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How Balance And Bend Work Together In
Conditioning And Horse Training
- TWO things you may not realize you’re doing that are preventing your horse from achieving proper balance, bend, and flexion, and what to do to correct them.
Balance, bend, and flexion are some of the key components in horse training that trainers aim to build, strengthen, and utilize in every area of a horse’s performance. They are developed over time with careful consideration of certain movements, exercises, and bends that work, strengthen, and simultaneously loosen and lengthen different areas of the horse’s body. A horse that is properly trained and conditioned will have the ability to use their body to its fullest athletic capabilities due to being able to be free in their range of motion while maintaining balance and stability to withhold movement in the correct form and structure.
Training a horse in a way that works with its body and not against it, in a “classical” natured sense allows the horse room to grow, mature, and develop the strength, stamina, and finesse needed in order to use and carry themselves properly and work athletically. The art of riding and training should always stem from kindness and an understanding of the functions of the horse’s body, how they work, what works in direct opposition with your horse’s body, and with an ultimate goal towards creating balance, lightness, and harmony within their body and movement patterns.
Before we go too far, I want to discuss the definitions of flexion, balance, collection, control, and propulsion since they all go hand in hand and can often-times be confused with one another or simply not fully understood.
I like to say that partial knowledge isn’t really knowledge at all. It is important to understand a point or concept in its entirety. Without an in-depth understanding of a concept, we will not be able to visualize or carry it out efficiently or effectively. Take the time to learn something completely before moving on to another topic. It just goes back to the old saying that you should always do something right the first time, instead of going back and needing to redo it a hundred and twenty times. Horse training and riding are very much the same way. We should aim to do something correctly the first time.
What is balance
Balance, when we are referring to the study of equine biomechanics, refers to the horse’s ability to maintain its center of gravity. (The invisible, vertical line that moves forward and backward as the horse moves, acting as a support system in transit.) Balance in itself is specifically also referring to the ability to have small or minimal amounts of postural sway (or the movement that takes place horizontally.) While there will always be some amount of sway because of being a living, breathing, organism, too much sway can be the first indicator of balance-related issues, sensorimotor control loss, or an imbalance within the horse’s body. A balanced horse will move about with fluidity and grace. Balance is one of the crucial factors in creating a truly finished bridle horse versus having one that is relatively half-broke. When balance is strengthened and built the horse has the opportunity to add so much finesse to their movement and also has the ability to allow the full range of their locomotion to occur freely. This can simultaneously create softness and sensitivity within our horse.
What is collection
Equine gait collection which is usually just called “collection” or “engaging/ engagement” is the biomechanical mechanism that allows the movement or gait to occur. True collection and engagement only occur when the functions of the horse’s biomechanical systems and locomotion systems (which operate together seamlessly) are harmoniously in balance with one another. The worse the functioning of the biomechanical aspects of the horse’s body, the more prone they are going to be to becoming unsound or having other generalized issues with performance or health.
When speaking of collection in itself, collection (true and correct collection) is always stemmed from correctness and strength. Your horse needs to be able to be strong and straight through their bodies while maintaining bend and creating propulsion from the hind end and lift and expansion within the front end. There are many versions of “collection” as I will call it that are anything but collection. Some of these can be seen within industries like the AQHA industry (4-beating, walk-jogging, etc. type of movement patterns.) Some in the dressage industry also teach the Rollkur techniques that produce severe overbending and tense straining. Every single industry in the horse world is affected by incorrect or false collection, these are only examples, and not meant to diminish either industry ( I came from one of the abovementioned myself.). Even some of the best riders in the country can be fooled at times or not fully aware of what is transpiring within the horse’s body. Collection takes the ability to have consistent timing, feel, and control.
What is control
Control in horse training is speaking of multiple aspects that correlate with one another simultaneously. Control over every aspect of the horse’s body, both together and individually, and control over the riding atmosphere/ environment (which can obviously be difficult in many situations.) Along with control over the riding and training process. Control leads to opportunity with your horse and is also directly related to the overall balance, symmetry, flexion, bending, and collection that your horse is capable of performing and handling.
What is propulsion
Propulsion is describing the force and reaction of the hind legs acting in balance with gravity and inertia to propel the horse forward. The horse’s rear legs are naturally a perfectly inverted pendulum system and this is where the drive and force behind our horse’s movement and range of motion stem from.
How all of these aspects come together to create harmonious biomechanically sound horse training:
When the different parts of our horse’s bodies are working together correctly, soundly, and harmoniously, our horses are set up to perform athletically and in a way that will actually benefit and strengthen their bodies versus wear them down or break them.
Each different part of the horse’s body has a different function and a different system of operation and execution. To create a functional relationship between the different parts of the horse’s body is to create and execute balance which leads to the ability to have control, drive, propulsion, collection, stability, and many other qualities that are needed for a horse to be able to learn and eventually master movements and holding patterns.
Two things you may not realize you’re doing that are preventing your horse from achieving proper balance, bend, and flexion, and what to do to correct them.
There are two main things that I see people doing regularly that throw them and their horses off balance. Both of these issues are entirely rider error and can be very easily fixed. I usually tend to lean always towards the side of rider error as there typically is some human aspect of any issue we face with our horse.
- The first thing that most people are not aware that they are doing is they are leaning into their corners and turns or they themselves are dropping to the inside and not staying strong through their bodies and looking upward and towards a focal point as they are riding or executing a maneuver. Even if our bodies are off just a tick, this can mean a world of difference to our horses. We must keep in mind that our horses are much more sensitive than we are, they can feel a fly landing on a single hair on their back. If our body position is off it is going to throw them off along with their weight distributional shifts during movement.
I want you to take a moment and imagine that you are galloping your horse down a long dirt track. As your horse is moving forward, you begin to lean forward. What do you feel your horse do? They will start to compensate by shifting upwards while more pressure and weight is simultaneously falling onto their forehand. Though this movement may not always be noticeable to the naked eye, it can be felt by a skilled horse trainer or rider. Maintaining our own strength and stamina, along with making sure that our own bodies are well and in alignment/ structurally correct are some of the best things that you can do to avoid any unintentional or unwanted movement within our bodies that may affect our horses. While there is no actual way to entirely minimize this issue, we can greatly reduce it.
- Overuse of hand aids. This one is an easy habit to fall into if you are not cautious and diligent when you are riding. When riding or training, it is important to constantly be running through a checklist of what you are doing and what different parts of your body are doing/ how they are acting and functioning in order to catch potential problems before they start occurring. Overusing your hands can easily lead to balance-related issues that may present themselves as many other problems in your riding and training sessions. Firstly, you could be presented with a horse that falls either direction easily and cannot maintain a straight line, secondly, you could have a horse that braces on the bit after overuse of your hand aid and is then justifiably desensitized to the bit or a horse that becomes overly sensitive and almost head shy in a sense due to too much pressure being applied to their bars, tongue, or the roof of their mouth.
Fixing your hands is something that can be a hair tricky at first as we will tend to try and overanalyze and overcompensate in fixing. The best solution for soft hands is to become as strong and balanced as you can be as a rider and utilize your leg and seat aids much more than your hands. Everything should drive up and into your hand and be redistributed as need be and guided that way. When you are focusing on strength-building exercises as a rider, focus on core-strengthening activities, leg-strengthening, and also your back.
The difference between bending and flexion and how balance plays a critical part in bending and flexing:
Did you know? There is a difference between the act of bending and flexion within our horses. Many people, me being among one of them, used to believe that flexion and bending were practically one and the same. Bending refers to changing the entire positioning or curvature throughout the horse’s body from the nose all the way through to the tail, whereas flexion only refers to the change of positioning that takes place within the poll joint. You can have flexion without bending, but cannot have bend without flexion. Balance plays such a crucial role in bending and flexing because it allows the horse to supple itself without stress and rigid movement. Balance creates the stability needed for the horse to move with power and grace through turns, corners, bends, and more.
Riding and training have a lot of different variables and factors that come into play, there is much to consider while working with your horse and a lot of different parts and pieces that go into creating a balanced, well-structured, finished horse. Flexion, bending, and balance are a prerequisite for just about anything you will wish to do with your horse. In this article, we covered a couple of the basic factors that come into play regarding balance, bend, and flexion and discussed important training topics. In the next article, we are going to expand on these topics and discuss some of the best training exercises and routines you can implement into your current routine.
Thank you for tuning in today, have a great day and God bless you all.