THE TRAINING PYRAMID: ONE PIECE AT A TIME
Suppleness refers to the horse’s ability to bend without tension or stiffness. Tension in any place in the horse’s body causes a disruption in the natural flow of energy or movement throughout the rest of the body. It is important to understand that often, tension and stiffness can be either the result or the cause of anxiety and mental stress in the horse and therefore suppleness must start with relaxation. If the horse’s mind and body are not relaxed then all attempted suppleness will be artificial at best. Mental tension creates physical tension; this is why relaxation must always remain at the base of the horse’s education.
Once we achieve relaxation in the mind and the body, suppleness can be found through the act of bringing awareness and energy to the horse’s body through calculated manipulations of posture, position, and carriage. We start with basic manipulations of head position and releases through the jaw, working slowly through the body until we have connected the entire horse, jaw to hind feet.
In addition to relaxation, lightness to the rider’s aids is essential. If the rider is aware and tactful with their aids (seat, leg, rein, and whip) then we can bring similar tactful responsiveness to the horse. This will give the horse the ability to adjust his carriage and bend without loss of energy flow, movement, or balance. The rider must hold herself accountable for this tactfulness and not allow a misunderstanding on the horse’s part to bring an unnecessary firmness or increased tension to their aids. Often we see riders that will allow themselves to use too much leg pressure, become unsteady with the reins, or even completely abandon an awareness of their seat in an attempt to “train” their horse to be supple, rather than giving an aid and allowing the horse to figure out what that aid is to mean. If the rider is using unnecessary pressure or additional aids to manipulate the horse’s posture or positions, then that rider is SHOVING their horse into a position that may resemble suppleness, not EDUCATING them to it. There is a tremendous difference from the horse’s perspective.
Once we have lightness to the aids and relaxation, suppleness can be achieved. From there, we work towards connection. More about that in part 3 of this series.
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