More on following the mechanics of the gaits. . .

Most of the people who have lost their power are women and girls who have physically disconnected with themselves – often due to threatening or at least inappropriate behavior toward them. Unintentionally, their riding lessons often bring them to realizations about how they have been trained to give up their power. They may discover they can’t find and use their core muscles because their subconscious mind refuses to allow them to fire up those assertive, self-centering, self-protecting (especially of their lower back) muscles. Or worse, they may find they can’t even feel what’s going on under them.

It is hard for women to claim power, since assertive women are often threatened with separation by friends and family, and told at the work place that they should essentially, “cool it.”

Adjusting for ability, horses have minor lameness, crookedness, or preferences that can make “following” their mechanics detrimental. For example, a horse with a natural inclination to be “butt high,” is going to throw the rider all over the place, cause the rider to arch the back excessively, and lead to comments under gaits or impulsion like “horse trails hind legs” meaning that he’s just out the back door!

Do we want to follow this motion? Heck no! I tell my students trailing hind legs will impact every score, so it’s better to do your best to impact the mechanics, influence your horse, take charge, and ride.

By getting on a horse, we are altering the mechanics of the gaits with our weight, which often isn’t placed properly. All our wiggling around in the interest of a specious desire to “follow” is not going to make matters better, but worse. For example, if you are carrying a big tub of water, it’s moving all the time as you move, and is much more difficult to carry than something like lumber. Hauling sloshing riders is much more difficult than hauling firm, toned riders using their core muscles to make themselves more still.

Further, any attempt at clarity of communication between rider and horse is lost in the sloshing motion often seen and regarded as appropriate “following.” This is taught as “move your hips” or “follow the motion of the neck.” What is really happening is that the rider is giving up herself to the horse. The horse owns the rider. What a helpless feeling!

Horses need structure. They exhibit this in their daily lives with their pecking order. Once the order is established, there is very little fighting. With horses and people, it’s the same. We must establish that we are the leaders of the herd without apology. It’s freeing to the horse to feel the structure in the rider’s body.

In the picture above you can see a young horse fully using herself because of effective riding.
A rider must have an intention to OWN the horse’s motion. This means intending to keep the horse in front of the aids, and use his core. He will only use his when we use ours! If we use core muscles and influence the horse to take on a more uphill, lowered-hindquarter posture with quick hind feet and a strong back we actually have to sit a little too still. Often we will look like we are working very hard, and being a bit rigid, and we are! It’s a heck of a job to convince a butt-high horse to get lower and under with the hind legs, but when we can do that, we can create mechanics that are worthy of following.

If our horse should happen to give us his best when we are in the ring and we have that engagement we are looking for, then, and only then, we should follow.
I often tell my students “DFS.” Don’t Follow Slop! A horse that has his back down is very soggy, or sloppy. His hind feet are also slow, so I call that combination “sloggity.” If you follow a sloggity horse, you have very little chance of moving up the levels.

It is extremely difficult to get quick enough hind legs for piaffe or clean changes when a horse has been trained with this “following” thing high on the rider’s list of goals. You can’t get speed with slosh because you weakly let the horse get behind your core. (I’m not suggesting driving more with the hips in a thrusting motion either. That’s also slop.)

Horses have varied abilities to move as high quality dressage horses! I have often thought riding a well-bred, high quality dressage horse that moves with natural ability can hamper the rider’s learning because the rider loses the inclination to improve that horse’s carriage. The teacher sees a lovely horse and keeps perpetuating a lack or throughness by saying, “good” when it’s not good.

Often, at this point, the rider has a vague feeling that the horse is slightly off the aids, maybe feels like he’s running downhill. Things are definitely not quite right, yet the teacher says “good.” This teaches the rider to ignore personal feelings of a lack of safety, to ignore feelings that something is frightening or wrong. For personal growth and emotional power, the rider NEEDS to OWN those feelings and express them. The teacher has to get a different idea of what is really “good.”
If that teacher could compare what she is looking at under that rider, with how that horse might be able to go if really ridden forward and encouraged to bring the hind end under by a toned-core expert, she would be amazed at the difference and would be much more able to help her student.

Julie Penshorn teaching

This is one of the biggest problems with clinics and other trainings for judges and teachers – the horses are not also shown under an expert rider so the observers can see how much better that horse can go, and can see the change. Thus, observers and riders in these clinics get a false perception of “good.” Additionally, teachers sometimes say “good” to make people feel good, even knowing the work is poor. That is dishonest and perpetuates the flawed relationship between rider and horse and can contribute to the other problems mentioned above.

Unlike the fancy horse, the less appealing one (that nag you are stuck with!) that must be ridden through and well to produce anything of value, has taught the student and the teacher a lot more! In their trips to the show ring the judge has been critical, giving 6 or 6.5 on gaits and comments of “not through” or “needs more connection from back to front.” With this horse the problem is so much more obvious, the judge and teacher are not deceived. This horse, with a committed team working with him, might never beat the other horse, but will definitely have to be much better ridden in order to be competitive.

The predominance of the first horse in today’s dressage arenas at about the same time that we see the fairly new rider directive to “follow the mechanics” has resulted in much poorer riding and the necessity to produce more top quality horses to meet the needs of the ever-poorer riders.

That’s not my idea of success and I don’t aspire to be part of that.

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