The last post was mostly about attempting to correct ‘the trotting away problem’ with round penning. Today was the same agenda as yesterday. The dramatic difference was that the trotting away from me combined time was down by a third. That’s a lot. Instead of thirty minutes it was down to ten minutes. The bulk of our training session today was about learning to receive the bit graciously. Once again when we were finished with our lesson she followed me to the gate where I left her looking dejected as I walked away.
She advanced significantly today on her bitting lessons. After practicing giving to the bit on the way out on our trail ride, we trotted back working on collection and extension. This is a dressage exercise. The goal is to maintain the same cadence, impulsion, balance (this time at a trot) while speeding up by lengthening stride and slowing down by shortening stride. She did very well considering this was her first effort at this exercise. She seemed to like it. I bet it’s her hackney heritage that enjoys collection and extension. She was much better today than yesterday all around.
Collection and extension are all about balance. When we mount a horse, most of our weight distributes itself on the front end of the horse forcing the horse off-balance. In order to compensate for this extra weight the exercise of collection and extension helps the horse distribute that extra weight to the rear end where the power is. In this exercise the horse’s head and neck comes up, it’s face will move toward vertical and it’s hind legs will reach deeper underneath and thus support more the weight.
An amateur trainer may be tempted to try to force the horse’s face into the ‘right position’ by pulling harder or using more equipment–like martingales and such, but our ultimate goal is balance. To achieve this goal the horse must reach under with his hind legs to support the weight. The horse cannot be balanced by being forced. It must learn the value of redistributing the extra weight.
The first step to success for a pleasant ride is for the horse to learn to give freely to the bit. The horse’s natural response to pressure from the bit is to resist by pushing back. This is why once the horse is reasonably safe to sit on, a great deal of my effort in training goes to having a soft and flexible contact with the horse’s mouth. If the horse continues to resist the bit, as is his natural inclination, and is never taught to flexibly receive the bit, the pleasant experience for both horse and rider continues to diminish.