You’ve established your trot on a square. Your horse’s head is consistently seeking forward and he’s weighting both forelimbs equally. At this point, I tend to find some horses meet some issues – their head tends to bob too low. In order to maintain the eye-hip alignment, the horse must carry some weight behind, so I use their head placement as a diagnostic of their strength. If they are consistently dropping their head down, introducing a touch more energy can help to activate the hindleg and propel them forward – raising their head. For horses that are economic with their energy, canter can be a great help! However, cantering on a square is a big ask and cantering on a circle will often over- flex them in the neck. So, you’ve guessed it – time to run again! Releasing your horse from the square and getting them to canter a few long sides of the arena helps their lumbosacral region to move in a different plane, freeing their hindlegs up.
Tip: If your horse is consistently hanging their head too low, it could be an indication that they’re uncomfortable behind and it may be necessary to seek the help of a vet or bodyworker.
Now you’re heading for the home straight with your horse’s groundwork re-education. This is where you can start to ask them to lift their trunk and introduce some lateral flexion. To do this, starting to move in an octagonal shape rather than a square means the horse is consistently stepping under with their inside hind leg, therefore engaging their abdominals and beginning to close their underline. This is where we see the wither lift.
HOW IS YOUR HORSE’S EMOTIONAL STATE?
For weak horses, or horses with limited spinal range of motion, canter is your friend! But it is always necessary to take into consideration their emotional state! If canter is an emotional trigger, then sometimes you need to think outside the box and think a little more about asking for hindquarter yields (or leg yields) whilst in motion, implementing canter when they’re more comfortable. Be cognisant of the fact that if your horse is already stressed at this point, then stopping them and allowing them to come back below their threshold, then asking them to move again is far kinder than asking them to move in a different way in a state of stress (which could be considered as punishment and not conducive to learning)
You can then transition your octagon to a circle. Again, this comes from the hindleg not over flexion in the neck. This generates some lateral flexion in their core, creating a natural curve through the whole of the horse’s vertebral column, not just their neck.
Lastly, heading back to my example of the kissing spines horse, for horses that have been jaded by aversive stimuli (such as an ill-fitted saddle), now would be the time to introduce a saddle again (that has of course been correctly fitted!) When the horse has developed equal musculature all over and moves in good posture, with a happy mindset with tack, then a rider can gradually be introduced.
Remember: Healthy movement patterns, generated by patient and consistent training, help to build positive associations, in order to safely condition a horse to carry a rider.
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