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Suppleness Questions

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  • Suppleness Questions

    I have an ex Prelim event horse that is an off breed (LU/TB QH). I switched to dressage when I felt I reached the end of his scope jumping as he was hard to get to a good distance repeatedly. Anyway, I've been riding dressage for a few years and have been showing at 3rd for my second year as I had a baby in Jan so only one show last weekend this year. I have good instruction, but can only lesson a few times a month due to the baby and that my horses live at home. Last year when I showed I was lacking the 3rd level balance. I have been working on that, and now judges say it is appropriate for the level, but I need more suppleness. My horse has a hard time keeping his neck long, and I have also fixed that, but when I start to work on suppleness, he gets tight in his neck, but feels better through the back. Ok, so long story short, does anyone have any great exercises or ways to increase suppleness without shortening the neck? He is very willing and forward, and the judges do like him. But he can get tense and can be tricky to keep through. Also, this can manifest in the changes by a pre-hop step then the change which is quite expressive. Its' like he backs off for a step. If we can sort this out 4th level should be right there as the canter piros are easy for him. Also, he anticipates the changes badly thanks to the jumping and that degrades the quality of the change. I did get and 8 this weekend on my left to right change which is the hardest for us, but then got a 5 on our better side. Argh! Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    All in the warm-up...

    By your screen name, I can see that you are well aware of classical ideology. Therefore, I would like to suggest that you revisit your understanding of the training scale and it’s implications in the warm-up phase as well as the question at hand.

    If you focus is on on step 1. of the training scale ( rhythm), you will automatically ride with more balance and create the possibility for more suppleness. Riding warm-up type transitions, focusing on keeping the correct rhythm and purity of the gaits will automatically result in a looser horse. Riding "too forward or with too much impulsion" may be counter productive.

    The term Losgelasenheit is translated to suppleness or looseness. This implies mental and physical relaxation and outwards signs are a swinging back, swinging tail and horse that moves through the whole body, rather than just the legs. In the warm up phase, this also should imply the horse stretching down and out (long and low where the horses slowly chews the reins of the riders hands, maintaining a soft connection).

    The two types of suppleness are longitudinal (tail to pole) and lateral.
    Longitudinal suppleness is best done with riding well-prepared and executed transitions. Transitions from trot to canter are especially valuable in creating suppleness and in no way do you need to shorten the neck. On the contrary, the correct way to ride this is starting long and low and with each transition, gradually bringing the horse more onto its hindlegs. Sitting softly and lightly is important to invite the horse’s back to come up and swing.

    As for the lateral suppleness, sideways movements are not part of the warm up. Some people like to do lateral movements with older horses in walk, this may be done with older horses only, with care. The problem lies in that working the walk may ruin the purity and correct footfall and in the fact that horses need 10-15 minutes of movement before the synovial fluid is correctly circulating around the joints, therefore, sideways movements, even in walk, should be avoided.

    Riding bending lines, riding 20 m circles with some spiral in and out, single loops along the long side, serpentines and combing this with the transitions discussed above will always produce a supple horse.

    Good luck,
    Dave Thind
    Certified German ‘Trainer A’ (Level III)

    Certified German 'Trainer A' F.N. (Master Level)


    • #3
      to get your horse more supple w/o tightening his neck and curl up, you can work on getting him longer and low. I say longer because you should not have the reins so long as you would in free walk. Just keep them longer than normal. Also what works is counterbend in the longer and low frame. Try to get him to drop his neck from the withers down. Do not let him curl or get tight. If you feel he starts to get tight give your reins, and do some bending to the in and outside. For the flying changes you should try and do more of a medium canter and do the changes. Keep him forward and straight and then he should not be able to make a hop stop and then change and continue. you want it to be flowing. You have to figure out if you need to do a medium or even towards extended canter.If that does not work (usually does, but all horses are different) you can surprise him with the changes. Go on a 20 meter circle and do a couple rounds, then when you are in the middle of your circle on the open side you change bend and give aid for a flying change. He will most likely not anticipate it by doing a hop before the change as he will not know that it is coming. Do changes when he does not know it is coming. You can also do some simple changes, then he expects to go to walk. Then give the aid for a flying change.

      Hope this is helpful! let me know if it works for you!


      • #4
        also, to test if your horse is supple enough and really through, ride tempo changes. You will see, if he is too tight in the neck and behind your leg, he will tighten his neck and put his head up when you want to change tempo.


        • #5
          SUPPLENESS as definied int the USDF 2011 Glossary of Judging Terms is "Range of motion through the joints. Pliability, flexibility. The opposite of stiffness. A horse's suppleness is largely determined by genetics but may over time be improved or negatively impacted through training."

          It should be thought of as the articulation of movement. The suggestion to keep the horse's neck long and low when working on changes is innately incorrect and physically impossible for the horse to do and remain balanced. The horse must be allowed to raise the head and neck by activating the thoracic sling. The throat must remain open and the horse stretches UP AND into the contact. You may have the misconception from sitting on top that the neck is shortening when it is actually raising in response to more uphill carriage and the hind legs stepping through.

          I would suspect that the little stop before the change is stemming from the rider blocking with too strong a half halt on the rein. As suggested, ride the change out of a forward, medium canter but try not to get to concerned with "reining in" (no pun inteneded) the head and neck. Ride the hind end energy and th front end will take care of itself. If possible, try to sit on a horse with more confirmed changes to see if you get the same stop and stiffening.
          "Listen to your mind. It has a whole lot more brain cells than your heart does." - SillyHorse


          • #6
            I meant working longer and low in the warm up. Not when doing flying changes. You will know the difference between raising the neck and head because of tightness or because of coming up in the bridle and seeking contact
            Last edited by DutchDressageQueen; Aug. 16, 2011, 05:23 PM. Reason: editing spelling error


            • #7
              video would really help
              chaque pas est fait ensemble


              • #8
                Originally posted by Petstorejunkie View Post
                video would really help


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks for the replies. Dave, I agree with you on the warm up. I can get a good feeling in my warm up, but something seems to change when I bring him up. It is interesting that you mentioned the simple trot canter transition. The trot to canter is good, but I've forgotten along the way the simple canter trot transition as I had been schooling canter walk too much. I recently found my connection problem in the change is also there in the C/T trans where he collects his stride (unauthorized), ducks away from the contact in the bridle, then trots. I have been reschooling this for over a week, as my trainer and I feel that is the same thing that he does in the change. Always those pesky basics! I am really focusing on a transition that the canter doesn't change into the trot. This has been harder than it sounds! Not a fan of lateral work in the walk either. The suppleness I need from him is his low back where he holds a bit at times. My trainer wants me to do steeper sideways in the SI and HI to get him to release, but that gets his neck short. Yuck! It does help the back though. Dutch Dressage Queen-I think I have come full circle on the change, because when we first started him he would run through them, and really go after, so we collected him to not allow for the sprawl/runaway. Now I have a bunny hop! Bearskin, I have ridden quite a few horses with changes, and my FEI trainer gets the same thing from my horse right now when she rides him, so her answer it to go really forward if he does that in the change. It isn't giving me something I can repeat with success, but maybe I am being too impatient. I showed this weekend, and did my normal warmup like Dave talked about, did lots of tempo changes in the canter, then a change each way and rode my tests. I felt those rides were better than the next day, after reading judge #1 comments when I decided I'm going to show more suppleness, and proceded to shorten his neck! Too much. The root of the problem is anticipation, as he anticipates the change, med, ext gaits and makes a bid for it. I still love this horse, but he is too smart(or I am too dumb)!


                  • Original Poster

                    Oh, I don't know about a video-too shy! I had to be talked into showing. I am scoring in the low 60's but could be much better without the mistakes. That is embarassing enough!