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Balance vs. Motion for discussion

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  • dressage balance through motion
  • Motion discussion

 
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    12-06-2008, 02:36 PM
  #1
Banned
Balance vs. Motion for discussion

Just posting this for discussion. Note the bolded section.

Balance vs. Motion in Dressage
By Jec A. Ballou

The development of dressage horses falls more or less into two camps, with a lively debate dividing them over the proper foundation and training progression.

For example, should a horse in the early work achieve precise and stable longitudinal balance prior to developing the motion of his gaits? Or, should the horse learn first to push himself forward with loose and rhythmic strides before knowing how to balance and carry himself at all times?

The two prominent sides of this training argument are commonly seen as a German method versus a French or classical Iberian method. It is not as simple as that, though. Historical dressage traditions have melted together so much in our country that it is impossible to say any technique is purely German, French, or otherwise. There certainly are at least two prevalent philosophies regarding the dressage training scale, but it is fair to only loosely ascribe national ties to them. Yet, it is interesting to examine how the traditions may have evolved.

Modern trainers and riders-competitive or otherwisestrive toward the standards upheld by the F.E.I. And classical riding academies around the globe. With one uniform set of goals, it might seem logical to have just a single path to get there. But that is not the case. Each training system has its own progression to arrive at the same place. So, the question remains: which is the best way?

Sometimes, this question is tackled in forums about classical dressage versus competitive dressage. The former prides itself on a slow, tedious training program that teaches a horse to round and carry itself in an uphill manner in early work. The latter, meanwhile, teaches pushingas opposed to carryingpower in the beginning, and a primary achievement of horizontal balance prior to uphill carriage.

The difference in methods is sometimes wrongly referred to as balance before motion vs. motion before balance. But it is incorrect to say that one school of thought favors balance while the other does not. Both are in pursuit of balance; the difference lies in how each seeks to achieve it. A historical perspective helps explain why different methods evolved.

Prior to the French Revolution, dressage was expressed in ways that emphasized extreme collection and agility. The Renaissance and Baroque eras saw riders excelling in the piaffe, passage, and airs above the ground, the preparation for which included collection and shorter strides in early training. The very forward and thrusting movements like the extended trot, on the other hand, were only seen in carriage horses working to cover great distances.

For the most part, this changed during the 19th century when dressage became less of an aristocratic pastime and moved into the cavalry schools. Now, the equitation emphasized longer, flatter strides and greater adjustability of the horses frame between varying degrees of collection. Dressage competitions grew out of this environment, and therefore, the medium and extended gaits became part of the tests while the most highly collected movements (i.e., canter in place, etc.) did not.

At the same time, larger and less compact horses like Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods replaced the previously popular Andalusian and Iberian mounts. So, the focus became building thrusting power in these taller, lankier horses with naturally horizontal balance as opposed to an accented uphill body structure. The German system could be said to have grown out of this period.

A current instruction handbook from the German National Equestrian Federation states that by acquiring looseness and by stretching through his back and lowering his neck toward the ground, the horse demonstrates that he is then ready to be pushed into contact and to develop a posture or frame.

For those who follow a program like the German training scale, it is through motion that a horse finds his balance. But it is likely that in many cases the training scale is wrongly interpreted and has led to riders being single-focused on creating long, swinging strides and a low neck carriage. This possible misinterpretation may be contributing to an even greater division between todays prevalent training systems.

Modern-day author, judge, and clinician Charles DeKunffy believes that the hysteria of driving young horses forward has led to a decrease in riders awareness of balance. He said that he sees numerous riders chasing their horses faster with no attention to how the horse carries himself in the movement.

Teaching your horse balance before riding your horse forward is so important because forward is so misunderstood now. A forward-moving horse takes weight behind and lifts up in front like an airplane taking off. The horse must be balanced back into the haunches to take the rider forward, said DeKunffy recently.

For those who follow an approach that favors developing posture and poise early on, more time will be spent in the beginning getting the horse to yield his jaw, relax his poll, and release his neck at slower paces. Through this release and suppling of the front of the horse, he will lift his forehand on his own and will carry himself free of contractionsand therefore in a collected balance from the beginning. This progression differs substantially from the German training scale.

In the 19th century, the French horseman Francois Baucher conducted a series of experiments with a horse standing on two scales that arguably became the cornerstone for this theory that balance should be emphasized before movement. He asked the horse to raise and lower his neck to various positions at the halt and then measured the amount of weight on both forehand and hindquarters at each level.

The results of this experiment led him to develop a truism: balance must be obtained with no interference with movement while, on the other hand, movement in the act of being produced must not interfere with balance. This idea certainly influenced many dressage trainers in the past few centuries, even though it can be interpreted and applied in various forms.

Tina Veder, who has trained Andalusians and Lusitanos horses for the past 20 years, employs these methods to some extent at her facility in upstate New York. She recommends that for horses built naturally uphill, riders should focus on developing collection in the beginning of training. She believes that there is no purpose in driving a horse more forward than he is able to keep his roundness. From the start, her horses learn to go in shorter, more elevated gaits than the training of most young Warmbloods in a German approach.

She said that for her horses, creating big ground-covering strides in the beginning does not have any benefit. Working on collection and yielding the body and jaw, however, puts him into the balance that he will be perfecting for the next several years on his way to High School training.

We find when you have a horse that finds it comfortable to become round by nature, if he loses his balance, he can come back to roundness. Riders learn to bring them back to balance without tension, she explained.
Laying down this concept in 1949, the French riding master General Decarpentry wrote:
By first obtaining a relaxation of the mouth by means of special exercises called flexions of the jaw and getting the horse, by shrewd progression, to move in all directions without deterioration of the relaxation, the rider will have the certainty of keeping his horse constantly and perfectly balanced. Academic Equitation
He goes on to suggest a lot of walk work, because in that gait, a rider can monitor the form and poise of his horse, making it his primary aim to stabilize and confirm the horses posture. This form is not sought for a flattering appearance. The rider maintains the proper form and poise for each individual horse at the point where he is balanced into his haunches, light to the hand, and responsive to the aids. It is the foundation and preparation for all following advanced work.

This early concentration on the horses uphill form and contact is a notable contrast to creating balance by developing active, rhythmic steps (mostly in trot) and a downward posture in the horses neck, as proposed by the German approach. A trainer could easily be confused which method to choose, with two equally successfuland very different training systems available to them.

One system appears to balance a horse in the beginning by shortening his strides slightly and yielding his jaw, while the other seems to balance a horse by sending him well forward with larger strides and doesnt concern himself with contact or the jaw until much later in the training scale.

So, how do we choose among the traditions available to us?

In the end, the debate of methods seems to come down to the type of horse in question. We must keep in mind that each training tradition grew out of a historical context where particular kinds of horses were being prepared for certain styles of riding. Different styles and horses require different approaches.

For somewhat phlegmatic Warmbloods, an early approach that confirms forward energy and a horizontal frame seems to be the right recipe. But for a horse with notably uphill conformation and naturally elevated gaits, like Iberian horses, it appears best to capitalize on their ability to sit into the haunches early on. Also, since they are generally more animated than Warmbloods, more focus can be placed on eliminating jaw and bodily contractions, rather than developing a forward, rhythmic stride. And for horses that fall between these two types, perhaps a blend of both methods is best.
     
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    12-06-2008, 05:03 PM
  #2
Trained
I like DeKnuffy's approach, but I ride warmbloods so that is more natural for them. I do agree that there is a bit of hysteria right now about driving horses forward all the time, which is as "wrong" as riding a young horse too much in false collection.
Having worked with young horses and owning one right now, I think that the best balance of forward and collection is to ride the horse forward enough that he gets the idea of flowing forward. I strongly disagree with riding a horse "low" other than when you are doing a stretching exercise to test the connection, otherwise the poll should be the highest point. Once the horse gets these two ideas, then we can start riding with more collection. This is the part that becomes tricky and is where a lot of riders become aggressive and try to pull the horses into collection. Instead we must balance them in a much more (referring to the article) French way, but still alowing the horse the freedom of movement and working to develop the extended paces at the same time as the collected movements. It is really hard to explain, but I seem to have found a good balance with my horse, and even though he is developing a little slower than the FEI young horse tests do, it is because those tests are developed for the tip top of world class horses. Which is why I really don't like that they are available to be ridden at a show below a CDI level. (That however is another story)
I also have a theory as to why different methods work for different horses, other than their conformation. I think a lot of it has to do with the temperment and development rates of horses. My 5 year old (Danish WB X Hano) loves to run and play, and although easily focusses in our sessions, he does get a little bored if we are always working in the walk and on collection etc.. So how I allow him breaks is on a longside in a medium trot or canter to let him refresh himself.

I really think that you can't stereotype any horse because of his breed, size, gender or colour (how many times have we hear people complaining about their chestnut mare?). You need to asess the horse and his personality and really cater to the horse in how you ride him, and train him in the way that is going to be the most successful and rewarding for you, and him! There is no one way to train every horse, because they are like people, no two are exactly the same.
     
    12-06-2008, 05:10 PM
  #3
Yearling
Very interesting.

I'm not a huge fan of saying that warmbloods and iberians need different training styles--Horses are horses.

I do not believe, however, that the author is really all that 'classical', because whilst 'round' is talked about a lot, not ONCE is the lowering of the croup ever mentioned--one of the most important things of collection. Everything else--head flexed at the poll, neck held high, etc--is a product of the croup lowering. If you focus on training the horse to give their jaw and relax at the poll before doing anything else, you are training a headset and a frame. And if you pull the head up for 'collection', as the author mentions, then the horse will just let their chest sink. Lowering the croup causes the chest and neck to raise; raising the neck does NOT cause the croup to lower. The poll should move over the nose--not, the nose being pulled under the poll.

This author speaks as though most upper level horses in competitive dressage have found collection; in my opinion, most have not. Whether they chase their horse with a 'low headset' (just say 'behind the vertical', or rollkur') as German's do, or ask them to collect early on (working from front to back), neither accomplishes any form of correct collection.

The author also speaks of balance and motion being completely separate--here is where I beg to differ. You work within a motion, and when the horse is swinging and rhythmic (by no means does that mean chasing them around!), then they are balanced. You work to obtain a freely moving stride, and when you have it, the horse is balanced. When the horse falters or shortens their stride, balance is lost. Quality of motion begets balance; therefore, training for 'balance' and then motion is completely and utterly backwards.

Bah, I hate most competitive dressage. ;) But very interesting nonetheless!
     
    12-06-2008, 05:24 PM
  #4
Banned
I never really assessed my training as I had to develop it from my own observations.

I am not particularly fond of drive, drive, drive. I see too many horses being run off their feet ( usually by amateurs) and have their balance imperiled by this. My preference has always been to get them relaxed through contact exercises and slowly move them forward from that. In my mind unless you constantly pull a horse back, that horse will not lose its natural impulsion by teaching the horse to feel contact via lateral exercises.

I find out later that I am emulating the French system more. LOL It is interesting that while the two systems are based on entirely different premises and are as far apart as they are, they actually end up the same higher up in dressage to the point that in most cases you would not know by sitting on a French or Germany trained horse which way it was started.

Truly shows there is more than one road to Rome.
     
    12-06-2008, 05:31 PM
  #5
Trained
Quote:
Originally Posted by mayfieldk    
Very interesting.

I'm not a huge fan of saying that warmbloods and iberians need different training styles--Horses are horses.

I do not believe, however, that the author is really all that 'classical', because whilst 'round' is talked about a lot, not ONCE is the lowering of the croup ever mentioned--one of the most important things of collection. Everything else--head flexed at the poll, neck held high, etc--is a product of the croup lowering. If you focus on training the horse to give their jaw and relax at the poll before doing anything else, you are training a headset and a frame. And if you pull the head up for 'collection', as the author mentions, then the horse will just let their chest sink. Lowering the croup causes the chest and neck to raise; raising the neck does NOT cause the croup to lower. The poll should move over the nose--not, the nose being pulled under the poll.

This author speaks as though most upper level horses in competitive dressage have found collection; in my opinion, most have not. Whether they chase their horse with a 'low headset' (just say 'behind the vertical', or rollkur') as German's do, or ask them to collect early on (working from front to back), neither accomplishes any form of correct collection.

The author also speaks of balance and motion being completely separate--here is where I beg to differ. You work within a motion, and when the horse is swinging and rhythmic (by no means does that mean chasing them around!), then they are balanced. You work to obtain a freely moving stride, and when you have it, the horse is balanced. When the horse falters or shortens their stride, balance is lost. Quality of motion begets balance; therefore, training for 'balance' and then motion is completely and utterly backwards.

Bah, I hate most competitive dressage. ;) But very interesting nonetheless!
I agree with things bolded. And just in general find the whole statement really interesting! I've never though to explain things that way but yes, this is what we want. I find generally that in trying to "lower the croup" Is where a lot of riders start leaning back with their legs too far back, and again this just disrupts the true balance of the horse. On a truly collected horse, the last thing you need to do is lean back to engage the croup!

About the statement on upper level horses: I think it's funny how judges give awfully triangulating piaffes 8s and 9s these days! And have you ever taken a really close look at Salinero?? His hind end is about as engaged as my friend's 60cm hunter horse. :P
     
    12-06-2008, 05:38 PM
  #6
Yearling
Haha anebel! Completely agree. ;) I'm more of a french girl myself (minus Baucher--I think a lot of french classical riders wish he wasn't french! Lol). Also, if you watch Salinero you can tell he was trained with a whip to piaffe--he lifts his legs unequally. Lollers.

I do start my horses in a horizontal frame, however. I teach them to reach out with their neck--which facilitates them lifting the chest later on. But mainly, I offer many many stretches for my horse, both up and down. For a green horse, working in any frame for extended periods of time causes cramps and muscle strain.
     
    12-07-2008, 12:46 AM
  #7
Trained
I think... You can't have proper motion without proper balance.

:)
     
    12-07-2008, 09:34 PM
  #8
Showing
Very intriguing article. I'm going to make my post short, as my brain isn't 100% with me.. sorry! I'll revisit this thread in the near future and hopefully explain myself better.
They are two sides to the same coin that need to be developed, for the most part, together.
HOWEVER - most horses need to learn impulsion first. Forget the head, forget the "roundness" and just focus on getting the horse to swing through himself. Through this he will start to learn to balance himself with his rider.
If you get too hung up on balance (read: frame) you can inhibit the horse's natural movement, and that can be hard to train out of.
     
    12-08-2008, 11:49 AM
  #9
Weanling
About Salinero....
Does something else seem like really off about him?
I've seen anky riding him and something about him just seems so off to me I can't pinpoint it. Like he's fake, like his developement his collection, it seems so fake to me. I can't put my finger on it

Anabel is right...his hind it isnt engaged
     
    12-08-2008, 07:01 PM
  #10
Yearling
Equineangel, that's because she uses and supports training with rollkur. His entire training is butt-backwards.
     

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