How do you go from long and low to uphill self-carriage? And why do we want uphill self-carriage anyway?
How many of us have taken lessons in which the initial warm-up part of the ride was either a continual exhortation to 'push, push, push', or was kind of glossed over as the boring bit before the more interesting stuff happened, and then, when the 'lesson proper' started, we were told to 'put our horse together' without any real guidance as to how or why.
In fact in dressage the 'why' of everything is so often missing?
in jumping we know why we are doing things - to balance a horse before a fence, shorten or lengthen a stride, find a rhythm, ride a bit more or a bit less forward, because it makes the difference between getting over safely and ready for the next obstacle - or it doesn’t and we knock the fence down or have a wreck.
the difficulty with modern dressage is that the original functions for the dressage itself - war, the bullfight, the hunt - have been taken out of the picture, so often the only 'why' we get is 'because I say so', or 'because that’s what the judge wants to see' or 'because its correct.'
Mestre Luis Valenca (valencaequestriantours.com), was happy to answer the 'why' of the long and low followed by the uphill self-carriage. This is what he said; 'when you warm up your horse there has to be an anarchic phase in which the horse can just express himself, and get his brain and body in order. This is best done on the lunge so he can buck or jump if he needs and warm up his back before the rider gets on. All we ask him to do is respect the circle. When he has been allowed this anarchic phase we can go to the next phase of our warm up.'
International para dressage rider Bernard Sachse from France, who is wheelchair bound and still rides to intermediaire (bernardsachse.com) then says: 'with the hands low you let the horse stretch and look for the contact but try to make sure that the horse is flexed a little to the inside and stepping under his body with the inside hind leg - this begins to move his center of gravity back under the rider gradually.' then the riders hands come to the higher position to follow the horse's new uphill head placement.
Marijke De Jong (straightnesstraining.com) takes us to the next phase of the warm-up. 'once the horse has warmed up in this forward and down, laterally flexed, stepping under phase, we can thing about a shoulder-in.'
The shoulder-in, all three mentors pointed out, brings the horse's center of gravity back under the rider properly, and causes the horse's pelvis to drop. This automatically transforms the long and low to uphill self-carriage position. as Bernard points out - 'when you go to war, if the horse's center of gravity is all our front, you can’t maneuver him, and you’re going to be killed - so the shoulder in brings his center of gravity back underneath the rider, so the horse's energy can be available and he can dance from foot to foot like a boxer.'
Marijke then showed us how the quarters-in took this displacement of the center of gravity to the next stage - collection. 'The shoulders in teaches the horse's inside hind to carry most of the weight of the horse. the travers (quarters-in) teaches the outside hind leg to carry most of the weight, and then when both hind legs can bear the weight of the horse, the pelvis drops further and after a while the piaffe will develop naturally.'
And why do we want a piaffe? Because it looks cool and feels great?
no - points out Valenca - we want it to do hand to hand combat in battle, to strengthen the horse's back and prepare him for the Terre a Terre (canter in place) which in turn prepares him for the school jumps. And why do we want those? For this we can turn to Pluvinel, riding master to the seventeenth century French king Louis XIII - who taught all these movements, again for battle.
With Horse Boy we are creating horses not for battle but for healing, but the system is the same. And thank you, mentors, for giving us the 'why'. We are forever students.
For more from our mentors go to www.stressfreedressage.com