Monday, March 31, 2008
English Equitation - The Back Up
Here is Gabrielle backing her gelding Jesse at the end of their class. The following information can be applied to any class that you may be asked to back the horse, not just an equitation class.
First I’d like to say Gabrielle’s position looks great. Her ear, hip, and heel are in perfect alignment. She has a nice soft bend in her elbow. I would also like to note how calm and relaxed she looks.
I would ask that she elevate her chin slightly, and look ahead instead of down at the horse. At home, it’s fine to glance down with your eyes, but while showing I like to see riders are able to feel the position on the horse rather than have to look and check the position. I would also say to shift her shoulders slightly back. By bringing her shoulders back (approximately one inch) that will help her lift Jesse up off of his forehand. When she brings her shoulders back slightly her hands will be a bit farther apart and be more effective. I like to see a riders hands shoulder width apart.
Equitation refers to the rider, and the horse is not being judged per se, but if there is a tie between two equal riders, the one with the more correct horse will be placed above the other. A more correct horse will also showcase the rider better so we need to fix a few minor things with the horse as well.
When you look at Jesse, besides being cute and having a beautiful hair coat, his mouth is gaping because he is resisting his riders cue for the back up. If you look at the front legs of the horse it appears that he has most of his weight on his forehand. He is being heavy on the rider’s hands. This problem is fairly common with a lot of horses.
What I would like to see is the horse shifting his weight back onto his haunches, lifting his shoulders and becoming soft in the mouth as the rider asks him to back. During this process, the horse’s back will lift and his momentum will move backward instead of downward where it is headed in this picture.
Once the rider has fixed her position, she should lift the horse’s head and ask him to back. I know, I am always preaching head down, but first we need to lift those shoulders, and then we can lower the head. In the above photo, the horse has his head down where it belongs so it would almost appear correct, but the rest of his body is not in the right frame.
A horse may know each time he is asked to back the rider wants the head down, so he uses his head down position as an opportunity to fight the back up. The goal should be the moment you ask the horse to back up; he backs without any fight involved. This way you can also maintain that beautiful position in the saddle.
When you lift the horse up, his weight will rock back onto his haunches. As you lift the horse, gently pull and release with both hands to back him off of the bit. When the horse is backing correctly, you will feel him underneath you. What I mean by that is you can feel the front of the horse is very light, and the back of the horse is moving under you and backing.
Once you have the horse lifting his shoulders, work the head back down into a lower position. The horse may revert to his old habits, if he does, just lift up the shoulders again. You will probably have to move your hands out of your comfort zone, but remember, you are training at home not being judged in an equitation class. To recap, bring the horse's shoulders up and his head down, keep practicing until you can do both at the same time.
The final step will be to back the horse in this collected position with your hands quiet and steady in the desired position.
The Back Up Cue:
Once you have fixed the problem, your back up cue will be simple. To cue the horse to back, hold the horse back with your reins by bending your elbows. When you feel a shift of weight backward, start to see saw your hands gently back and forth backing the horse off of the bit. At the same time, gently squeeze and release your legs to help the horse move his hind quarters backwards, as he lifts his shoulder and rounds his back maintain soft contact with his mouth.
Trouble Shooting Tip:
If your horse refuses to maintain backward momentum, you may be using too much leg. Too much leg would result in your horse becoming confused and thinking you want him to stop or to move forward.
Tune in next time for English Equitation, Part Two.
Thanks Gabrielle and Jesse!