How your horse carries himself (his frame) while he is being ridden affects his physical and mental state. For him to be able to perform at his best requires that he is supple, balanced and has strong back muscles to comfortably carry the saddle and rider without stress or strain. Your horse needs to work in the correct posture or “frame” to be able to perform at his best.
A good riding frame begins with a good walk. A good walk:
- is the most difficult gait to achieve
- is the easiest to destroy
- has even, active, rhythmical steps with impulsion
- can only be achieved with supple muscles, a swinging back and flexible joints.
If your horse is stressed or has tense muscles, he cannot achieve a good walk.
To create a good walk, you must encourage your horse to push forward energetically from his hindquarters so that his hind legs step well underneath him. It is important that you release any tension in your own body. Soften from your neck to your seat bones as well as all your joints (shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles & toes). Keep your core engaged. Your horse will mirror what he feels from you. Maintain a supple, following contact on long reins.
If your horse will not go forward into the contact, hollows his back, takes short “sewing machine” steps or rushes into trot, work him on a 20 metre circle. This way you can encourage him to bend more around your inside leg. Feel and follow the natural swing of your horse’s barrel. Keep your legs gently contacting the barrel and give a stronger push with your inside leg as you feel his barrel swing outward. Ensure your outside leg is soft so that it follows and does not block the movement. The bend helps your horse relax and lower his neck which helps lift his back to level. At the same time, your seat asks your horse to step forward.
Be careful not to tense up the hips or arms as you increase your push. Your hips move in a figure eight pattern following your horse’s natural movement – dropping side to side with the movement of the barrel and moving forward with the steps of the hind legs. Your arms maintain soft, supple contact allowing your horse to stretch. If your horse’s walk is choppy or he wants to rush into trot, add a half halt by taking back your outside shoulder (without pulling back on the rein) as your horse’s outside shoulder comes forward. Be careful not to move your elbow back behind the mid-line of your body as this creates a pull on the reins which will cause too much pressure in your horse’s mouth. Repeat the half halt as necessary but only on that one beat.
As your horse develops a good, relaxed walk with impulsion, swing and suppleness on the circle in one direction then work on the other direction. You may find your horse finds it easier going one way than the other. This is normal because horse’s are left or right sided the same as we are left or right handed. If you or your horse get frustrated or tense going one way, go back to the direction where the work was easier until you get relaxed again. Once you have developed a good walk with some consistency on the circles then you can start to do some work on the straight line coming back to the circle to re-establish relaxation whenever necessary.
At first you work with your horse in a long and low frame. As his strength builds, you can gradually ask him to come onto the bit by taking shorter contact as you increase his impulsion. When he has developed consistency in the walk, you can begin to ask him for transitions to trot but only moving up to the trot when he stays level with a lifted back.
Whether you are a pleasure or competitive rider, if you want your horse to remain sound, perform to the best of his ability and enjoy his job, he needs to develop physical strength, suppleness and balanced movement. His emotional state of mind is just as important. Only if he feels relaxed and confident in your partnership with the proper frame of body and of mind can he truly be your willing partner.