GET IN THE SWING:
HINDQUARTER TO ENGAGE THE ENGINE
By the time you have done the exercises that prepare your horse to longe on a short line, he should be able to walk, trot and canter straight on the circle – that is, his inside hind foot should follow the track traveled by his inside fore so he begins to achieve impulsion. In most cases, you can help your horse travel correctly on a circle by adjusting the size, generally making it larger by sending the horse laterally away from you. The shoulder then travels a wider track and the hind should be able to follow without falling out.
But some horses need extra help to achieve this straightness, even on a relatively large circle. These are probably horses who have learned and practiced bad posture on the longe line or free longing. For them, the tendency to tip their noses toward the outside of the circle and drop the inside shoulder disconnects the hindquarter and puts the inside hind leg on a track outside that traveled by the inside foreleg. Because their hindquarters can’t engage in this position, these horses pull themselves forward instead of pushing. Instead, we want to encourage a posture that conforms to the circle, one that creates a gentle curve of the spine from head to tail and engages the horse from back to front.
To achieve this balanced arc, we have to help the horse supple at the loin and start to swing his back a bit more. I think of it as reminding him he has a waistline, something that will be especially necessary for horses in any discipline that requires them to “sit” – dressage, reining, jumping, working cattle.
OLD HUMANS, NEW TRICKS?
Horse people can be so impatient. They want their skills and their horses’ training to progress on a predetermined schedule, often based on a competition calendar or a chronological list of some kind.
This is a mindset I used to endorse, but which now just makes me smile. (Sometimes grimace, sometimes chuckle.) Why? Because I know that developing a physical, mental and emotional partnership with a horse is a process, not an event. You can’t just complete a set number of lessons or schooling sessions or shows and then declare that you are “there,” that you are now an accomplished horseman or horsewoman.
You can try, of course, but I’m betting your horse will have something to say about your personal milestone. And it might just not be what you want to hear.
When I ran a traditional lesson and training barn years ago, prospective clients almost invariably asked during our first conversation, “How long will it take before I can jump?” That usually came after they had told me at length how many lessons they had taken with which trainer or how many times they’d been on a dude-string trail ride or some such. At first I made the mistake of trying to give them an estimate based on what they had told me about their past experience. (This was before I learned that almost everyone inflates his or her experience at first!)
THE ROLLKUR "DECISION"
So, the FEI finally took action last week on the rollkur issue. After all the online controversy, including the 41,000-signature petition presented by Gerd Heuschman, the organization really did have to at least appear to do something. And it seems that's exactly what they did.
“Expanding the guidelines for stewards” instead of making a rule change strikes me as a pretty watered-down response that leaves plenty of room for laxity of enforcement. I saw plenty of inappropriate and downright illegal things done to horses right out in public at rated hunter/jumper shows in spite of stewards and rules and guidelines. I suspect the best “stewards” of the new policy will continue to be the watchful, blogging, YouTubing public.
I also see a big loophole in the stipulation that only hyperflexion achieved by “aggressive force” is deemed unacceptable, while the same thing achieved without force is just fine. Such imprecision of language leaves a lot of room for interpretation: in the dressage show world of whips and spurs and exaggerated cues, just how much force does it take to qualify as “aggressive?” The reality is that I can’t imagine many horses choosing to carry themselves with chin to chest without being forced to do so. The distinction between the techniques dubbed “rollkur” and “long, low and deep” eludes me, and I expect it will stymie the stewards, as well.
Despite the headlines stating the rollkur controversy is now “resolved,” I imagine both the debate and the practice will endure in much the same way as the now-decades-old western pleasure “peanut roller” issue has done. The AQHA did finally makes an actual rule change (not just a guideline) that supposedly resolved this issue years ago, but you don’t have to look far to see successful horses whose carriage definitely does not adhere to the requirement that a horse “carry his head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with his poll level with or slightly above the level of the withers.” Just peruse the ads in any stock-horse publication or have a look at the photos shot at last year’s Quarter Horse Congress. In this Senior Western Pleasure class, I don’t see a single horse whose head is not well below the level of his withers. And these are the cream of the crop of experienced, seasoned horses at a high-profile competition where the stewards surely should be very attentive to enforcing the rules.
Sadly, I expect the same “resolution” will prove to be the case in the hyperflexion issue. The people who follow the fads or want the quick fix will continue to ride this way, the show managements will continue to condone it by inaction and judges will continue to reward the riders whose horses’ bodies show evidence they have been trained in this way.
I did a little websurfing on the topic and came up with an interesting assortment of links to share:
Why is 'Rollkur' Wrong? from the perspective of a veterinarian and bitless bridle afficianado
Possible danger of Rollkur to the rider from the interesting but very blunt (some would say obnoxious) Lee Stanek
How Rollkur Works from the enquiring mind of Theresa Sandin in her Sustainable Dressage blog
Rollkur: researchers explore neck hyperflexion in horses in which Guelf "scientific" study lets the horses decide
Rollkur roundup: Fact and fiction an overview by two Danish equestrians/writers