The Counted Walk Part III- Hands Without Legs, Legs Without Hands

When legs and hands are used simultaneously,

The former instinctively correct

The blunders of the latter,

And vis versa,

The rider is unaware of their mistakes

On the contrary,

Their alternate use deprives the rider

Of these instinctive and reciprocal corrections.

Horse Training, Outdoor and High School

By E. Beudant

Once the horse stays calm as they gather themselves up and responds as smoothly and quickly to your hand and leg aids while you are mounted as they did from the ground, and you yourself are able to alternate hand and legs aids smoothly and easily on both your right and left sides, you can aim for the Counted Walk. Saddle, bridle and mount your horse. Then:

  • At the halt
  • Check your seat
  • Check your leg position- your heels should rest just along the end of the horse’s ribs
  • Check your reins and make sure they are just long enough that squeezing your fist takes the slack out of them
  • Make sure your arms and hands are fixed in place with your fingers softly holding the reins
  • Breath and ‘pluck’ with one heel
  • The horse should arch their back and raise that hind leg briefly
  • Breath and open your chest as you did on the longe line to ask the horse to move forward
  • Relax only the diagonal arm and fingers, letting the rein soften
  • Asking the horse to reach forward to pick up the slack
  • And allowing the hind-foot to touch down slightly forward of its starting point
  • Breath, and open your chest as you did on the longe line to ask the horse to move forward
  • fix that same arm, and squeeze and release, ‘kneading’ the rein
  • The horse should ‘smile’ and mouth the bit
  • If the forefoot comes up as well, be generous in your praise and then
  • Make sure your arms and hands are fixed in place with your fingers softly holding the reins
  • Breath and ‘pluck’ with the other heel
  • The horse should arch their back and raise that hind leg briefly
  • Breath and open your chest as you did on the longe line to ask the horse to move forward
  • Relax  only the diagonal arm and fingers, letting the rein soften
  • Asking the horse to reach forward to pick up the slack
  • And allowing the hind-foot to touch down slightly forward of its starting point
  • Breath and open your chest as you did on the longe line to ask the horse to move forward
  • fix that same arm, and squeeze and release, ‘kneading’ the rein
  • The horse should ‘smile’ and mouth the bit
  • If the forefoot comes up as well, be generous in your praise and
  • Repeat the whole sequence

 

  • When you relax your seat and legs and drop the reins, the horse should follow suit and stand calmly

 

For the horse, the informative parts of the heel pluck movement are the duration of the fixing of the ankle and the intensity of its release. Regardless of the many possible responses the horse may offer as you figure out how to apply your aids, keep returning your focus on the energy coming up through the horse, through your seat, and back down to the ground again.  Our ba gau masters give this advice:

 

When the rear foot rises

from the ground

and begins to step forward

this energy

then begins to shoot up the other leg-

which has just become the rear weighted leg-

and the process starts all over again.

Walking very slowly and

Focusing on feeling the energy

In your legs

Helps develop

This rooting process.

Like the release of the hands, the release of the leg allows the horse time to figure out how to meet your request. As most horses are hard-wired to move diagonal pairs of legs and trot, make sure that your leg-hand aids alternate on the diagonal (right leg, left hand). This right-left alternation of the aids becomes ever more important and subtle when you are asking for transitions to and within the trot and canter, so entrain your body to work this way now.

Have patience with yourself and your horse. If you have done the preparatory work, the horse will soon offer one slow step at a time in a true four-beat walk.  According to Racinet:

‘The rider feels with great neatness

The beat of one hind leg,

Accompanied by a sudden bending

In the joints of the other hind leg,

As if that leg were ‘breaking’

Allowing the precipitate grounding of the other hind leg,

The advance so taken by the hind leg that comes to the ground

Tends to give the walk a diagonal character,

Which is one of the main interests

Of this gait.

 Lateral pairing of your aids (right leg, right hand) tell the horse it should pace instead of trot.  Hard wiring for pacing, or same-side-walking like camels do, means that the horse moves lateral pairs of legs simultaneously.  Pacing horses tend to have difficulty making the transition from the lateral pace to the diagonal canter, and most people who ride them discourage the canter since the pacers solution to carrying the weight of the rider is usually some variety of ‘single-footing’, where they disrupt the timing of the lateral pairing ever so slightly and always keep one hoof on the ground. If your horse is hard-wired to pace, lateral pairing of your aids in these exercises will allow you to play with the full range of possibilities single-footing allows.  Just be conscious of how your horse is naturally hard-wired to move, and pay attention to how your aids influence that movement.

If you are hasty in fixing your hand, the horse may well set their hind-foot down slightly behind the place it was lifted from.  Praise the horse effusively, as once again, they have done exactly what you asked for, even if you were not aware of the consequences of your timing.  This way of backing up is what Baucher called the ‘reculer’, the horse being supple, responsive, and in position to step backwards as lightly and balanced as they step forward.  If you are attentive to the intensity and the timing of your aids and make sure that that you promptly release them, returning to a following seat.leg, and hand, the horse will gladly offer to display their full range of abilities.

So pay attention to the timing between your leg and hand aids and make sure that you are conscious of the brief crucial moment between aids where you and the horse can decide to how to move and which way you wish to go. You want to be able to stop between steps, and take the next one when you so chose. Even more, make sure that you are using just one aid, whether hand or leg, at a time, and pausing between aids. A couple of perfect steps are worth more than a mile of confused ones, so if you or the horse gets stiff or disorganized, find a positive point to stop for the day and go back to the preparatory exercises to see where the problem lies.

If you are pulling on one rein hard enough that the horse’s head changes position, your rein aids are too strong. One of the most ubiquitous and misguided euphemism out there in the equestrian world is the idea of the ‘supporting’ rein. Pulling hard enough on the ‘supporting rein’ to counteract the excessive force you have placed on the on the first one is the antithesis of lightness.  See-sawing the bit through the horse’s mouth that way means your entire body has to stiffen up, and then suddenly all your energy is focused up between your shoulder blades, and you are perched somewhere way above the horse’s center, hanging on the reins for dear life. It is extremely tempting to blame your suddenly ill-behaved horse  who will poke his nose skyward, stiffen up, and/or twist themselves about in self defense  and find yourself at war with your confused and wary mount.

It takes self-awareness and humility to lighten up, drop the reins, apologize to your horse, and relax instead of escalating the problem by investing in gimmicks that attempt to force the horse to do what can only be achieved by the rider accepting the horse’s cooperation as a gift. When in doubt, go back to training yourself to settle into the saddle with aplomb and making sure that you use one and only one discrete distinct aid at a time.

Once you are sure that your horse is sound, your equipment fits properly, and your horse understands what you are asking for, if at all possible, put your hours in the saddle by heading to the great outdoors and riding on a long rein over varied terrain.  Being alert to changes in footing and in the environment encourages self-carriage in both horse and rider, and the whole point of developing a language of the aids is to be able to converse with your horse about the circumstances you encounter.

By alternating out-door training

with school training,

a real charger is developed-

a horse that quickly understands

the intent of his rider-

whether he means high collection,

simple direction,

decrease of speed,

halt,

or whatnot.

Such a horse approaches the ideal;

At his master’s will

He collects himself and parades;

Or travels quietly in troop column;

He runs and jumps as a horse at liberty.

Horse Training, Outdoor and High School

By E. Beudant

So put the language of your aids into practice by relying on your seat and pick the slack up out of the reins only when you absolutely have too.  Listen to your horse as a two-sided conversation makes for a ride that is light, pleasant and enjoyable. Then you are genuinely present as you ride and can fully appreciate those fleeting moments when it all comes together for you and your horse.

 

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