Tack n' Talk

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Archive for March 15, 2011

Building A Better Equine Athlete (3)

Exercise 3

The USDF defines suppleness as a “combination of lateral (side-to-side) flexibility, and longitudinal (front-to-back) balance.”  The USDF manual contains an excerpt from the British Horse Society Manual of Equitation that offers an excellent explanation of the concept of suppleness:

The aim is a suppleness which allows the relaxed co-ordination of every muscle and joint.  Tension is the major restriction on such an aim…The most common area of tension is the back – for the horse naturally tends to stiffen and become rigid under the weight of the rider…

To supple him laterally he must learn to bend round the rider’s inside leg…He must not be allowed to increase the weight on the inside rein and must be encouraged to engage the inside hind leg…

To supple him longitudinally means that:

  • He brings his hind legs more underneath his body,
  • He learns to lift and swing his back.
  • He makes his top line rounder by lengthening the muscles along his back and neck.

The German training system, this suppleness concept is called losgelassenheit.   According to Harry Boldt, former German national dressage coach, “When a horse goes rhythmically, and the rider is able to push, the horse relaxes his neck and back muscles, obtaining a deeper neck flexion, thus enabling the quarters to be drawn under his body.  This achieved, the horse is “losgelassen”. It is interesting to note that the stretchy circle, which was added to the Training and First Level dressage tests years ago, allows the horse to gradually take the reins out of the rider’s hands while stretching forward and down, as described by Boldt,  is a good test of losgelassenheit.


This exercise not only stretches your horse’s topline but also increases lateral flexibility in his poll. I see a lot of overbending (too much bend in the neck) in dressage, and that is not good riding.

Come to a quiet, square halt in the arena from an engaged walk so that your horse stands in a working frame.  Squeeze your fingers on your left hand, flexing your wrist very slightly inward as well as shifting your weight to your left seat bone.  Ask your horse to release his neck and jaw to the left, bringing his head around so you can see his left eye.  Your horse’s nose should be just over the point of his left shoulder, nothing more. Remember, you need to soften when your horse does as you ask.  Soften the rein and even out your seat bones allowing your horse to straighten his neck.  You should now have even contact on both reins.

Repeat this exercise at a halt a few times, and then do the same on the right side.  Practice this until your horse is entirely responsive and his neck is soft and supple in front of you.  When you are sitting on your right seat bones, and your horse is flexed right, he is very slightly balanced on his left shoulder.  When you are sitting evenly on both seat bones, your horse is pretty much between his shoulders and when you are sitting on your left seat bone and your horse is flexed left, he is balanced on his right shoulder.  This is your ultimate goal to achieve this kind of balance.

Do not ask for too much flexion. You do not want your horse to curl up, come behind the vertical, putting his chin on his chest and flex at the fifth vertebra instead of the poll.  This is an evasion technique that once a horse learns it, it can be next to impossible to un-teach!

Good Luck, Larissa.