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Stretching forward/out/down/seeking the bit/whatever phrase works

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  • Stretching forward/out/down/seeking the bit/whatever phrase works

    I can get my horse moving forward, marching at the walk and he /feels/ 'forward' at the trot, but I seem to be missing something and what I have found to read so far hasn't helped so I wondered if someone here might be able to explain it in a way that would cause that 'ah-ha' light bulb moment and maybe I could make some forward progress.

    At a walk, even when I get it marching forward and not funeral procession slow, his head/neck are generally carried in a relaxed manner. At a trot however, it goes up and no matter how fast/slow (and yes I realize 'faster' doesn't necessarily mean 'forward') it is, he never seems to relax his head/neck down/forward much if at all and I am at a loss as to how I could encourage him to do that. /Sometimes/ throwing a circle in will help a little, but then I deal with shoulders falling out horribly.

    So I was just wondering if anyone had any suggestions, or a way of explaining that could give me some insight on how I can get him to stretch his neck forward so maybe we could actually work on building up his non-existent topline. Or if you know of a prior thread that I didn't come across yet that might already explain this well?


  • #2
    I think he is having trouble stretching nicely down/forward/out because he's weak -- you say he has a "non-existent" topline. Is he young/green?

    I wouldn't worry too much about where his nose is for the moment -- riding deep and low will help build the topline muscles. And no, I'm not advocating RK -- I'm advocating riding on a soft contact that the horse easily accepts and simply encouraging the hind legs to engage and the back to round up.

    Trotting over cavalletti and hillwork will also help your horse gain strength. As his strength and topline improve, so will his ability to reach down, out and forward.

    If you're dealing with falling-out shoulders, you're losing the connection with the outside rein. Think about moving his shoulders when you turn, not just the head & neck. You may be asking for too much lateral bend when what you need most (for now) is longitudinal stretch.

    Photos or videos might help...


    • #3
      the horse has to be connected and "in" the bridle, starting to use and lift his back before you can get a real stretch down. It will come naturally once he is "through". Work on transitions, serpentines, lateral are all designed to get him there. Otherwise you are teaching him a trick and not getting the real benefit. JMHO
      Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"


      • Original Poster

        Yes he is young and green (he's 5, but taking it slow as he's been kind of slow to mature, he's a mustang). He loves trotting over cavaletti but sadly hills are a thing of fairy tales here in south Florida.

        I've been trying to just ride with a light contact and keep him moving forward and sometimes we have nice turns/circles, and other times they are nowhere near resembling such a shape.

        I guess it's one of those things where you read how stretching forward and down can help build up back muscles, but then read where they need muscle to be able to do that, that I've been at a bit of a loss as to what the best approach would be at this point.

        Will try and get some video from my lesson this coming weekend.



        • #5
          Aah! A lot of young horses tend to lift their heads rather than stretch forward & down -- it's both a balance AND a weakness thing. You'll get there!


          • #6
            Ask him to lower neck by taking then givinf first inside then outside rein, then immediately "push" him forward into longer rein contact. (The don't do anything for a bit - horse should lower neck a bit.. so allow this and when horse tries to raise head/neck again re-ask for lower position. Over time you can ask for lower neck position - but since this is using new muscles don't expect it all at once.)

            Don't throw reins away - instead ask him to "TAKE" the reins forward and down gently. The "push" after the take/give on both reins is to ensure the horse doesn't react to rein bending by coming behind the leg - and it actually helps encourage horse to use it's back.

            When rider can glance down and see a BULGE in the middle of BOTH sides of the horses neck - with neck arched on long rein and head/neck lower - then you know you've produced the correct results.
            Now in Kentucky


            • #7
              Originally posted by CFFarm View Post
              the horse has to be connected and "in" the bridle, starting to use and lift his back before you can get a real stretch down. It will come naturally once he is "through". Work on transitions, serpentines, lateral are all designed to get him there. Otherwise you are teaching him a trick and not getting the real benefit. JMHO
              ^ yup
              i'll add hills to the mix. let the hill help your horse learn to situate his weight in the hind quarters.

              I try to start my horse in LDR but if he's not willing to stretch correctly, I can bring him up into raised work for a few minutes then send him back down and he'll work nicely LDR. The raised work is just a reminder of where his weight should be.
              chaque pas est fait ensemble


              • Original Poster

                Is there anything that can simulate the helpfulness of hills? I live in south Florida and it's very flat down here. I think the most 'hill' there is is a garbage dump....


                • #9
                  To help her your horse, try to establish the concept of forward, stretched topline but not so much falling on forhand by lunging with vienna sidereins. by using vienna sidereins he has support and the ability to understand this exercise without your weight.
                  If this was my situation(and it will be, in a few months with my youngster), I would have lunging days to work on this and finish the ride with a hack. And riding days to encourage but not necessarily drill it because it will come in stages and in time.
                  It will take longer to get the true exercise if your horse has a short, thick neck. I also ride a welsh cob, he did not get it until we were well into 1st level, working on second level stuff. Then a light bulb went on.


                  • #10
                    I'd be wary of the inside inside outside rein push thing. Too much like seesawing. As other have said, it's a strength issue and you have to help him build that up. First, you need to know how to get a good circle without letting him lose balance. If his shoulder is bulging, hold the outside rein more, use a little outside knee as a stabilizer. Think of your legs as bumper guards - they aren't pressing against the horse but are a point he can't go past. Outside knees can come on to push a horse onto a circle, and guard the shoulder from bulging out. Inside knee can push back a falling inside shoulder, inside leg at girth can push a horse out onto the circle if he falls in. Your weight may have to constantly change on a circle to keep your horse balanced and on the circle, same for your corner (which are just a bit of a circle). Use corners to begin teaching your horse how to balance on a circle. The deeper into the corner you go, the smaller circle represented. Once you can do a decent corner, as well as a 20m circle, you are probably ready for a 10m circle which really helps teach a horse to use himself. Once you can balance a decent circle with regular trot, then you can move to pushing him more under with your inside leg (getting him to step under more) and then you'll really be working him.

                    Cavaletti and small jumps will help him use his back as well as serpentines and other figures.

                    Once you can manage a good 20m circle, then start thinking about asking him to stretch. To as for a stretch, push him a little with your inside leg at the girth, sponge the inside rein softly (no seesawing) and hold/close your fingers on the outside rein. If he softens then let the reins slide just a tiny bit. If he maintains the contact rewards with lots of praise. That is how you slowly build his stretch. Once you know he's reaching out to the contact, you can try letting out a little more rein each time. Never let them just go as the horse can fall on the forehand. If he loses balance, take the contact back up and try again. Don't stay on the circle for that long. It's very tiring. One should always change direction often with a young horse especially (people tend to over work the weak side which isn't good, even working of both sides leads to proper strengthening).

                    Btw, don't be afraid to spend some time experimenting with your own balance and how it affects your horse. You can learn tons by playing with it and seeing how best to help your horse. Also, a weak horse may need a bit more contact to help him hold himself up and balance. Light contact isn't always good (hard to say what is light). If your horse leans, then half, ask for 2-3 steps of reinback and walk off, eventually he'll be strong enough to trot off (don't do this too much as it's hard on his back). Big thing with a weak horse is figuring out what is too much and what is not enough. Some horses need softly squishing hands in the beginning, my hardest mouthed guy did. Others need just steady giving (means never pulling back or bracing). Be sure you weight your elbows and don't hold with your shoulders.


                    • #11
                      With no hills, the cavalletti work & jumping is your best bet.

                      Ditto Vienna Reins in lungeing work.


                      • #12
                        it sounds to me like there are many missing concepts here. my suggestion to you is to find a competent trainer to help you.

                        the first thing to realize is not all horse need to go fdo - and that riding fdo all the time will normally just put the horse on the forehand.

                        also, the concept of raising the back by lowering the head/neck is a bit non traditional. lowering the neck to around horizontal will allow the back muscles to loosen and then with proper work the back will swing.

                        for the back "to come up" takes time and work and is generally brough on by the engagement of the hind legs, not lowering the head/neck.

                        for what you want, i would not worry about head/neck per se. i would do mostly circles (but the must be round so use cones to make a correct circle) and bended lines.

                        using bended lines and circles allows the horse to begin to bend its body laterally which is how you get them to relax over the top line.

                        you said that if you throw a circle in it helps. correct. if you are having trouble wiht his shoulder popping out this is totally normal. just remember to not pull on the heavier rein... instead give and be sure to try to have equal contact in both reins. be sure to turn your upper body in the direction you are going.... it will take time but this is how you will get where you want to go.

                        one of the best books on riding is Steinbrecht. very readable and still very very pertinent.

                        good luck.


                        • Original Poster

                          Thank you all for the advice! I plan to read the posts over again before I next go out to ride. I also have someone who is going to see if she can recommend any other instructors in my area. I will talk to my instructor as well and see if maybe she just hasn't been pushing things as we'd initially started out working on my confidence.

                          Thanks again