Developing the Horse’s Body Awareness

069a Developing the horse’s body awareness.png

Where are we and what are we doing today?

We are still at Noor Tanger’s and Patrick Molenaar’s barn in NL.

Yesterday I worked with Patrick and Solo, his Kladruber gelding. It was a lesson about developing the horse’s body awareness and connecting the horse’s feet to the ground and to the weight. Over the years I noticed that many horses don’t have good body awareness. They don’t seem to know exactly how many legs they have, or where they are. It always reminds me of quantum physics. If you know where a particle is, you don’t know where or how fast it is moving, and if you know where and how fast it is moving, you don’t know where it is. Horse’s legs are sometimes a little like that, too.

In these cases, it’s important to teach the horse that there is exactly one leg at each corner of the body, and that all four legs are perfectly capable of supporting the body mass by themselves, as well as in various combinations. As long as the horse hasn’t learned this lesson, he will always be insecure in certain situations, afraid of falling down, which leads to resistance, and sometimes anxiety and spookiness. 
That’s why exercises that develop the horse’s body awareness, balance, coordination, and the connection of his legs to the ground and the weight are so important.

First, we tested (and challenged) Solo’s balance by riding an oval at the walk. I put out two cones that were 10m - 15m apart. The line between the cones was parallel to the short side, but you can also set them up parallel with the long side. We rode shoulder-fore from one cone to the next. Around the first cone, we rode a turn on the forehand in motion from the inside leg, which means the inside front leg is closest to the cone and the haunches describe the larger circle. Around the second cone, we rode a turn on the haunches, which means that the inside hind leg is closest to the cone and the shoulders describe the larger circle. Initially, the angle between the horse’s body and the line between the two cones should be fairly shallow in order not to lose the outside hind leg. It’s important to keep the neck bend very shallow as well in order not lose the connection between the horse’s shoulder and neck, especially with horses whose neck is long and flexible by nature.

It was a difficult balancing exercise, but it made Solo think about his feet and improved his balance and coordination. When Patrick trotted him straight ahead after a few repetitions, Solo was much more balanced and stable as a result of the oval exercise.
Next, we decided to connect his feet to the ground and the weight through stirrup stepping in the trot on a 20m circle, in order to give him a better sense of the four corners of his body. I chose a stepping pattern that connects the diagonal pairs of legs as well as the lateral pairs of legs.

It’s a sequence of OF - OF - IH - IH - IF - IF - OH - OH, i.e. you step into each leg two strides in a row, then stay passive for 1-2 strides and step into the next leg of the sequence. At first, Solo sometimes lost a little impulsion as a result of the stirrup stepping, so we added gentle driving aids from the seat (back muscles, not seat bones). This helped to ground all four legs while generating a good impulsion. Solo moved forward in good balance and with good energy, without rushing, and without sucking back. You can use these stirrup aids by themselves, or in combination with a gentle rein aid. The possibilities are endless.