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Rider Affect on the Horses Movement
By Beverly Whittington

The horse undersaddle is affected by the rider in many ways. You can, through use of weight and aids, change the frame of your horse, bend the horse around when in a circle, etc..

Two of the most common faults that I have seen in riders are:

  • Rider Style 1: Riders who clamp with their knees and thighs, usually resulting in them leaning forward as well.
  • Rider Style 2: Riders who "wrap their horse" with their legs.
Each of these methods of riding can interfere with the horse's ability to perform I.E.: GAIT!

(Rider Style 1) Riders who ride with their knees and thighs tightened against the saddle often are interfering with their horses gait. Think of the musculature and skeletal structure of the horse. 
The horse has no collarbone; joints do not attach the front legs.  A sling of muscles and ligaments supports the weight of the horse and rider. 

A rider clamping down, blocks the horse's shoulder from free range of motion. This hampers the gait of any horse, whether a trotting or gaiting variety. It is particularly important in the gaiting breeds that the horse is able to pull with its front end and push with its rear. The shoulders have to rotate to permit free and efficient usage of the deltoids and trapezius muscles.
Shoulder muscles of the horse, can be interfered with by rider.

(Rider Style 2) Riders who wrap their whole leg around the horse, gripping for balance, will actually lighten their seat in the saddle. The horse feels the difference between you allowing your seat to move with his back and stopping that movement by clamping down with your legs. In order for a horse to be able to take long steps, his back muscles must relay the thrust of his hindquarters through his body to his front legs. The network of muscles can only work with elasticity when allowed to flex as a whole. Various degrees of impulsion are vital to ANY of the gaited breeds. The rider who impedes the movement of the horse's back muscles works against the horse's efforts to create impulsion in his stride. This impedance also raises your seat in the saddle. The benefits of a balanced, deep, secure seat are immediately lost.

In all breeds, the horse nods when walking. In the TWH, as the horse increases the length of stride, he will naturally increase his head nod. This movement should originate from the base of the neck and should be rhythmic. As the horse moves out, prohibiting him from moving his shoulders freely (Rider Style 1) results in loss of “nod” as his shoulders are prohibited from easy rotation. A good head nod indicates a balanced animal, working and pulling with his front end, as much as pushing with its rear. The horse that is restricted in the elasticity and flexion of his back muscles (Rider Style 2), cannot achieve a good, deep head nod either.

When the horse’s back and shoulders are restricted, it becomes impossible to develop the muscling that enables a horse to lengthen or extend his steps with his back and shoulder. This lack of muscle results in loss of impulsion and strength in the haunches and back, causing the walk and other gaits to become stilted. Under-muscling often resulting in loss of gait as the horse moves toward the pace or trot to compensate.

Horses that have strong and elastically swinging back muscles are good “backmovers” and generally perform and maintain gait with less effort than horses who are not good “backmovers.” The back becomes a spring through coordination of muscle flexion and relaxation, establishing a strong coordination between the forehand and hindquarters. With the back's necessary support, the hind legs start lifting and swinging. The horse begins to develop a strong top line from tail to ears.

The development of the horse’s back muscles and haunches combined with free use of the shoulders is paramount for the development of self-carriage in the horse. It is only through self-carriage that horses can achieve their optimum gait.

Any horse can increase his muscle condition and elasticity through specific exercises to improve his reach and length of step. But these exercises will not bear fruit if the rider is interfering with the horse's free range of motion in the back and shoulder.

Ok so I can hear remarks… ”How am I supposed to RIDE my horse without interfering with the movement of his back!” You HAVE to ride your horse with GOOD equitation! When the rider becomes responsible for their weight, carrying their body in the "equitation sweet spot" you influence the carriage of the horse and can improve as well as change the way he uses his back. This is of vital importance in helping the horse achieve the optimum gait that they can perform. 

Try an Experiment.

Tighten your midsection and be sure that you are in a balanced, correct seat. Start you horse at a brisk walk with light contact on the bit. Now go limp in your midsection, changing nothing else. Your horse will begin to lean on the rein, as he begins to lose self-carriage. As you once again tighten your midsection, your horse will begin to regain balance/self carriage, which translates into a lighter rein contact.  Read The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Improving Your Movements 
As you, the rider, seek to improve and establish a balanced seat you will have to improve muscle tone in your midsection. The weaker your midsection muscles, the more you will tend to grip with their hands and legs. Additionally,  if your midsection is weak and unstable, your hands also tend to become heavy. 

Conversely the hands will improve and be more communicative as your seat improves. If your seat is balanced and secure with a strong midsection, the "circuit is complete." The seat transmits any energy impulses from back to front or from front to back.

Take it easy, do not expect rapid improvement from you or your horse. It takes time to build the muscles and elasticity in both of you. BUT persevere, the results are worth it!


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How to Ride Your Gaited Horse
Whether you spend one hour a week or many hours a day in the saddle,
you can make one adjustment at a time to become an effective rider whose influence on the horses carriage and gait are positive.

©Beverly Whittington
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