Difference Two Steps can Make…The Magic of 2 seconds in Photos and a Video.

The pictures below are a study of a few steps within a simple exercise: transitions within trot. The horse shown is a 4 1/2 year old warmblood (the great model for Aspire Video Library) ridden by his owner (our very brave Library case study!):

Difference two steps make

Photo on the right shows Liberado S in a moment of transition from a little trot (short steps) into a bigger trot that is closer in stride length to his working trot. The rider is doing a great job in initial transition asking for it with feel and attention to the horse’s balance. You can see that he pushed his body onwards and slightly upwards from an active hind legs, his whole top line rounded slightly, his wither & shoulder lifted and neck relaxed at the bottom and rounded through the crest automatically. You can see he is not overly happy in his work on these pictures but that has its root somewhere else and I will write about it in due time 🙂 You are all very welcome to have your guesses! Please leave a comment and in a few weeks time I will post videos tracing the work on a certain issue this lovely horse has in his basic training.

But back to the point.

So we have a reasonably good departure from a little trot to a bigger striding trot. The rider maintained her balance well enough, kept her lower leg underneath her and weight is bearing down through her thighs down to her knees. The horse also has a nice lift to the step and although you can’t see it well he showed a nice suspension and “bounce”.

On the photo on the left we see the horse and rider two steps later.

It is quite common for young big horses (Liberado is about 16.3hh- 17hh) to feel “sleepy” in their gaits and for the rider to feel like they would like to push on for that little bit extra. This is exactly what our lovely rider did here in a well meaning attempt to help Liberado into a bigger trot.

What happens? 

A natural defence mechanism immediately switches on in Liberado. At this moment in time he has no confidence in maintaining bigger steps than he has already offered. He lifts his neck to catch balance and drops his back descending his rider into a hammock- like hollow of his spine. As a result, the rider’s balance is lost, she feels pushed back and counterbalances for this by moving her lower legs forwards. This means that by then she is completely dependent on the horse to keep her balanced instead of her proving her own balanced body as a help to the horse.

A vicious cycle that she isn’t able to break from the hammock position (I like this comparison, I believe coming from Centred Riding, because I remember many a childhood fight with my brother in a huge string hammock and how difficult it was to get out of it as it kept you in its hollow!).

Notice also what happened to Liberado’s hind legs – as his back dropped, his pelvis tilted forwards and collapsed the area of the back just behind the saddle. This pretty much stopped the hind legs in their track as from such spine and pelvis position they were unable to travel deeper under the horse’s body. Short, rigid hind leg steps followed to obey the rider’s leg so instead of longer, more lofty strides we got short, quick and choppy ones.

All about balance

I loved that moment in my riding education when I really learnt and comprehended an importance of balance in every step because then everything I knew so far slotted into place. To know doesn’t always mean being able to do but it means always striving to feel for it.

In the case study our brave rider is taking part we are showing the process of learning about balance, about it’s amazing presence in everything we do and how having it can mean a huge difference in a space of 2 seconds…When you look at the photos again, you could easily say, those are two different horses. One in tune with his rider, one pushed on the forehand.

In training I focus a lot on awareness of this issue off-horse and educating the rider’s eye and feel because in moment of training 2 seconds can mean a lot. I also like for riders to learn somewhat by themselves – if they recognise certain feel from off-horse training while they are in the saddle, they have their own personal light bulb moment which stays with them forever.

It’s a long process because the secret lies in knowing/feeling those difficult 2 seconds good 10 seconds before…it requires a lot of focus from the rider and the horse.

If you are an instructor-to-be or simply an inquisitive rider, have a look at the very short footage from which the above still frames were taken. Can you spot the balanced moment, the unbalanced moment and the secret moment when correction/no push should have been made?

The footage below is part of Aspire Video Library (coming soon!). First part of the footage is slowed down to 25% to make for easier spotting! The second part also shows the discussed moment but is in normal speed.


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