what is a forward horse?

I really shouldn’t say that I am going to post more often.  I start off with the best of intentions, but life always gets a hold of me.  This time, however, I really was going to post more often, and often sat myself down to write up a few that I could schedule to post.  I just seemed to have nothing to say.  It’s rare that I have nothing to say, and the fact that it went on for so long is completely ridiculous.  I’m not going to promise that I will post more often, but I do promise that I will make sure I read books that will get my gears a’ turning.

The past few days I have been mulling over the concept of having what I have always called a ‘forward’ horse.  I’m not talking about a horse that is hard to control or hold back, but rather a horse that really moves forward with a nice swinging back and lots of impulsion.  My two youngsters (Kai and Toby) are just now really getting started, and both of them have very little impulsion and very tight backs.  If you ride Sonny and then hop on one of the babies (they’re not quite babies anymore :’) ) you can feel the difference.  Sonny really ‘strides out’ and with a good deal of forward energy and relaxed head and back, while the babies heads are a bit higher and there’s a disconnect between the front and back end.

It’s very easy to spot the difference between a forward horse and a bracy, stuck horse.  My retired mare, Arbi, has a good deal of impulsion (something the babies lack), but she has that tight back and higher head set (this is also called ‘above the bit’).  For me, a nice ‘forward’ horse is a horse that strides out with a good bit of forward energy and a swinging back.  If the back’s not swinging your horse is bracing, and bracing blocks the flow of energy and movement through their whole body.  Also, a horse cannot move with a swingy back unless their head drops and swings as well (the neck is a part of the back and if it is stuck, the back is stuck).

Someone once illustrated this concept for me by having me visualize the body and joints made up of one long piece of hose that had water running through it (I believe that this concept/imagery is found in Sally Swift’s book ‘Centered Riding’), when you brace in an area of the body it’s like putting a kink in the hose, and that kink stops the flow of water.  Because of that kink both sides of the hose are now off.  One side has no, or very little, water flowing through it while on the other side the water is dammed up, straining against the kink.  This is what happens to a horse when they have their head up in the air and their back tenses up.  That energy flow becomes kinked and the horse is unable to move in any other way than stiffly and disjointed.

With a smooth, loose, forward horse the head drops to wither height or lower and their back rounds up slightly and swings.  They have more reach with their back legs and they start to track up.  It’s much more comfortable to ride because they land softly, which is a far cry from the ‘piston trot’ that an unbalanced horse will give you.  They also start to bring their weight back and push off with those back legs.  They are quite a ways from being collected, but they become balanced from end to end.

On the other hand, a bracy, stuck horse moves stiffly and their gaits are very hard to ride due to how rough they are.  Most of their weight is on the forehand and their head carriage resembles that of a giraffe.  Their back is locked, and that lovely swing you get from a loose ‘forward’ horse is completely lost, instead they lose their rhythm and their footfalls become uneven.  The energy pattern is disrupted and this way of movement is very bad for a horse’s physical wellbeing (it also says a lot about their mental and emotional wellbeing).

How do we bring our horse from that stiff, hollow horse to a horse that moves forward with energy and a relaxed back?  I’m hoping to get a video put together by either this upcoming Monday, or the Monday following, showing the beginning stages of getting a horse to move out and forward from a physical and mental/emotional viewpoint.  You can’t have true relaxation physically if you don’t have it mentally/emotionally, and you can’t have mental/emotional relaxation without physical relaxation.

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