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Visualization to lift the front and engage the hind?

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  • Visualization to lift the front and engage the hind?

    First, let me introduce myself (Rachel) and my horse Nela. Nela is a Percheron/Belgian draft mare that I have owned for a year now. I am re-learning most of my core riding concepts, as I had poor quality/erratic instruction when I was younger. Nela is a great horse for me, and although out of shape, did learn some of the basics of classical riding at some point in her past. I am working with a trainer and have come a looonngg way. I am not able to have lessons as frequently as I would like to due to no indoor arena, Colorado weather, and a very busy instructor. I am also about to embark on a summer adventure working at a dude ranch leading trail rides with Nela. So I am trying to find some good way to visualize some of the concepts I have been learning.

    I know that I am probably going to have to work on a bundle of issues to properly do this, and I know it takes time and practice on the part of both human and horse. I am wondering if anyone has a great way to visualize lifting the horse up into the bit while engaging the hind?

    Nela and I had a great ride today,and I pushed us both to stay off of the forehand by driving with my leg and whip (which meant working on my leg position and relaxation) and catching the momentum in my hands. Nela's natural headset is low, so I am getting used to lifting my hands to keep her from diving down with her head and neck as she collects, pulling on me and sending our balance forward. I felt that I did a good job of keeping her off of the forehand, but her hind end wasn't spectacularly engaged.

    Right now we are working on getting collected at the walk and trot, but mostly working on being straight, forward, and not plodding on the front. I would love to engage her hind end, because I feel like it just isn't all there. It is so hard for me to engage her hind end because when I urge her to be more forward, a lot of the time she just works her front end harder (being a working-type draft, that is logical for her).

    This is probably because of some fault in my riding that I am not feeling, and thus a good position lesson is probably in order. But in the meantime, does anyone have a great way that they visualize lifting their horse's front end up and engaging the hind at the same time?

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions

    Here's a picture so you can see how she is built:

  • #2
    Clearly you adore this horse and that will lead you to do the right things.

    She has a heavy front end and a small hind quarter and little muscle or frame on the hind quarter. She lacks muscle in her back. Developing those muscles will allow her to engage and lift her front end as much as nature allows.

    I would, if she was mine, give her basic schooling on stretching, bending and being obedient in responding to the leg, rein and seat aids, with frequent, short, energetic rides. That will develop those muscles. Quick forward transitions, bending, doing the school figures of circles, half circles, serpentines, etc. I would not work on collecting the walk and trot first. Instead, I would work on going actively forward, and developing a swing in the back and hind quarters (swing meaning actively using those muscles, not swing as in the hind quarters drifting or swaying from side to side).

    What 'lifts the front end' is the back end. There isn't a visualization(s) or one specific exercise that produces this. It is a matter of creating and developing and suppling and strengthening muscles.

    It develops over time with active, forward riding that stretches the horse's back, hind quarter and strengthens those muscles.

    By teaching her to move actively forward, her hind quarters and back will be strengthened and allow her to take an active, reaching stride with her hind leg driving forward, which is what lifts the front however much it can be lifted. I would recommend cantering as well as walking and trotting. Cantering is a big part of developing the horse's ability to carry himself.


    • #3
      What you should feel...

      You will know that you have achieved your objective when you feel like you are in a speed boat that is idling and suddenly given full throttle. The engine end of the boat (stern) sinks into the water and the prow lifts up.

      You cannot produce this effect by pulling the front end up--all this does is to hollow the horse's back. It does not engage the hind end.
      "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


      • #4
        What a sweet photo! It sounds like you have a great attitude and desire to learn. I suspect you might enjoy and benefit from the teaching style of Jane Savoie. You can find some introductory videos of hers on You Tube. I especially like the one on the outside rein. I liked it so much that I went ahead and purchased her happy horse DVD series, and watched it over and over while on the exercise machine. It's a bit like Dressage for Dummies, but it is very methodical, correct and helpful, especially if you don't have the $$ or access to freqeunt lessons. Also, I just love Watler Zettle's DVD series, A Matter of Trust. This is jam packed with information, a bit more advanced and theoretical, but absolutely classical and filled with great sessions where you can see good horses and riders at work. Also his book, Dressage in Harmony, is excellent. In addition, the best classical dressage book I know is Complete Training of Horse and Rider by Alois Podhajsky. In dressage you have to educate yourself with the underlying theory and then put it into practice while riding. Enjoy your journey!


        • #5
          One of Jane Savoie's visualizations for what you're seeking is "squeezing toothpaste out of a tube." But really, mobilization of the back end is, I think, a skill that starts with big concepts and adds a whole lot of skill and finesse.

          One thing to remember with her build (I have a drafty too!) is that she will need a lot of fitness and re-structuring of her body before she can really move in that way comfortably. Early lateral movements like haunches in, shoulder in, leg yields, half passes, circles, working on stretching out, etc., are all geared toward this end. You'll find over time her balance shifts.

          Sorry for babbling- I'm slightly delirious and off to my weekly lesson!


          • #6
            One exercise that has really help me figure this out is a square with quarter turns on the haunches or pirouettes in the corners. Something like trot 10 strides, walk, walk turn on the haunches, immediately back to trot, trot 10 strides, repeat. We go all the way around the square 2 or 3 times, then then move it up to canter, walk. By the time we moved it up to all canter with quarter pirouettes, my horse was so engaged and with me that I "got" the feeling and have been much better at repeating it ever since.

            It takes a lot of strentgh and balance to get to the canter squares, but I think the walk squares, and trot squares with walking turns might help you get the feeling of her engaging her haunches on the down transition, through the turn, and on the up transition- then you can try to keep that feeling as you walk or trot down to the next turn.


            • #7
              What a cute mare!

              Given all that you have described, I wouldn't be working too much on collection at this point. Your horse needs to understand the concept of using her hind end and then develop muscle through her back in order to be able to balance herself and collect. This will take some time, particularly for a stout horse with a naturally low headset. An important consideration for collection is balance. In my experience, this is a critical issue for mares. They can be really scared to be off balance. Working on collection before a horse is physically capable is one of the most reliable ways to negatively influence a horse's attitude. Physically, it can do a lot of damage, particularly to the walk.

              It is exciting to have a great ride and feel progress is being made. But don't break your toy. For me, it takes about 6 months to a year of consistent off the forehand/from the hind end to see the kind of muscle development and balance needed for collection. A more talented rider could probably accomplish this more efficiently but it does take time no matter how good your are. The trail work you are planning can be really helpful if you approach it from a dressage perspective.

              Your trainer can give you some good insight here.

              Good luck with your lovely girl.
              See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


              • #8
                You've been getting some good advice here, so you must realize now that "visualization" is not the key to engaging the horse's "engine". A horse has a light front end when his back end is under him, and this comes from you, your seat. You have to learn to pull down and sit into him, to engage the back end, and it will take time for him to build the muscles to accomodate what you ask from your seat. Your legs will hold him from falling in to the side, but your seat bones through your hips with your hips open and your leg dropped down around him will give you the connection to bring him up under you. It doesn't come from your legs and whip, or your hands pulling him up.

                Good luck with your progress. Sweet horse.
                Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                • #9
                  Love your picture! Drafty mares are very special, and you look to have a wonderful one. I really like that you are doing 'ranch' work this summer- it will certainly strengthen your horse and build your relationship, especially with the forward, open gaits and hill work.

                  Boo is built similarly to your mare, heavy drafty front, weaker behind with a long back, and I have found forward and straight, up and down transitions between and within gaits, rein backs and lateral work to be the keys to building her carrying power. She is extremely flexible in her neck, but not in her shoulders. Our progress has been one of me correcting my own position and balance to help hers so that now she is like butter in my hands (usually - she is chestnut ) Using turns on the hindquarters, rollbacks, cavaletti, anything that shifts her weight back will help.

                  That said, it is important that you are able to shift your weight as well! An image I hold in my head always is that of the equestrian statue at Boston Museum of Fine Arts 'The End of the Trail' depicting an Indian chief mounted on a tired horse, his chest open, arms spread, looking to the sky.

                  Good luck and let your mare find her engine through her strengthening her carrying muscles. You do not want to try to hold her up!!!
                  Form follows function, or does function follow form?




                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Eclectic Horseman View Post
                    You will know that you have achieved your objective when you feel like you are in a speed boat that is idling and suddenly given full throttle. The engine end of the boat (stern) sinks into the water and the prow lifts up.

                    You cannot produce this effect by pulling the front end up--all this does is to hollow the horse's back. It does not engage the hind end.
                    Exactly the image I was going to offer.
                    If you've ever been in a motorboat as it just gets going and starts to pick up speed the nose will lift out of the water so high it's hard to see in front of you, the tail end low in the water. Then it will finally balance out, the nose comes down some and you feel the push of forward.

                    {I'm not the only one on the motor boat imagining being on a Dressage horse!??}
                    Yo/Yousolong April 23rd, 1985- April 15th, 2014



                    • #11
                      Originally posted by slc2 View Post
                      She lacks muscle in her back.
                      SLC, would you mind explaining this in more detail? This is one part of conformation I still am unable to see. Where in her back exactly does she lack muscle, and how do you see that in the photo?

                      (This is a request for education, not a disagreement.)
                      Yes, I am crazy. Is that an issue?


                      • #12
                        It's not so much conformation as conditioning.

                        Good explanation of the ring-of-muscles you should read:

                        And I really suggest Principles of Conformation Analysis an excellent read - I learned allot.

                        I like her conformation, she's a pretty girl.
                        "For some people it's not enough to just be a horse's bum, you have to be sea biscuit's bum" -anon.
                        Nes' Farm Blog ~ DesigNes.ca
                        Need You Now Equine


                        • #13
                          I visualize an ocean wave, up in front of me. Or a seesaw, as you come up and deepen your seat, and lighten your hand, the seesaw is up.

                          You will this way over time, hopefully strengthen the muscles behind the saddle...
                          I have had several draft crosses over the years and loved every one. It takes time to build their muscles needed to be lighter in front. You will do it!

                          P.S. She is very cute!


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MintHillFarm View Post
                            I visualize an ocean wave, up in front of me. Or a seesaw, as you come up and deepen your seat, and lighten your hand, the seesaw is up.
                            Ooh, these are very good


                            • #15
                              That's what I meant, Nes, I don't see any muscle on the horse's back. It is developed through training. The hind quarter also is lacking in muscle, esp in areas developed by active work such as cantering together in a round outline, in big active bounds.

                              Muscle is what lifts the horse.


                              • #16
                                But that muscle comes, OP, from riding the horse correctly, from the back to the front, not from lifting the horse up. when the horse begins to move correctly, she will devlope that "top line" slc2 is talking about.
                                Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                                • Original Poster

                                  Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions and comments!! Really, I appreciate every word!

                                  To clarify, when I said I was holding my hands up, I didn't mean lifting her head up. At no point do I allow her to rest on my hands either. Boy, I would have a problem if I let her do that! She is actually pretty soft and giving in her mouth, which is nice.

                                  I should have clarified. I used to ride very slouched with my arms straight and down near the withers. It didn't allow me to bend my elbows, bring my hands up above the withers for a "funnel" as my instructor would say, or open my shoulders or hips. When I made contact with her mouth, she would get even more on the forehand because my reins were so low, and my weight was forward and not balanced. When I look at pictures of me riding now, where my hands feel high to me, they are actually in the correct position. My friend took some recent pictures today, and hopefully will send them to me soon so I can post them for critique.

                                  Isn't it weird how when you correct a fault in your riding, you sometimes feel like you are really overdoing it, when in fact you are doing it well?

                                  It's good to hear that it'll take a chunk of time to correctly build both of us up to where we can ride in a collected frame, because it makes me feel like I can patiently and thoroughly learn this process correctly, instead of rushing. I really worry about her avoiding the bit, over-flexing, and not being forward. Those are things we work hard to avoid.

                                  I also like the idea of the motorboat, because I have felt that on her when we transition up in gait. Today I worked on transitions from the walk to the trot, and keeping that motorboat feeling for as long as we could. I worked my tush off, but she felt very good under me!

                                  Also, thank you for the wonderful exercise suggestions. Nela and I are out of shape, and both of us need to build muscle. I am hoping that working in the mountains with her will really help us both build muscling, and that when we go back to flat work in the arena that our endurance and strength will be a little better at the start, and that we will progress easier.

                                  The ranch that I will be working at is encouraging me to use their equipment and older, more experienced drafts to teach Nela to drive, too. I think that driving will help her build all of those essential muscles as well. Plus I think she'll absolutely LOVE driving, as that is what she is built to do

                                  We can do a walk/trot ride working on moving forward and straight for 30-45 minutes and Nela will be sweating quite a bit, so I know that short rides are good. I almost always take her on a 10 minute trail ride around the property after we ride in the arena for cool down, because I know that she really needs to be properly put away to avoid injury with as little conditioning as she has.

                                  I have another question: I have heard people refer to being light on your seat and also to sitting into the horse. This seems contradictory to me. Is it the difference between plunking and sitting balanced and centered with an independent seat?

                                  Boy do I have a lot to learn! But that is what I absolutely love about horses. No matter how much you think you know, you can always always improve and learn more, so it never gets boring and always engages the mind and the body!

                                  I am definitely going to try taking weekly lessons when I get back from my dude ranch adventures in order to seriously study many of these concepts in more detail.


                                  • #18
                                    You're going to do great. Sounds like you have a world of interesting ways to interact with your horse and learn, the both of you.
                                    Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                                    • #19
                                      "being light on your seat and also to sitting into the horse. This seems contradictory to me. Is it the difference between plunking and sitting balanced and centered with an independent seat?"

                                      A person can 'sit into the horse' without sitting hard and heavy. When the hips are open, the back soft yet helping the rider be stable in the saddle, the weight of the rider's head over his shoulders, and his shoulders over his hips, the rider's weight is down in the lowest part of the saddle, and the soft suppleness of the rider's back and hips works like 'velcro' to let the rider down into the saddle without bouncing out of the saddle at each stride.

                                      A 'light' seat can mean several different things. It can mean a 'half seat' where the rider almost hovers over the saddle, taking a very slight jumping seat, but with his shoulders, hips and heels aligned.

                                      It can also just mean that the rider's weight is not pounding and bouncing in the saddle, the rider is not pumping his hips and shoulders, not forcing his seat against the front or back of the saddle....and that since the rider is balanced and soft, the rider's weight is pleasant for the horse to carry.
                                      Last edited by slc2; May. 16, 2009, 12:07 AM.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Thank you slc2!

                                        That was a good description for me.

                                        I attached some pictures from today. This how I am when I feel like my hands are "high" :