Can we play western?
My mom has recently found out that she has moderate arthritis in her hip. She needs to cut back on riding while she does some physical therapy to help slow the progression. Her 16hh warmblood mare who wears a wide tree just isn't really suitable for her any more. Her movement is too big, and she's so wide that it strains my mom's hip that much more.
So, next year Kasja is coming to college with me. My mom and I have always been dressage riders in the past, but since being in college I've been taking more western riding lessons. I'm thinking that I would like to try riding Kasja in a more western style with less contact, and try to start encouraging her to slow up her movement a little more. I know that she'll never be anywhere remotely close to having a little western jog or lope like the QHs, and I don't expect that from her.
My biggest concern is just that I risk allowing her to fall on her forehand too much by riding western. She is naturally very heavy on her forehand and riding her dressage is like a constant fight against gravity, trying to encourage her to pick herself up every couple of strides.
Just my perspective:
Traveling on the forehand is natural to most horses. It is where most of their weight is carried when they walk or trot on their own, and I don't see a huge reason why that needs to change with a rider.
Collected gaits, in my almost non-existent experience at them, ARE more fun to ride. And they make sense for dressage, and any horse needs to be able to momentarily shift weight to the rear to make turns or spins possible. But if you have to fight the horse, then maybe the horse is built to carry more weight on the front.
There is a difference between extended and strung out. My Arabian mare does both. When she gets strung out, I milk the reins a bit with her shoulder movement and shift my weight further back, and she usually responds with smaller steps. If I work at it a little, I can usually get her down to a slow jog, which she is actually very good at.
My guess is that she will take a little while to understand that almost no contact doesn't mean you aren't paying attention - but she'll learn fast. Carrying weight on the forehand shouldn't be a huge problem unless she has a conformation difficulty that predisposes her to front end problems.
Now as humans we tell ourselves that we know best, and that because they carry a rider they have to redistribute their weight and such. And who knows, maybe there is some truth to that. But the fact still remains that the horse was built to carry more weight on their front end.
If they weren't built to be carrying more weight on the front end they wouldn't be doing it on their own time.
By the way, who says a western horse has to be all heavy on the front end? Surely you can work towards collecting a horse in a western saddle? You can start out in a snaffle and work towards self carriage with the end goal to be collected on a draped rein. That is a worthy goal to aspire to. :)
Im not sure where you got the idea that western causes a heavy forehand.
A horse would not be able to work a cow, turn a barrel slide stop, spin and change leads properly if heavy in the front. It is very important for a cowhorse to work from the back to the front and engage his hindquarters properly, and work lightly and quickly. If anything else working a cow will give purpose and teach him to use his hindquarters and lighten up the frontend.
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I've never seen a horse walk around supporting most of his weight with his rear end. For a few seconds, in play or in turns, but 99% of the time - no.
If collection was the norm, it wouldn't require training to do it. We would have race horse owners asking, "How can I get my horse off his rump and running?"
"The center of gravity is a theoretical point in the horse's body around which the mass of the horse is equally distributed. At a standstill, the center of gravity is the point of intersection of a vertical line dropped from the highest point of the withers and a line from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock. This usually is a spot behind the elbow and about two thirds the distance down from the topline of the back."
Horse Conformation Evaluation: What is Balance? by Cherry Hill
"In horsemanship, the center of balance of a horse is a position on the horse's back which correlates closely to the center of gravity of the horse itself. The term may also refer to the horse's center of gravity.
For the best performance by the horse, as well as for better balance of the rider, the rider must be positioned over the center of balance of the horse. The location of the horse's center of balance depends on a combination of speed and degree of collection. For a standing or quietly walking horse, it is slightly behind the heart girth and below the withers. If a horse is moving at a trot or canter, the center of balance shifts slightly forward, and it moves even more forward when the horse is galloping or jumping. If a horse is highly collected, the center of balance will be farther back, regardless of gait, than if the horse is in an extended frame. For movements such as a rein back or the levade, the center of balance of horse and rider may be further back than at a standstill, due to the shift of weight and balance to the hindquarters of the horse
Accordingly, a saddle designed for a specific discipline will attempt to place a rider naturally at the most suitable position for the anticipated activity of the horse. For example, a "close contact" style of English saddle, designed for show jumping, places the rider's seat farther forward than does a dressage style English saddle."
Center of balance (horse) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
There is a reason why the US Cavalry rejected collection as an aim in training cavalry mounts. They concluded it simply wasn't appropriate for what the cavalry did.
That doesn't make training for it wrong, but it does suggest it is OK if a horse doesn't learn to move collected continuously. Horses don't break down in the front end because they don't move collected. Most of the estimates I can find say they naturally carry 60-65% of their weight on the front end. The hind legs, being at the rear, do not naturally support the majority of the weight - and thus that is not what they have evolved for or been selected to do.
Here is a nice article that made me realize that even if the "goal" is collection, how much time does a horse really spend in a collected state while being ridden? Not very much, lol!
Of sagging backs and tickling tummies
This is the OP's Kasja:
Notes from her page include:
"She was very spooky, and her previous training had been to lean most of her weight onto her forehand and into the bit."
"Before we bought her, Kasja was used as a jumper and a dressage horse. A few years after we got her, we found out that she was developing arthritis in her right front pastern. No more jumping. We still ride dressage at the normal pace, with walk trot and canter, but occasionally she'll have an "off" day. "
The concern is, "My biggest concern is just that I risk allowing her to fall on her forehand too much by riding western."
Western saddles typically put your weight further back than English, and riding 'on your pockets' tends to do so even more. And in my experience, a horse responds to this by becoming slightly MORE collected, not less. When I want my horse to turn fast around a pylon, I shift my weight to the rear - and if I'm in a western saddle, I'm already closer to the rear anyways. And the horse brings himself under MORE then, and turns with a lighter front end.
That would not result in the degree of collection taught in dressage, but it certainly isn't going to cause the horse a problem of putting too much weight on the front. And while MY horses don't do it (and that is because we have other training issues to work, such as 'Don't freak because there is a piece of plywood someone dumped in the desert'), western riding tends to emphasize stopping with the rear end, not the front - simply because you can get a faster stop that way.
Western riding doesn't seek the collection that dressage does, but it also doesn't put abnormal pressure on the front end.
I'll listen a PhD that specializes in equine biomechanics long before I listen to a bunch of internet rationalizations by people who don't have .001% of her knowledge and experience.
Now, I'm no vet, chiropractor, or biomechanics expert, but this is what one of my riding instructors had me do as an illustration.
Consider sitting on your hands and knees. At rest, most of your weight is on your hands, correct? If you tried to keep the same posture and take the support of your hands away, you would fall on your nose. At rest, consider having that weight on your fingertips instead of your knuckles or palms. Pretty uncomfortable. It's even harder if you try to stand still on all fours with your back hollow and your head cranked up and back.
Now, consider moving forward on your hands and knees. Your weight is automatically going to shift back to a degree -- it has to, or you wouldn't be going anywhere at all. You can even move forward on your fingertips pretty easily if you're moving forward.
Try doing all of the above with a little kid sitting on your back -- it's much harder, isn't it? You have to balance yourself and the child, even if the kid isn't trying to hang upside down underneath you. That's when crawling on hands and knees gets harder and the unconscious weight shift becomes more difficult to accomplish and maintain without building up the muscles to do it. Most any parent/big sibling knows how much easier piggyback rides are to give to "good riders" versus wriggling sacks of potatoes.
The horse does the same basic thing all the time. No, it isn't a passage, or a levade, but it is a shift of weight rearward. Collection in the dressage sense is very specific -- dressage riders want to ultimately have the weight evenly distributed across all 4 legs, even entirely over the hinds (levade). In the western riding world, the requirements for what is considered "collection" are less stringent, but the basic concepts are the same. Dressage just takes what happens naturally to an ideal that is required for the horse to do the maneuvers required of the sport at whatever given level. We (general we) all promote a degree of "collection" in riding as a way to allow the horse to carry us more comfortably for a longer time, and also to be as athletic as they can be at liberty (even when they aren't "collected" in the dressage sense of their own accord) at the rider's will and his/her added weight.
Eolith, I don't see any reason why dabbling in Western would do any harm to your horse's posture or progress with traveling less on the forehand. Just keep similar considerations in mind regarding her posture as you do in English tack; encourage her to stay round, forward, moving with impulsion, responsive to the aids, etc. :wink:
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