimaggio x Walentino eight-year-old.
Paul began by pointing out that the rider was a little lady and she had a lot of horse. His first advice was to slow the speed and for the rider to stay rising: “I always tell people, ‘impulsion’ is the last of your priorities. Slow down and first organise the rhythm and the contact. We need to give him a chance to adjust his balance and for both rider and horse to have thinking time.
The resulting trot, he said, wouldn’t get very good marks because the horse wasn’t forward, the hind legs weren’t doing enough and he wasn’t really connected: “But this isn’t what you will be showing the judge, this is the warm-up. Warm-ups are where you will see riders address their horses’ problems and prepare them mentally before they do their test.”
He asks Di: “Try to make him a little rounder with your outside rein: it’s the rein that influences his outline more than anything and it helps him to become more balanced in the neck. Soften his jaw using the second and third fingers only, so that the rein stays steady but the fingers move the bit in the mouth. Now you have the balance in the neck and the softness in the hand that you want so now he needs to start going more forward. A little nudge once or twice with your outside leg and — using your inside leg — think about pushing his ribcage away from your inside leg and knee to help with the bend through the ribcage and also the neck.
“When you want your horse to go quicker, move your legs faster: don’t use your legs in the rhythm he is giving you. Most people are tempted to use the leg stronger and stronger in the same rhythm so the horse gets slower because they are tightening their leg. You need to think about moving your heels, quick-quick-quick, then be quiet with your leg and, if he drops off go, quick-quick again.” Paul observes that the horse is now using his body more and starting to trot through his ribcage and move his back: “You can see the muscles move.” He asks Di to ride forward and back within the pace.
“He needs to develop a little more spring so that the muscles start to develop. It’s not enough to get a horse in an outline, the muscles have to start to move. This gets the muscle fibres to break down and then, over a few days, repair themselves and be stronger. You make muscles move to develop their strength.”
“The rider also has to think about themself: shoulders back and lift your ribcage and push out with a stronger core.”
Commenting from a judging viewpoint, he says: “The horse’s poll isn’t the highest point at the moment but I wouldn’t give him a bad mark. Yes, it could be a bit more up, but he is going forward now and he is a novice horse and a big novice. What I like is his rhythm and his hind leg. He has become more active and you can see that he is bending his joints.
“I also like the way he steps with the hind leg into the front footprint and I like now, looking at his stomach line from hip to elbow, that he is becoming more horizontal, whereas when he first came in he was down in the shoulder. The balance is starting to lift up through the shoulder and wither.
“You can see his stifle joint is moving which indicates to me that he will be able to piaffe and passage.
With some horses you don’t see the stifle move and those horses won’t find it easy later on with the sitting.”
“Now the danger is that because the trot has improved the rider will push for more trot. Instead the rider should maintain this rhythm and balance. Asked to go faster by a greedy rider he would go from a nice trot to being back on his forehand because there is a tipping point in his balance.”
He asks Di to return him to walk. He comments: “I liked that transition because he sat and brought the hind leg underneath and kept moving in that walk transition. That will be an asset later on.” However, he points out, “as the rider was tight in one rein he stopped bringing the hind leg through.
“Put the neck lower so that he stretches to the bridle.” He reminds: “Keep your leg aid quicker and out of his rhythm to make him change what he is giving you. Make him walk more energetically while putting the neck lower quietly with both reins. Think of the reins as strong elastic bands and have your elbows softer. Move the bit on his tongue with your fingers and he will drop his neck to stop the irritation, so you can then respond by stop moving them. That’s his reward. It’s pressure and release of pressure.
“Judging your trot-walk transition, I would have given you a good mark for the transition, but then commented ‘rhythm okay, but left hind a bit short and not walking through his body enough’, so the mark would have gone down. Now he’s taking the contact better and the regularity is better, he is stepping over his front prints and walking from behind.
“Pick him up and return to trot.” Paul then observes that the rider was not fast enough to assist the horse: “He lifted his shoulder up in the transition but the rider didn’t ask the hind legs to join in soon enough.” They return to walk. Paul doesn’t want the walk rhythm rushed but slow enough to allow the back end to catch up. He continues: “When the rider gives the ‘up’ transition aid, think ‘back end trot’. The book says ‘push up from behind’, but horses don’t read books so you have to think what is going to help him mechanically. You want the hind leg a bit quicker but without him going faster. Use your knee and thigh as ‘clutch control’ to keep him steady while your lower leg says ‘quick-quick’ to the hind leg. Dictate the speed in the trot with your knee, thigh and your rising. The outside rein keeps the balance of the neck and the softness on the inside and your lower leg then says, ‘come under, come under’.
“Now, because you are using your leg, it has brought his shoulders up which has automatically brought his neck up, and the poll is now the highest point. That is because you thought, ‘back end first’. Now both rider and horse are using their core and the picture is completely different. The rider is more secure, the leg is doing its job — asking the hind to go forward and the stomach is moving laterally and he has more freedom in his movement.
“Judges can’t judge what the rider is feeling — thank goodness — it may not feel like it looks, so as a rider you need someone on the floor to say, ‘yes, that’s what it’s got to look like’. Or you look in the mirror and see the picture you’re presenting. When it looks right you can gradually make if feel better.”
Paul asks Di to ride her big youngster in a five-loop serpentine and aim to keep the rhythm and balance consistent. “Use the bends to get the inside hind to step under more. Just before you arrive at the track quicken the hind leg, so that he steps through and pushes off, but don’t let him get any faster. And think about leg-yielding his stomach away from your inside leg in each loop, so that you increase the suppling effect of the exercise. You want the horse to end up more supple, more engaged and in a better contact.”
Paul asks Di to use the engagement she has achieved to practise medium trot. He warns, “Watch the balance and keep the neck up. Again! You got left behind that time, so now ask gradually for the medium strides and take your time. Then come back. There is an engine in this horse but the danger is, again, you can ask for too much for his balance. Circle, then do medium on the diagonal being careful that you don’t go any faster, but keep the same rhythm, counting ‘one two, one two’. That’s enough medium for a novice and he has good ability to lengthen. One more on the diagonal: the balance stays nice, he’s good to the contact and he lengthened his frame and he is enough uphill for the level.”
He asks her to make a transition to walk for a breather and comments:
“Every transition you make must be a good one. Again — and think slightly leg-yield into the walk transition so that he steps under with the outside hind, and keep the neck down.”
“When he blocks in the neck after back coming into walk, make the neck soft first don’t push him faster. When they’re strong in the neck or blocking you can’t push them through: slow down and take your time. Slow him down and give him time to adjust his balance because he went from quite a powerful trot to sitting into the walk, so don’t push him forward until you’ve given him time to adjust his balance, it might be a slower walk to start with but it gives him time to relax his neck — you can then drive him forward.
He reminds the audience: “The horse balances himself on the neck. You watch a horse free in the field, he will stick his head in the air, the shoulders up and the neck is bent to the outside and the quarters are in. To become strong enough to able to carry us we need to put the horse’s head down so that they can lift their back up and bring their hind legs underneath them. We have to train the horse how to use their neck in a different way, ie rounder, so that it can relax the muscle in front of the chest/neck, freeing the forearm to move and to lift the point of the shoulder up and forward.”
Paul asks Di to bring her horse’s head up above the bit for a moment to demonstrate
how that makes the neck become tight and block the forearm movement and so make the walk short and tight.
Then he asks: “Now pop him round and ask the base of the neck to come softer again, moving the bit with a still hand, and allow him to relax the base of the neck and walk forward. Already he has more ground cover with his forearm because you’ve got the muscles working correctly and you can enhance that by asking for more with your leg and push forwards. The neck muscle is relaxed and he can use his body more efficiently. Now that you have the neck organised ask for canter.
“He did a few trot steps in that transition but it doesn’t matter — he’s a novice horse — I would be quite happy with that because it was clean. He didn’t alter his walk steps beforehand, there was a tiny bit of a jog but he needed that impulsion to help the step up into canter and the transition was quite nice.”
As a further illustration of how to correct problems, Paul asks Di to let the horse canter naturally, not helping him with the straightness or anything. He wants the audience to see crookedness with the quarters in.
“To correct that we need to think of making him a little rounder in the neck first with the outside rein. When he’s down both reins and nice in the contact, then you can think about bringing his forehand in. Widen your hands and take them to the left and ride a bit shoulder-in. Put your left leg on, and your left knee on so that it’s pushing his tummy out into your right rein, and your left heel then pushes his left hip away. No more neck bend than that so that you’re maintaining the support to the balance with the outside rein.”
He ask Di to ride circle left. “Keep his neck straighter in front of your knees. Both reins and the crest of his neck should stay in front of you. Now move his shoulders over, not his head: always think of moving the outside shoulder round.
“The outside rein keeps the neck straight and the inside rein brings shoulder in and, in the ‘up’ part of the canter stride, move your inside hand over to the left before he puts his front foot on the floor so you can place his front leg where you want it. Then your inside leg pushes his tummy away and inside knee holds his left shoulder. Push with you inside seat bone, sit heavier, to push his hip out as well. Good.”
The exercise continues with transitions within the pace. “Don’t forget your outside rein. Keep the outside rein and use the inside leg to encourage the inside hind to come up and then tiny half-halts and give him a nudge to keep his inside shoulder up. Now ask for more impulsion using your outside leg. Then collect him, closing and squeezing with your knees and then you don’t need to use quite so much rein.
“You’re teaching him to be quicker off your aids so you need your aids to be a bit quicker. You want him more sensitive to the aids and more athletic. He is learning a different mechanic and how to come up through the shoulder so that it allows him to come underneath with his hind legs.”
Because he was starting to get a bit strong, Paul asks Di to repair the connection by getting him to become round again and soften his jaw so that he starts to soften his neck and then asks her to flex his neck a little bit to the inside and then to the outside to soften his poll — and finally bring the inside shoulder up and repeat the forward and back exercise. Then he concludes: “Be careful you don’t ask too much forward or he will flatten.”
© Celia Cadwallader, 18 March 2018