SECS. Just a few of the many important aspects of riding correctly (but using more/others didn’t give me the chance of a fun title for this post).
Straightness Energy Connection Suppleness
So, let’s start with the most basic, and possibly the most important of the four. STRAIGHTNESS. Now, as was touched on in a previous blog post, straightness really means correctly bent. If your horse isn’t “straight”, they can never give you their optimum performance. The old adage was that if you looked down, you should just be able to see the outer edge of your horse’s inside nostril. But, of course, straightness actually must involve the whole of your horse’s body.
And don’t underestimate how much your own posture influences the horse’s straightness. If you drop your weight more onto one seat bone, your horse will compensate for the shift in weight, thus affecting straightness. You should feel that your horse’s hindquarters are moving evenly behind you, their shoulders sitting squarely in front of you, and their head and neck looking nicely central in front of you. Remember to watch the ears - one ear tilted lower than the other indicates a tilted head - if the right ear is low, the nose is off to the left. We could, of course, go on for pages about each element of even this short list, so I’ll move on now. But the first key is that we need straightness.
Second comes ENERGY. Now, try not to fall into the trap of mistaking speed - a flat, running trot, for example - for true energy. True energy doesn’t mean speed. It means impulsion. It means having our horse moving freely forward into a soft, containing hand. Many times, the first time a rider experiences a “true” working trot, they can be a little unnerved by the power of their horse. I know I was. But a good working trot is a powerful pace.
My favorite description is that your legs are acting like having your foot on the gas pedal of a car, while your half halts are like having your other foot lightly on the brake. So your legs are creating energy - revving up the car - while your hands are preventing any increase in speed. So the energy is building up, but being contained and controlled. Obviously this description is only really useful if the student also knows how to drive! So our horse is now straight and energized. We’re halfway there.
Next comes CONNECTION. For me connection is a reminder that a truly round horse is round through their whole body, their whole spine. Connection means that we’re not focused solely on “headset” (a term which I dislike anyway - a correctly positioned head is not “set” but should still be relaxed and soft, not “set” in any way). To me, the head position is the last piece of this puzzle we call roundness. A connected horse is one whose whole body is engaged and working correctly.
So the quarters have lowered, enabling the hindlegs to push forward most effectively. My old trainer used to tell us to have the horse “sit down in a chair” under us, to give that feeling of the hindquarters lowering as they drove forward more strongly. The back has raised, as have the shoulders, lifting the horse’s weight off their forehand and letting them express the best movement of their forelegs. The neck is gently arched, and the head is down.
Remember, though, that a correct outline is not having the front of the horse’s face on the vertical. A correct outline is where the bridle cheekpieces are vertical. I would much rather see a connected, engaged horse whose head is a little above the vertical than a horse whose head is perfectly vertical (or often they are behind the vertical) but whose hindquarters are somewhere in the next county. Outline comes from behind.
And, last but not least, we have SUPPLENESS. A supple horse will be relaxed and free-moving, able to show off their paces as we want. And as nature intended. There are no shortcuts to suppleness. Work your horse in properly, incorporating lateral work, transitions and circles before you worry about outline. If you have your horse straight, energized, connected and supple…..the outline will come all by itself.
The big thing about the suppling and warm up work is that it must be ridden correctly. A half-asleep plod is not a warm up! Give your horse a few minutes of relaxed, long rein, yet still forward thinking walk, then pick up your rein contact and start to encourage more impulsion.
So that’s it. by no means whatsoever is this “all you need to know”, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but these four very basic principles are very important.
As I mentioned already, there are no short cuts. Okay, that’s not technically true. There are a lot of short cuts out there, otherwise no-one would have developed the chambon, the de gogue, draw reins, pulley reins, Market Harboroughs (or German Martingales, if you prefer) and the various multitude of gadgets out there. And it seems like people also make up their own contraptions when the available gadgets just won’t do whatever it is they want them to do. My tackroom? I have side reins for lunge work, and I have…… No. Wait. That’s it. My trainer taught me to work on and hopefully fix a problem without gadgets, and that’s something I try to stick to. Just how I was trained. Not a comment on anyone else’s training principles.
I think I’ve rambled enough for one post.