On the Longe Line- Changing Gears

The rider’s weight comes first as a nuisance
For the horse because
Beside the additional load it creates,
It also wobbles.
But as soon as the rider has learned to control this wobbling,
That is to maintain his torso
Parallel to itself in any circumstances
The weight can become a very determining aid

The Rising Trot and Canter

Now that you are able to maintain a quiet seat and an active torso, it is time to switch your approach to balance. In rising with the horse, your goal is to keep your hands and shoulder quietly following the horse’s mouth while you echo the horse’s period of suspension at the trot and canter by holding your own seat ever so slightly suspended above the saddle. Your timing depends on your developing kinesthetic sense of how the horse’s front and back legs feel as they push off and settle back down onto the ground.

Three aspects have to be considered:
The position
The weight
The seat

Make sure that you are using your balance, your loins, your core muscles, your dan tein, and your thighs, NOT your lower legs and feet, by taking the stirrups off the saddle. If you have a very tolerant horse, you can lay them across the horse’s neck, but they can be distracting to the horse as they tend to bounce around.

The secret to both the rising trot and a rising canter is to follow the horse. When you rise, or post, allow yourself to:

• be pushed up out of the saddle by the thrust of one hind-leg, then
• control your drop back down so you are ever
• so slightly above the saddle during the period of suspension, and
• settle back onto the seat gently as that hind foot touches ground
• and begins to pull the horse forward, preparing
• for its next push which you meet
• supple and balanced in your seat

You are responding to the horse, following their movements instead of anticipating them. If you anticipate the horse’s moves, they will tend to speed up. If you are deliberate in your response, the horse will also take care in each step of the gait, which has the added benefit of being easier to ride. The feedback loop between horse and rider is quite clear:

• hasty imbalanced reactions from the rider result in the horse rushing forward with irregular hasty steps, and increasing the tendency to be heavy before and strung out behind.
• Timely balanced responses from the rider result in regular balanced rhythmic gaits from the horse.

As at the beginning, demand one or two perfect steps of yourself, then relax back into sitting with the horse. Rising with the horse makes tremendous demands on your muscles and proprioreception, so give yourself every opportunity to do it right for short periods, just as you began with sitting the gaits.

Rising gaits will illuminate any tendency you might have towards one-sidedness, and will certainly let you know should you try to balance from above down, using your hands and arms. Practice until you are equally proficient on both sides. Once your body has developed the strength and responses to rise smoothly, rhythmically, and evenly, and to transition between sitting and rising both trot and canter in both directions quietly and quickly, your horse will be able to notice if you should make any purposeful changes, and will alter their gait, even if ever so slightly, to harmonize with you. Once you have this subtlety of seat established, you will be able to ask for changes in how:

• long of steps the horse takes
• quickly those steps are taken
• much the horse bends their joints at each step

This ability to communicate through the seat is the key not only to smooth transitions between gaits; but to three of the basic elements of collection and extension (click here) so practice until your reactions are automatic.

Up to now, you have been depending on your friendly handler managing the longe line to ask the horse to change gaits, and to tell you when to stop and/or hop off and generally support you. Now it is time for you to start asking the horse to change gaits yourself. Remember that:

The position of the rider is most important
The torso,
Acting as a ‘balancing rod’
(Nuno Oliviera)
Is a powerful aid
Whose influence increases
As the horse’s collection
Improves itself.

So to ask for the next faster gait:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Pushing your belly button forward
  • Raising your chest and
  • squeezing briefly with the full length of both legs, then
  • Promptly ease off as you breath out.

The slight arch to your lower back will encourage most horses to respond by raising their own forehand and taking a bigger/faster step. Play with the details until you can differentiate between what you need to do to get emphatic changes of gait and the more subtle increase of energy in the steps of the same gait. It is best to start as you mean to go on, so remember that:

The fact remains
That arching the back
Stimulates a spontaneous reaction
of collection
Even with an insensitive horse.

It is usually a learning curve for you AND the horse, so be patient and persistent, looking for and rewarding the small improvements. Remember to release your seat, breath, and legs immediately after your request so you can follow the horse’s response. Holding your breath is enough to confuse the horse, so be very much aware of how you breathe and carry yourself. Horses are incredibly responsive to our state of mind and body tension, so the difference in cues between gaits is in the quality of the breath and the degree of tension you offer the horse:

• If you want a calm curious walk, breathe in quietly and look ahead calmly and with interest.
• If you want a calm purposeful trot, breath in with emphasis and look ahead calmly and with intention
• If you want a calm cooperative canter, rock your pelvis into the skipping position, breath in emphatically, and look ahead purposefully and intently.

The leg movement is more along the lines of a quick hug than a kick, which puts you in an excellent position to stay on if your horse responds with verve, pushing themselves forward with a bounce, displaying enthusiasm and genuine impulsion. Kicking is counterproductive not least because most riders take their legs away from the horse’s side in order to flop them back down. However brief, that movement leaves you precariously perched on your horse’s back. If you persist in kicking and pulling, the moment you raise your legs up and off the horse is the moment where the horse can and will easily move out from under you and leave you straddling the air.

“The position of balance
Is with your torso
Back from the vertical.
Hence, your weight will apply vertically
Over your buttock bones
Your legs will be able to relax
And give their cues with
A maximum of efficiency.

Like stopping, slowing down within and between gaits can be challenging as you must cling to the saddle closely enough to stay with the horse as they drop down under you WITHOUT actually squeezing with your legs and relax your torso without falling forward or behind. Once again to stop or slow down:
• Release your breath
• Relaxing your chest
• And belly
• Sinking down into the saddle
• Absorbing the movement of the horse’s back
• Stretching and lengthening your legs
• Keeping them quiet but wrapped closely around the horse

Again, play with the details until you can differentiate between emphatic changes of gait and the more subtle changes of energy in the steps of the same gait. If you squeeze your legs and sigh out at the same time, your horse may be utterly confused or they may offer you some slow elegant measured collected steps. If the later, praise your horse extravagantly, appreciate the steps, remember how they feel, and keep on practicing until you can figure out exactly what you did that got that response and can repeat it when and how you wish to.

• Dropping from the canter to a trot or a walk is mostly a matter of absorbing the forward push of the leading hind leg AND keeping your hips square in the saddle instead of allowing the inside hip to rock forward.

Once you have experienced how precisely and promptly the horse responds to how you position your hips in the saddle, you will suddenly see why a horse will be sure that you are asking them to trot faster and faster instead of breaking into a canter. If you are stiff and your hips resist the first forward push of the leading hind leg essential to striking off; no matter how sure your mind is that you are asking for a canter, the horse will understand that your body does not want to bound forward. Your accommodating horse will always give you the gait your body requests, in this case the trot, regardless of what your mind may be thinking.

The seat is more than an aid:
It is the aid of aids
On its quality depends
The good implementation
Of the other two aids

When you feel you are doing well, add in the challenges below and see how accurate your self-perception is. When you can easily and smoothly transition between gaits, when you can take the horse from a halt through the walk, trot and canter, and back to the halt in both directions, using only your body, and can repeat your accomplishments successfully with the challenges above, you are ready to consider how you will go about handling the reins. If you fall short of your ideal, keep on working.

and again check your self-perception by repeating all of the exercises:

• at the rising trot
• at the rising canter

• with full champagne glasses
• with your eyes closed

• without stirrups
• with stirrups

• with any and all combinations of the above

Once you have the reins, you will need to be able to do all of these at once and more, so there is no harm in giving that a try now. You are ready for the next step:

  • When the champagne glass is as full at the end of the ride as at the beginning,
  • when the papers are still in place when you are finished,
  • when your chalk marks are clean and clear,
  • when you are as balanced and comfortable with your eyes closed as open,
  • with your arms held:

• out to the sides or
• Above your head or
• Behind your back or
• On your hips

You are creating the foundation that opens the door to the possibility of a true conversation with your horse  because you are developing your ability to follow the horse’s movement  with your seat and listen for and respond to their slightest whisper through the reins.

all italics are quotes from Jean-Claude Racinet’s book ‘Another Horsemanship’

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