25 Days, 25 Letters of the Alphabet…
By popular demand we republish a Rider’s A to Z Glossary of technical terms; a more or less alphabetical Series of rider expressions that, in form of a Rider’s Advent Calendar, Rivkah Roth wrote for and posted on her CoachMeToo and Equiopathy Facebook pages in December 2019.
|1/A: Ahead of the Vertical A biomechanic necessity shows that the hoof contacts the ground at the extension point of the nose line.|
A horse behind the vertical pulls back its forelegs, goes against or behind the bit, lacks engagement from behind, and goes downhill no matter how flashy it looks.
|2/B: Balance Describes the longitudinal tail-to-poll and lateral left-to-right equilibrium of the horse. |
A horse in balance falls neither in nor out, doesn’t rush nor hold back, and won’t lose its rhythm when the rider releases the inside rein or both reins as a test of balance. A horse on the forehand is not in balance and will not track straight.
|3/C: Connection The always open and adjustable “Telephone Line” between the horse’s active hindlegs and its mouth that is cushioned and directed through the horse’s supple and swinging back and the rider’s elastic and independent seat and arms/hands(wrists).|
In most cases it is the rider who breaks the connection because of lack of an independent seat.
|4/D: Dressage The gentle and step-by-step increased gymnastic training and developing of a horse’s musculoskeletal and mental apparatus with the goal of making its back stronger. |
A horse so schooled can carry the rider with great ease and willingness. In addition, correct work protects legs and body from injuries. Good dressage training results in a happy and sound horse for many years.
|5/E – Engagement The direct and active response of all equally flexed hindleg joints – sacrum, buttock/femur, stifle, hock, fetlock – in the direction of the mutual Center of Gravity of rider and horse. |
True engagement results in carrying and not in pushing. The quarters are lowered due to their (equal) joint flexion. A properly engaged horse will bring the hind hooves forward to a vertical extension of the rider shoulder – hip – ankle line.
|6/F – Footfall Constant awareness of the horse’s footfall is of ultimate importance. Only the rider who always knows which foot is about to strike off will time forward and directing aides properly. |
Too often do we see riders pull back their inside arm when the horse is ready to move its inside shoulder forward; or the rider lets her outside leg slide forward for that same outside hind-inside shoulder trot diagonal instead of properly supporting the forward movement.
|7/G – Center of Gravity Generally located in an area behind the scapula just below where most saddle gulletplates end. |
This is a central area of several layers of highly interlaced muscles that take their origin or insertion there. Therefore, tight saddles can wreck havoc.
The closer a rider can sit to the Th10-Th12 area of the spine with completely vertical stirrups, the less s/he interferes with the horse. It should always be the rider’s goal for the horse’s hind feet to actively step forward under the CoG.
|8/H – Half-Halt The act of (re-)balancing the horse before any changes of direction, e.g. into and out of corners, 4 x around each circle, changes of direction, as well as before transitions within and out of a gait.|
To start the half-halt, at the movement the curve described by the hindlegs has just reached its high point, the rider momentarily and lightly firms his thighs in the guarding position slightly behind the girth.
To finish the half-halt (and as soon as the horse responds), the rider releases the rein-pressure of the inside rein when riding on a curved track, or of both reins on the straight, in order not to compress the horse and lets his legs return to their maintaining position.
|9/I – Impulsion The forward momentum transported by active hindlegs over a swinging, relaxed back into an elastic contact that results in marked suspension phases and precisely timed footfalls. |
After Rhythm, Suppleness, and Connection, Impulsion is the fourth step of the classical training scale/ pyramid. Only an independently sitting rider will not disturb the horse’s optimal impulsion and the prerequisite rhythm, suppleness, and connection.
|10/J – Jowl The space between upper neck and head that needs to remain open and relaxed for a horse to be able to optimize its movement. |
Any pressure on the artery by reining in a horse and bringing it behind the vertical is extremely painful and disabling to the horse. Rhythmical nodding of the head is a sign of a temporarily restricted throat space caused by an uneducated rider hand and must be corrected.
A horse with an unrestricted jowl/throat will present itself properly on or slightly ahead of the vertical through all paces and transitions.
|11/K – Knee blocks Properly fitted knee rolls or knee blocks can be of great benefit. However, any knee roll must allow the rider to assume different thigh and leg positions, pelvic tilts, etc. for precise collecting and driving aides.|
Oversized knee blocks, as we recently see them, hamper a rider by putting her into a rigid medieval knight-like position. Such a rider will never be more than a passenger and won’t be able to properly support and pilot a horse. Without the ability to move in the saddle the rider cannot put a horse in front of her leg.
|12/L – Lightness The impression a properly schooled horse gives that stands willingly and lightly on the aides. |
Most importantly, lightness is proven if a horse is able to stretch and gather up its front in unison with its forward stepping quarters while maintaining a light and elastic contact. Such a horse will swing through its back and, with the briefest ground contact, show a distinct suspension phase in trot and canter.
There is just one “but”… this requires a rider who is equally light and precise in his aides and has worked for 100% independence between seat and hands.
|13/M – Medium Paces Medium Walk, Trot or Canter are not “half” or “less” than the extended gaits.|
Properly ridden medium paces distinctly show more engagement from behind along with more upwards tendency with the front (both limbs and forehand). Think necessary impulsion and flexion of the haunches in order to clear a ground pole in a line of cavaletti with every step or stride.
Meticulously ridden transitions into and out of medium paces are some of the best suppling and strengthening exercises in preparation for future collection as well as optimal extensions.
|14/N – Nosebands In many configurations, properly fitted and following the various two-finger rules, a horse can still softly chew and naturally drop the bit. A noseband can protect the horse against a momentary rider hand slip or a bit being pulled through the mouth accidentally. |
Sadly, many riders try to make up for lack of independence of seat or inability to feel their way “into” the horse’s tender and gentle mouth by over-tightening their nosebands into torture instruments.
If you want to tighten a noseband take more seat lessons on the longe!
|15/O – Obedience The horse that has learned to trust rider hand and seat, and is allowed to move through its back, will be able to respond to the lightest muscle tension or relaxation of its well-schooled rider.|
A horse showing unwillingness unmasks its rider’s lack of communication skills, trustworthiness (i.e. predictability), which often are signs of lacking rider schooling.
|16/P – Stirrup Pressure Stirrup bars are attached to the saddle in an area near the base of the withers. |
Good riding will want to raise the withers at all times. A rider who pushes down into the stirrup leathers however acts on the horse’s spine like a vicegrip. Hollow horses with short necks going against the bit are the result.
Instead, the rider wants to equally use her hip, knee, and ankle joints in an elastic yo-yo-like manner. You will eliminate any undesired stirrup pressure by contracting the shin muscles (toes up), with the longest possible thigh and shorter lower leg (knees down!), and by gently pulling back the stirrup leathers behind a flat thigh and knee. Elasticity is key!
|17/Q – Quadrille Riding in formation, often with music. A rider who always schools alone often fails to verify his horse’s rhythm, tempo, throughness and rideability. Mistakes such as falling in or falling out are over-corrected or let slide. Great weekly or biweekly eye-opener. |
By riding side-by-side in groups of multiples of four, a rider can learn a lot about the shortcomings of his schooling. A horse – as a natural herd animal – gets to enjoy learning and work alongside other, possibly more experienced horses.
|18/R – Rhythm & Regularity The first step of the classical Training Pyramid. A main focus that should accompany every horse and rider on a daily basis and from basic levels to Grand Prix. R&R includes proper footfall, clear suspension phases, equal step and stride lengths; and all of this equally on straight or bent lines and on both hands.|
Changes in rhythm and regularity (while possible indicators of soundness issues) often reveal rider seat and hand problems and, therefore, horse balance problems, lack of back development, tight jowl/throat, incorrect contact, etc. – Work on R&R every single step!
|19/S – Suppleness The second stage of the Training Pyramid can be viewed as a longitudinal (back to front) as well as a lateral (left to right) absence of resistance. |
A supple horse with a swinging back lets its rider sit even with bigger movement and through smooth transitions. Riding a horse over the back i.e. with a swinging back, requires rhythm and regularity (1st stage of the Training Pyramid) and, properly developed, leads to an elastic and trusting contact. A supple horse is able to shift its CoG and proof its suppleness by stretching without loosing its balance or rhythm.
Here is the clincher: A rider who cannot move with the horse will not produce a supple horse.
|20/T – Transitions Either the crown of riding or its downfall. A well balanced rider introduces each transition from the seat. A brief moment of not completely following with seat or breath, thighs lightly closing, or legs brought into the guarding position (behind the girth) are introducing back-to-front up or down transitions. Such a horse will show forward transitions, go uphill and will improve its engagement.|
On the other hand, transitions introduced by the hand (front to back) block the horse’s engagement and put it on the forehand and even behind the vertical. Over time such a horse will get heavier in the hand or learn to come behind the bit (and vertical).
A confident horse and rider execute tens and hundreds of transitions every session (think interval training!). Yet only properly back-to-front ridden transitions accomplish their purpose.
|21/U – Uneven Uneven steps or strides – unless as a sign of lameness – can be a question of step length, height of knee lift, hock engagement. Uneven can also describe uneven left vs. right muscle development and ability to bend. This results in uneven circle lines, serpentine loops, corners etc. |
These all are signs of a horse (and rider) lacking proper basic training. A horse that goes through its back is more likely to show even strides; but only, if the rider can sit evenly and independently in both directions without balancing herself on one or both reins.
Start by correcting uneveness in the rider with seat correction work on the longeline and visits to osteopath or chiropractor.
|22/V – Volte A specific circle of only 6m diameter requiring a horse that is able to engage and collect in perfect self-carriage. However, each corner if correctly ridden is a quarter volte too. |
Head tilting, leaning, shoulders falling out, quarter falling in, etc. in corners indicate a rider pulling an imbalanced horse into the turn and are indicators of lacking or incorrect basic training.
Watch “straightness” (i.e. true longitudinal bend) through the corners and ride each 6m volte in 4 corner segments. Have the horse in front of the rider’s leg and finish each turn by continuing for one additional step with the forehand on the curved line (i.e. shoulder-fore) before you guide the forehand back to the track in front of the quarters and ride into the short or long sides.
|23/W – Whip The rider’s conductor baton, not an instrument of punishment! |
In order for it to be useful the dexterity of a rider must be practiced. Find the balance point of your whip 2″ to 3″ below the knob. Firmly place your thumb tip just below this balance point with the whip on top of your rein. This allows the whip to be placed with precision behind the rider’s leg, on the rider’s boot, in a directing encouragement on the shoulder, etc. by a mere up or down tipping of the wrist.
Every tap is a 2-part movement: flick with immediate return into neutral position. Never end the movement with the whip on the horse! “On-Off” must become one unit.
Timing is also crucial. Any fine touch of the whip must take place at the time the horse is ready to raise the leg you want to encourage. A small and rapid double-tap may help while you learn this precision.
|24/X – Halt at X Divulges a rider and horse’s training in a split second. Straightness through the transition into the halt show if the horse is in front or behind the rider’s leg. |
The horse must engage into the halt and be allowed to step forward to open for the longer halt frame. Stepping back with the hindlegs shows wrong basics and a hand-ridden horse.
The horse must confidently wait out the 6 seconds without running through a non-existing halt or fussing with the contact, yet keep the tension for a sharp departure.
To get the desired immediate departure don’t simply “squeeze” stronger for a trot. Instead, prepare as if you were going to walk and, as soon as the horse responds (but before it takes that undesired walk step!), repeat the forward aide for trot or canter. This will result in immediate trot or canter departures.
|25/Z – Zig-Zag… Describes a left-right, flatter or steeper diagonal 2-track pattern usually parallel to wall, centre- or quarter-lines. Commonly ridden as leg-yield to leg-yield, half-pass to leg-yield, half-pass to half-pass, etc.|
Lower level requirements are given in meters, advanced ones in number of strides (canter). Equal numbers of steps or strides in both directions indicate similar rideability on both hands.
Two points must be remembered: 1) if a flexion change is involved, go from e.g. left longitudinal bend to straight, then straight to right (never directly L-R!). 2) Horses can adduct (i.e. cross towards their midline) but cannot abduct (i.e. move lateral to their shoulder or point of hip). So, for the most fluid lateral movements think: cross-forward, cross-forward (not cross-cross) at the trot, or use the suspension phase in the canter.
|Thank you for following us on our daily Journey through Horse and Rider Training. If you enjoyed this series, please do let us know.|
copyright Rivkah Roth DO DNM
Dr. Rivkah Roth is the founder of Equiopathy and a natural health practitioner, lecturer and author with over five decades in the saddle as a correction rider (Swiss National License LMS since 1968) and many hours as a National Grand Prix and FEI C dressage judge. Student successes include professional coaches on five continents (incl. CDN/EC I to III, ISR I to III, Dutch 3rd Level Instructor, USA, AUS), 1986 Dressage World Championships alternate (CDN), 1986 National GP Kuer Champion (CDN), 1992 Barcelona Olympics Longlist 3-Day (CDN), 2002 Young Horse Dressage World Championships – Verden/GER (ISR), World Cup and WEG dressage horse (CDN), many Nat. and Provincial Champions all levels (CDN / ISR / SUI).