Hi there! Longtime lurker here with a question on contact for all you dressage folk.
I’m hacking out a variety of horses at a new place, and two young lesson horses are giving me very similar rides. Stop, start, and steer are installed, but holy giraffe-necking batman! I like to practice stretching down on EVERY horse I ride, but I have a couple questions.
When asking for the stretch, I work on a circle with a forward trot and consistent contact. I flex them in slightly with my inside rein to ask and then push with leg to encourage their reach. They do stretch down, but it’s *how* they do it that is puzzling me. They both grab the contact and *root* it down to their little hooves! Once they are stretched down, I can maintain them there with minimal contact for about half circle to full circle at this point.
I understand they are green to this concept, and not entirely fit over their toplines. But is grabbing contact and rooting down through the stretch ideal? I’m used to a more polite (and slightly more gradual!) feel on the way down.
Also, for ideal horses in long and low, is it preferred to have the same feel at the bottom, or to leave them at the bottom without contact? I’ve done it both ways, and have found that after a jump school, most horses I drop contact with will go grass skimming on the buckle.
No, rooting or snatching are absolutely not ideal and not really even a correct starting point. I'd go back a step and work on getting a true following contact before asking for a stretch. Transitions between and within the gaits and a solid half halt are a good place to start. If they're lesson horses they may be a bit dead to the aids and simply need to relearn the basics (and stop with the rudeness). The contact in long and low should remain consistent, and your emphasis should be on the oomph that comes from the hind end over the topline, not how far down they reach. Many many riders make the mistake of letting the horses toodle around with noses to the ground, and that really does very little for either fitness or training. Good luck!
Thanks for the replies! It's given me a couple things to think about next time I'm out to ride.
This leads me to ask though: is it really fair for me to "work" dead to the aids schoolies on a "private horse" agenda? Or would it be better to hone more simplistic lesson-valuable skills? (Stopping on whoa, staying in corners, forward with a cluck?)
I'm without a horse of my own right now, and I'd be sad to put the more "ideal" feel on the shelf until a horse of my own is a possibility again.
When the horse is doing L&L correctly you should see an arch in their neck with a bulge in the middle of the neck indicating they are properly using their back and coming from behind. A steady even contact should be maintained with outside rein, and same for inside rein as long as possible (may need to change for bend, asking them to get/keep L&L, etc.).
"Chewing the reins from the hand" should have a light connection, the horse seeking what the rider releases (with the outside rein). It is not something one practices doing, it is a test of the horse being properly 'on the bit' (which is in direct conflict with the training level horses only having to 'accept the bit'). With a green horse it is more about the 'gesture' of seeking fdo to a smaller degree, ask the horse to mobilize the jaw, and allow it (to the degree the horse can seek the hand without falling onto the forehand or changing tempo). In such a way the horse is still arced out to the bit, but going more forward, down, and outward (opening the throat latch). It is not about 'how low you go', but the correct balance. Ideally (esp with a green horse) it is not lower than horizontal top line (because of the risk of falling onto the forehand. And for sure it is only for a few strides or perhaps a circle (that does not apply to free walk on loose rein where the horse is given complete freedom).
If the horse loses balance, or the horse has been shortened in the neck, they will likely start to seek the hand and then grab at it in order to get freedom.
Any (school) horse which is properly trained should be able to do this exercise. If they are ridden in a dead manner, not properly on the aids, then the exercise is really just a facsimile of correct work.