So how do you know if your horse is really engaged? If he is using his body to the best of his abilities at that moment in time. For many riders, we know that it is important, however, we struggle to make it happen consistently.
Being able to successfully and correctly engage your horse’s core is essential for ‘good’ work to happen when your horse is being ridden. I know, ‘good’ is a little generic, however, it is true!
In order for your horse to successfully connect through the energy, he must be engaged. And in order for that to happen, you the rider, need to understand what it means when it is done right.
The Flow of Energy
When your horse’s core is engaged, it means that energy is able to flow through your horse’s body. Through the container that is you and your horse when you are riding. This energy flows from back to front. From the hindquarters, through to the front end of the horse. Rear-wheel drive.
Your horse’s core strength will determine how much energy can flow through the channel or container at any given point.
Your horses core must be engaged if the energy is to flow correctly. If your horse is going to use himself to the best of his abilities. He will be pushing, propelling or thrusting himself forward. The energy will be carrying through.
Engaging your horse’s core is absolutely foundational to correct training and long term functionality in your horse.
Forwardness is Key
Unfortunately, so many riders only look for the end result. The finished product. They will short cut the process of getting the result so that it ‘looks’ right. The obsession with ‘on the bit’ is all about this end result. Rather make sure that your horse is moving forward and thinking forward.
Think of your horses back being like an electrical cable or water pipe. This cable or pipe will only be able to deliver the capacity of what that particular size can carry. In order to deliver or move more, the pipe or cable will have to expand or multiply.
With your horses back, he must strengthen or develop in order for his body to successfully deliver more energy from back to front. In order for him to remain ‘engaged’ and moving forward.
Removing ‘The Blockage’…
In my experience, blockages can show up in two different ways. A lack of consideration from the rider with regards to what it takes for the horse to truly ‘engage’ and carry himself. And also, too much interference, whether intentional or not, from the rider!
Most riders understand this concept of energy, strength and development. Unfortunately many make the mistake of expecting too much too soon. You know that one day in the gym, no matter how many hours you spend, it will not suddenly result in you being able to lift enormous amounts of weights. Your horse is the same.
One or two days of training will not suddenly result in your horse being able to engage and carry himself for prolonged periods when being worked and ridden. It will take time.
As mentioned, the second way energy can be blocked is due to the riders blocking it!. This is often due to fidgeting, shuffling, twisting, turning, digging holes with their seat bones… All of the things that cause the energy to leak out and fail to flow through.
When the energy fails to flow through, the horse never improves or strengthens his core.
Start with Short Periods
So, to develop your horse correctly and begin building his core strength, you will have to start somewhere. Start small. A stride or two initially. Many riders think ‘short periods’ and 20 minutes is their idea of short… I challenge you to try ‘planking’ for 20 minutes when you have never really planked before.
Depending on what you’re doing, 20 minutes can sometimes feel like a lifetime! The same applies to your horse.
Asking for too much too soon will result in your horse’s body looking for short cuts. Easier ways to do the things that he is doing. Unfortunately for you, these easier ways are rarely the correct or right ways. So, keep things short and sweet and focus on riding a few correct strides at a time. Then learning to string those ‘good’ strides together in order to create longer periods of engaged work.
Start with the Halt
I am going to suggest that you begin paying more attention to each halt. The quality of each halt that happens when you are riding. Earlier I mentioned how important forwardness is, both physically moving forward and thinking forward. The halt is no different.
When a horse is thinking forward in a halt, the energy remains ‘engaged’ within his body. It is there, ready and waiting to be directed when the rider chooses to do so.
That, of course, is a ‘good’ halt (there’s that word again!). The horse looks focused on the task. He looks eager. The contact between horse and rider has in no way diminished. Which brings me to the rider of the horse who has halted so nicely. They, too, are carrying themselves. Being responsible for their own body and their own contribution to this wonderful halt which has occurred…
This is very different from the horse who ‘falls’ into the halt. The energy has left, usually leaked out or, sometimes, spilled out somewhere while getting into a halt. The back end is ‘open’. The front end is in fierce resistance to the rider’s efforts towards the contact.
And the rider… Oh, the rider is bearing down, usually crooked as an S hook. Lost in a pointless tug of war they cannot win because there is no one even holding the other end of that imaginary rope…
You Can Try This Yourself…
Wherever you are right now, I want you to engage your core. You can do this if you are standing or sitting. Lying down is not a great example, so if you are – please sit up! But standing or sitting, when you engage your core, can you feel how you ‘grow’ a little? Can you also feel how you become a little more present and focused?
Your horse has a similar result when he engages his core. He ‘grows’ a little, meaning he carries himself better. He also becomes more focused on what he is doing.
The stronger and more developed your horse becomes, the longer he will be able to maintain a more engaged core. Which means the energy can flow more ‘unhindered’. It also will allow more energy to flow.
I mentioned earlier how, often, it is the rider who gets in the way of the energy flowing. The rider causes the horse to ‘disengage’ through is core. So I am going to suggest that when you are initially working on this, you do so from a place that allows your horse to feel this for himself. Unhindered.
Working on the Lunge
On the lunge is the perfect place for this to happen. You are influencing using your aids. Your horse is responding to your aids, however, he now has space to really explore how it feels in his body. Without the rider tainting the end result!
But there is one caveat to this; you must be lunging your horse correctly and consistently in order for it to work.
You have to lunge your horse in a way that uses your aids to communicate just like you would in the saddle. Your aids on the ground literally take over from your aids in the saddle… The lunge line is the reins. Your lunge whip becomes your legs. And no, you don’t whip or hit your horse just like you don’t kick his sides black and blue with your legs! Your body position and language become your seat.
Correct lunging will allow you to work specifically on engaging your horse’s core, without you getting in the way. It also allows you a different perspective. The perspective of the trainer or coach, rather than the rider.
Just like I said at the beginning, steady and consistent work done correctly will develop your horse in a way he can learn to use his core. Once he has figured out what is expected of him, you can simply get into the saddle and then begin working from that perspective.
Lunging For Riding
If you are interested in go further with your horse on the lunge, I am going to encourage you to check out my digital program, Lunging for Riding – Results with Just 10 Minutes a Day. In there I will guide you through different exercises you can do, on the lunge, that will benefit both you and your horse when you are in the saddle.
And don’t worry if you’re not great at lunging; I take you step-by-step through the process. You will learn how to lunge correctly and how, in the coming weeks months and years, you can use this fantastic tool to continue working with your horse in a way that will only enhance your communication in the saddle.
This really affordable program is one that I want as many riders as possible to use and take action on. I want you to get the results that you are looking for. This program will help you do just that. It is fully digital and online, meaning you can do it from anywhere in the world. All you need is a horse, a small ‘flattish’ piece of land, a lunge line, a lunge whip, and an open mind. Find out more about Lunging for Riding – Results With Just 10 Minutes a Day HERE
Other episodes, posts, and resources similar to this one:-
- 4 Things You’re Doing Wrong When Lunging
- Why Your Position When Lunging is Everything
- Recognising & Reschooling a Horse who Hollows His Back
- Free Equestrian Fitness Challenge
- How Are You Showing Up for Your Horse
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