What if I was to say that suppleness is less about being ‘bendy’ and more about how energy flows in you and your horse… Would that challenge you a little? Or is this something which, if you think of yoga, makes sense?
If you sometimes struggle to maintain that lovely ‘loosey gooseyness’ in your horse, is it possible that you have been making it more about the bend, and less about the flow? Let’s have this conversation…
Before we get into this conversation, it is important to note that this is part 3 of a series about the Training Scale and how you can use it with your horse. You can read Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.
The whole scale is build on a foundation of relaxation, and that is where I want to start our chat today…
In The Beginning, There Was Relaxation…
True relaxation is present when the body is able to work exactly as it should in that moment. This applies to both horse and rider. The body is without any excess tension, which will ‘block’ or hold things back. True suppleness is when the body can move with the energy in a way that is fluid.
I think flowing water is one of the easiest ways to imagine suppleness. Imagine water flowing somewhere, it is fluid. It simply moves, moulds to, and fills up whatever is available for it to flow into.
That is what suppleness is about when we talk about our horses. And when this lovely looseness is present, both horse and rider are now able to use themselves to the best of their abilities. There are no blockages, no ‘struggling’ or being ‘fixed’. The energy that is being created is simply allowed to flow through the horse’s body. And the rider’s body.
Control Over the Body
However, if we don’t fully understand relaxation as a principle in riding, there can be a flip side to working on relaxation! You see, if there is too much relaxation present, so not enough tension in the body, you will actually lose suppleness. This is because, in order to be supple, you do have to have a certain amount of control over the body.
Yoga is a great example of this. It is quite physical and while you are looking for this suppleness, you need relaxation (the correct amount of tension) in order to maintain the suppleness.
When you approach working on suppleness in your horse as working on yoga for your horse, you will begin to see how the flow of energy is so important to the exercises. Focusing on encouraging a lovely loosey goosiness. And then, paying attention to how this will spread to all aspects of his work.
Suppleness Requires Flow
There are a couple of different ways we can begin working on suppleness for our horse. Yes, we can use a carrot or apple in the stable. However, I feel this is more stretching than actually developing suppleness.
When we want to develop horse and rider’s physical suppleness, we need to remember the flow. The movement. The forwardness.
What I suggest first focusing on, when riding, is to ask his back to become a little bit looser.
Types of Suppleness
There are two ways he can stretch here, longitudinal or lateral. So tail to head, or side to side. Both are equally as important. And while they are not the same, they can be used together to achieve an outcome.
Many riders will begin with a longitudinal stretching when warming up. They focus on lengthening and allowing the horse freedom of movement from his tail, along his back, to the tip of his nose. The goal is lovely ease and freedom of movement.
When riding, you can focus on using your aids to both encourage and allow this flow of energy. Especially using your seat; and the ‘swing’.
From here, you can then begin working on lateral suppleness. The bendiness, side to side flexing that happens when we turn, circle or bend. Lateral suppleness can also include lateral work. This will ask different questions of your horse’s legs; the joints, the muscles, the tendons, and the ligaments.
Through asking questions laterally, many riders will find that their horse has differences in the range of suppleness depending on which side they are focused on. Finding differences is a good thing. This gives you focus points to work on loosening up and strengthening going forwards.
Allowing Energy to Flow
When you are working with your horse, remember to think of the energy flowing, like water. One of our responsibilities, as riders, is to create a channel for that energy to flow. This channel starts at the back and flows towards the front.
Being mindful about creating this channel is vital to discovering weak points; leaks.
When your horse loses energy through a leak, it results in both horse and rider being negatively impacted by the loss. Over time if the leak is not addressed, just like leaky pipes, it will cause other issues and challenges to show up.
Addressing leaks means strengthening the channel. Both you and your horses. This will take time. For example, you may be initially able to maintain suppleness, relaxation, and rhythm on a 20m circle in trot, but struggle in canter. And, similarly, as soon as the circle decreases in size to, let’s say, a 15m circle, the relaxation, suppleness, or rhythm may be lost.
The ‘work’ becomes riding in a way that actively develops strength in both horse and rider so that the suppleness is developed.
Once the suppleness begins to improve, both horse and rider can move onto the next ‘step’ of the training scale; contact.
Find in the Gaps In Your Horse’s Training
If you are interested in learning more about where you might be missing pieces in your riding, sign up for my new free training “ FIND THE GAPS IN YOUR HORSE’S TRAINING“. This audio training can be listened to, via podcast app, to help you figure out where to begin working with your horse.
You can sign up and get it, for free, HERE
More, More, More… To Help You :)
- Find the Gaps in Your Horse’s Training
- The Training Scale for You And Your Horse
- The Training Scale for You And Your Horse
- Training Scale Series; Intro – Putting the Pieces Together for You & Your Horse
- Training Scale Series; Part 1 – Rhythm
- Online Community for Equestrian focusing on Planning and Mindset
- Equestrian Virtual Lounge Online Community
- FREE 2021 Equestrian Fitness Challenge – What You Can Do While You Ride
- Daily Strides Premium Newsletter