We have all seen the Pammy Hutton and Heather Moffat campaign to petition the FEI to act against the practice of Rollkur and too tight nose bands. If not, Alanna Clarke has written this excellent blog for Tottie Clothing on the subject recently which is worth a read. Pammy and Heather run a Facebook group as part of the campaign and to educate riders and trainers where they recently shared a video by Equitopia on the Padmavideo YouTube channel about equine bio-mechanics and self-carriage, which can be found here. Equitopia are a Californian outfit that strive to educate riders and help them to work in harmony with their horses and provide their beloved four-legged friends with happy and healthy lives. They provide free lectures and resources on a variety of subjects like correctly fitting tack and horse health as well as applying classical training techniques when schooling.
This video appealed to me as I find the study of equine bio-mechanics fascinating. The application of modern science and understanding of bio-mechanics to the classical training foundations explains why the scales of training are so important and how training our horses to be balanced, as well as being balanced ourselves, helps them to do their jobs comfortably and happily while minimising the risk of injury. Just as you wouldn’t put your body through an exercise class without thinking about proper form to avoid injury, it is our responsibility as riders to train our horses in the safest way to carry themselves. Rollkur is a cruel technique that has come about as a quick fix way to create the effect that a horse is engaged and working in an outline. As with any quick fix, it is not the answer. The giving and retaking of the reins in many dressage tests is a test of self-carriage and proof that the horse has been trained to carry and balance themselves and not been forced into the illusion of roundness.
Having both watched this video recently, my mother-in-law/trainer decided to give the lessons learnt a try on Ginge and I in a recent training session. We put the emphasis on impulsion and straightness. The plan was to work on having Ginge working forward and from my inside leg into outside hand to maintain the straightness and balance. Nothing ground-breaking, but actually very effective. We started by essentially banning the use of my inside hand. In the past of relied on it as a guide rein, but today it was banned completely. This prevented me potentially pulling him round on a circle and causing him to fall onto the forehand and inside shoulder and encouraged me to use my seat to direct him. This change of technique also forced me to improve my position to support him better. The results were surprisingly sudden – Ginge is a sensitive soul so tiny changes to my riding make a big difference to him. Focusing lower down the scales of training on straightness rather than worrying too much about engagement resulted in the best outline we’ve ever worked in, an actively engaged hind leg and even a move towards cracking our canter problem. Proof if ever it was needed that “quick fix” is not the answer and giving our horses time and the tools to find the most comfortable way of going provides the greatest results in the long run. And, if the scientists are to be believed, it also means a reduced chance of injury down the line. Win-win as far as I’m concerned. I’d definitely recommend watching the video linked above and considering what pointers you can takeaway in your own schooling!