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But we base a lot of our riding on theories and science, and if the science of horse physiology says what we are believing is wrong, then that is something to pay attention to. I've also read the sustainable dressage site for years and learned many things and thought a lot about the ideas listed on there. Some I feel are correct, others I've learned may be incorrect.

I think you need to have both the "feel" and experience of riding, along with the knowledge of scientific facts. In my job, we say "don't treat the numbers." The numbers are a clue that something is wrong, but since instruments are sometimes inaccurate, the measurements have to be supported by what you see and what you've learned from experience. If you can't say for certain the numbers are wrong, then you must go by the numbers. If you can support what you are doing with what you see plus the numbers, then you can be certain everything is right.

The theories I've read must be supported by science, otherwise they must be wrong. My husband is a scientifically minded guy (non-horse person) and also an athlete who has studied human anatomy and physiology. A few years ago, I came home from a dressage lesson all excited and began to explain to him about the circle of muscles. He said, "That makes no sense." I told him I must be explaining it wrong, so I went and read about it more in depth and then tried to explain it to him again. He told me that muscles don't work that way, that it didn't make sense based on the laws of physics, and that horse people were deluding ourselves if that was what we thought was happening.

If it is correct that horses need their head and neck in a certain position to have a strong back and to move athletically, we will see that supported by evidence. The studies will show this is the case. When we ride our horses, we will see their muscles developing better and that they can perform more athletically when they are moving with their neck held lower and the nose just in front of vertical.

What I've seen instead is that horses have better muscle development and perform better athletically when they are allowed to use their head and neck freely based on their particular anatomy. No matter how long you train them, they don't at some point begin to naturally carry themselves in a certain aesthetically pleasing way because that's the easiest and most efficient way to do it (I've been told this would happen from dressage instructors). Instead, when trained athletically they learn to carry themselves in a way that is most efficient for their body type and structure, as long as the rider and tack don't interfere.


In education I conducted experiments myself, which were then reviewed. I had to learn physiology, kinesiology and biology. Only in my job, when I had to put what I learned into practice, then and only then, could I discern what was reality and what needed to remain in textbooks and studies. In a way it was very mentally liberating because it meant it was okay to think for myself.

In any "study" How many of the horses they tested were post legged? What were the ratios of the cannon to the fetlock? What breed were they? Were any of them cow hocked and to what degree? Any sickle hocked, pigeon toed, **** footed? What was the ratio of the neck to the barrel to the croup in the horses they tested? Were any of them paddlers? How big was their head as a percentage of body weight? Were their croups level with their withers? Did they have shark fin withers or mutton withers? Where did the neck tie into the chest? What was the width of the pelvis in comparison to the shoulders? How much prior training did they have? Any pasture puffs? What environment; plains, stall, mountains, hills did they spend most of their time in? Were they shod or barefoot? How tall were the horses? What was their leg length in comparison to their overall height? How old were they? Did any of them ever have any injuries? Where do their tails tie into the croup?

On this we appear to agree: Form follows function. It is why equestrians often get caught up in using certain breeds for certain things and look for "good" conformation. That result did not come about because of any study, but because of results. A TWH for instance does not move like an Arabian and forcing it to do so may not only be an exercise in futility (experience), but dangerous to the long term well being of the animal (science).

All of those things listed above can have an effect on the measurements and also be confounding factors if not otherwise accounted for in the results. That is where our own assessment of a particular situation (feel) needs to kick in. Your horse’s conformation and listening to what the horse is telling you will dictate how best to obtain a particular result or if that result is even possible.

My point is that “Science” needs to be taken with a grain of salt, never as absolute predicate for your action.
 

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Aside from the fact that the horse in the George Morris example that bsms posted wouldn't even get placed in the top 10 against the modern day dressage horse if you read his comment - 'wonderful elasticity of the horses back' you would understand that the horse doesn't have a hollow back from poor action but excellent muscles from good training that will allow him to raise, lower and stretch his back to suit the particular movement being asked of him during the test - I'm sure if you saw the same horse performing something different you'd see another outline entirely
A horse that consistently works with a hollow neck and back will always be putting a strain on the sacroiliac area resulting in the poor topline people are frequently asking for advice on 'how to fix'
This horse that gottotrot posted has a high head carriage but that back is stretched not hollowed or bracing- again not an example of poor back muscles but really powerful strong ones - something you'll often see in showjumpers jumping big spreads
 

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A long but interesting thread.

As I have recently gone back to "square one" with my horse, trying to find out where her core problem is, I have been riding in her normal frame. And what I'm coming to believe, and also get from this thread, is that the idea that a rider can actually change, or should change, the horse's natural way of going, is, if not wrong, at least problematic.

Horses know how to move! I conclude, one should not train for a movement which is outside a horse's natural range, but develop what he's capable of. Any horse can be "light" and responsive, and have a more-or-less lifting impulsion; but in this state, each horse will, and should, have his own unique look, according to his own anatomy and spirit.
 

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A long but interesting thread.

As I have recently gone back to "square one" with my horse, trying to find out where her core problem is, I have been riding in her normal frame. And what I'm coming to believe, and also get from this thread, is that the idea that a rider can actually change, or should change, the horse's natural way of going, is, if not wrong, at least problematic.

Horses know how to move! I conclude, one should not train for a movement which is outside a horse's natural range, but develop what he's capable of. Any horse can be "light" and responsive, and have a more-or-less lifting impulsion; but in this state, each horse will, and should, have his own unique look, according to his own anatomy and spirit.

I think the object is to have a hrose that is capable of moving as he pleases AND as the rider pleases.

going down a steep , rocky, rooty trail, my mount would rather just string out and trot down it. It's easiest for him in the sense that it takes less muscle exertion. it's harder on his legs, more likely to result in a trip, and a lot less comfortable to me. I need him to be able to slow himself, exert the muscle strength necesary to hold his descent and rock back onto his hind end and do a controlled descent, able to stop at any time and back up the hill if I ask.

now, I wouldn't expect that if it was impossible for him to control, or if I was riding a Man from Snowy River race, but it IS better for him to be shaped, in this context, and it's a lot better for me.
 

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Discussion Starter #45
And what I'm coming to believe, and also get from this thread, is that the idea that a rider can actually change, or should change, the horse's natural way of going, is, if not wrong, at least problematic.
Horses know how to move! I conclude, one should not train for a movement which is outside a horse's natural range, but develop what he's capable of. Any horse can be "light" and responsive, and have a more-or-less lifting impulsion; but in this state, each horse will, and should, have his own unique look, according to his own anatomy and spirit.
This is also the conclusion I've been coming to. Which goes against a lot of the competitive world, and also the common idea of getting a horse to carry himself a certain way that looks right to us and justifying it based on the theories of the arched back, the bow and string, etc.

Most of what everyone writes supports the idea of the horse as an individual. As greentree says bracing against an overcheck will not teach a horse to use his muscles as they were naturally meant to develop. Neither will bracing against a bit in a "rounded and low" form. If a horse is not comfortable with moving with an arched neck that stretches forward, forcing that movement will not create the correct muscles for good movement (been there, tried that). If you want a horse to look that way, you can buy horses from a few different breeds that are bred to balance that way.

Lightness is very important. I have tried with many horses to work them and develop the muscles properly by teaching them to use their bodies. I'm learning the best way to develop correct movement is to get the horse working without the rider or tack getting in the way. If the saddle doesn't fit or the horse braces, you can't develop the horse properly. If the rider doesn't stay with the horse's center of gravity or rides crookedly, the horse can't develop properly. You can improve a horse's movement. But you can't do that by tying them into the position you want and working them in that way. That will degrade their movement. At first it may appear brilliant, but it will degrade over time (as with Totilas).
Totilas. How a Magnificent Stallion Became a Poor Creature. | Bee and the Horse

Many people who show Arabs believe the breed should move like this:

Not like this:

In the top photo the pairs of legs are not even moving together at the trot. The neck muscles are bracing. It looks more glamorous, but is it really better for the horse?
 

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This is a picture of Bandit before he came to me:



Notice how the high neck position has hollowed his back? I haven't. And when I'm on his back, and he puts his head up this high, his back barely tenses. I know how he feels tense - darn near every time we start a trot, although he is getting better. But he can put his head up like that and not tense his back.

The bottom line in terms of function is he cannot invert his back to any significant degree. He can tilt down at the pelvis a little, with the rest of the back remaining fairly straight, which is about as inverted as a horse can get.

Any horse CAN brace their back, and Bandit does it with disturbing consistency when we start a trot. I'm not a fan of the 20% rule, but I think I can say an 800 lb horse has no business trotting 6-12 miles with a 220lb rider and 30 lb saddle! Mia would brace her back when nervous about what was ahead. Light on the front end, but with a rigid back. Bandit, OTOH, tends to stay pretty loose in the back with his neck almost straight up.

But hollowed? The back isn't built to hollow significantly, nor to "round" up. It can MOVE up, but not ROUND up. And when someone realizes the horse is raising his front end, and not rounding his back into an arch, that more accurate mental picture helps to understand what the horse is doing and why it is hard.

"Going down a steep , rocky, rooty trail, my mount would rather just string out and trot down it. It's easiest for him in the sense that it takes less muscle exertion. It's harder on his legs, more likely to result in a trip, and a lot less comfortable to me."

That is interesting. Mia, Trooper, Cowboy and now Bandit have all figured out a steep descent means go slow. I think trotting down DID hurt their legs, and they decided to stop doing it. Bad judgment creates experience, and experience creates good judgment, and good judgment is one of my goals for training my horses - for THEM to have it, if not me!

I have no objection to anyone wanting to teach collected gaits. As long as they do so without hurting their horse, and their horse seems happy, then I am happy for them. I've ordered two dressage books, one by Mr Racinet, which should arrive tomorrow. I'll be interested in how he says one can teach a horse collection!

I'm not a horse sport enthusiast, so it is hard for me to relate to someone who loves riding in an arena and working on things like flying lead changes and collected gaits. I don't object to them, although I don't really understand either.

My objection is when people talk about "rounded" horses - which too often results in the Slinky Theory of Training. Or the belief that a collected horse is "balanced", and an uncollected horse is "bad". I object to the idea that the theory of dressage has universal application, and that riders NEED to learn dressage theory to become good riders.

To be honest, I increasingly object to the idea of putting a horse "on the bit", because a horse can be very responsive and controlled while "off the bit". But what they do with their horses remains their business, as long as they are not hurting their horses - and good dressage training will NOT hurt the horse.

However, some of the foundational thought of dressage - shifts in balance, rounding, on the bit - needs some reevaluation in light of what we now know about how horses move. Long and low training may need reevaluating as well.
 

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I've ridden quite a few show arabs in the US and most of them were trained to have a fixed headset - that is not remotely the same as training a horse to come into a collected frame when asked and neither is using something like rolkurr.
The other Arabian is just looking up and ahead on a trail - something I'd expect of any horse - including one that's trained to work in a collected frame
I'm struggling with this idea that some of you have where you seem to believe that a horse that's schooled to work in collection is always ridden in collection - riding in 'contact' is NOT collection
A horse that's over developed on the underside of its neck is a horse I would never buy because its a sign that they have a tendency to get above the bit to avoid it and then brace themselves - the pressure of the bit goes up into the corner of the mouth instead of on the bars and they can be impossible to stop if they decide to take off with you
 

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Part of the problem for most of us is that we acquire horses which have already been ridden, have formed habits, what I'll call "protective postures" and other ways of going we'd like to change.

In my experience, most young horses will not trot down a steep hill unless they're running with the herd. They are cautious. Of course we want then to stay in balance, with our weight. I believe that taking a young horse on easy rides with increasingly steep downhills would result in a balanced downhill horse. So much better than having to pull on the reins to get him to come together.

Re-schooling is much easier with a good, steady bit-connection, along with body/seat aids. It's why I think being "on the bit" --- that is, being able to pick up a communication with your horse (much like taking someone's hand) is one of the first things I want to teach a horse. I want it there if my horse wants to rush downhill, or there's something spooky ahead. It's not a Magical Collection device. It's not something you maintain throughout a ride, either, in casual riding. But when you do take up the reins, you're asking for full attention: something is going to happen, some task is going to be asked for.
 

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Discussion Starter #50
I'm struggling with this idea that some of you have where you seem to believe that a horse that's schooled to work in collection is always ridden in collection - riding in 'contact' is NOT collection
A horse that's over developed on the underside of its neck is a horse I would never buy because its a sign that they have a tendency to get above the bit to avoid it and then brace themselves - the pressure of the bit goes up into the corner of the mouth instead of on the bars and they can be impossible to stop if they decide to take off with you
I'm not one that thinks horses schooled to work in collection are necessarily always ridden in collection. But many people who believe a horse must travel with a "rounded back" in order to carry a rider without hurting himself follow this thinking with the idea that a horse must always have his neck and head in a certain position in order to be carrying himself properly. That's because they've been taught this idea that the back hollows if the horse raises the head and neck.

Many horses will comply with these signals and learn to put the head where the rider says, whether it be down and stretched forward or high with an arched neck. Over time, like a body builder they can develop enough neck muscle to hold the position for longer periods of time. This is often seen as success, that the horse is developing properly and as a sign that the horse is becoming trained. It's simply training the horse a position, and people practice it by giving the horse a period of rest and then doing the training again. Although dressage people say the rest of the world teaches a "headset" and that they teach "collection," I've been in both worlds and seen that it is taught in the exact same way. No horse ever goes through the supposed dressage ladder steps and then begins to hold himself that way without being held that way and taught he must in the first place.

If the horse gets his head and neck out of position, the rider increases the contact or half halts or jiggles the reins until the horse puts his head back where they want it. This practice is extremely common, and seen with both english and western riders. Many don't do it for the purpose of showing or teaching dressage, but because they feel the horse needs to be taught to move this way in order to not harm the back or to develop a strong back.

Horses that have developed the underside of the neck by bracing can be taught not to brace and to work properly. Many of those horses have been ridden in a tie down or draw reins. With the seat and legs you can teach them to respond to the bit, if their head gets high you don't brace, and lower the hands while half halting and driving forward, which helps them learn to lower when there is nothing to brace against. It's an uncomfortable position for them and something horses go to when they feel they must. For me it hasn't been a long process to untrain the habit, anymore than untraining the habit of curling behind the bit and running off or reaching the neck long and forward while rushing off. All are evasions horses learn to get away with and it just takes consistency to untrain them.

Several well-trained riders (and trainers) who have ridden one of my mares have tried to get her to carry herself where they feel she should. It amuses me a bit because I went through a long period of time trying to teach this mare to "develop properly" and did endless long lining and such, as well as many dressage lessons on her. She does not wish to carry her head in those positions where she can't see or can't breathe right, so will always thwart their progress and they end up riding her the way she prefers.

Being ridden on contact is another story. There is no difference to a horse's comfort if a rider has good hands and has a light feel on the rein that could be maintained if the reins were made of yarn versus the horse being on a loose rein. I ride with this type of contact and it means I can be ready to give a rein cue in an instant. This type of contact cannot be used by riders that try to use their reins for balance and bump the horse unintentionally.
Many riders feel that contact is pounds of pressure exerted continually on the reins which the horse must accept. Studies have shown this type of contact is stressful to horses.

My friend bought a horse from a dressage trainer. I'm not saying a good one. :wink: When we went to try the horse, she insisted we (my friend and I evaluated the horse) ride the horse collected up through every gait, even though we asked to let the horse extend so we could see all the gaits. Well, the horse collected well and moved beautifully. The trainer said she was afraid to take the horse on trails and had only done it once. It seemed ridiculous to keep a horse collected so we wouldn't "ruin" the training in case we didn't buy the horse, but whatever. My friend bought the horse. After several rides at home, the horse kept flinging her neck to the side like a nervous tic. The chiropractor came and both her neck and pelvis were out. My bias was that the horse was trained improperly with only collection and never extension, and this was hard on her body. She's a wonderful, very athletic horse now but she still has occasional back and pelvis issues. I know good trainers don't try for collection after only several months of training or insist horses always move in collection. But if this rounded neck and hip are so good for the horse's back, then why did this horse have such issues? She was only 5 years old and has great conformation. I believe the biggest issue is the force the rider uses to get the horse working this way.
 

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This is a picture from "Racinet Explains Baucher" - hardly an "anti-dressage" book:



I think it clarifies his thinking and explains the results seen in studies far better than this:



When you remove the lower picture from your mind and replace it with the top picture, you are free to focus on what the horse is doing, and hopefully train the horse in a more efficient, effective and easy-to-understand manner. The upper picture leaves no room for the Slinky approach to collection. It doesn't pretend collection is more efficient or makes it easier for a horse to carry a rider. But it does allow for someone to seek collected movements for the pleasure of them.

Collection - as in a sustained, collected gait - take a lot of work - both for the horse to perform, and for the horse to learn. Brief collection is something horses DO understand. It isn't wrong to want to teach a sustained collected gait, but it is a bit elitist to think other riders have never experienced collection (at least to some degree).

:eek:fftopic:

"It's why I think being "on the bit" --- that is, being able to pick up a communication with your horse (much like taking someone's hand) is one of the first things I want to teach a horse."

This is where we part company. There is no requirement for tight reins or constant contact to communicate with a horse. Your posture, your voice, your legs, your posture, even how SLACK you have the reins, can communicate tons.

Constant contact communicates to me a need to control the horse, rather than work with him as a partner. It is certainly needed at times, but horses can learn to go past scary things and handle traffic, downhill slopes, etc with slack in the reins.

I came across this quote in an article I read in preparation for trying to discuss balance and motion in horses:
"I agree that the net effect of hyperflexion is more to do with getting better submission of a ‘hot’ horse rather than achieving gymnastic improvement, but this cannot be condemned, as submission of animals is an essential part of domestication in general and is at the heart of what we do with horses (and especially in dressage). In other words, we make them do exercises that they are physically capable of, but which they would never perform in nature if not forced to do so by circumstances. If you are of the opinion that humans should not impose their will on animals, then stop your equestrian activities."
I think that is a fairly honest description of riding with constant contact. And I do not object to someone who wants to train toward "Submission of animals". We ride rather briefly compared to the total life of a horse, and asking them to please us in exchange for shelter and care is not unreasonable.

However, that approach precludes the idea of the horse as a thinking, rational partner. Mia sometimes made me wonder about that goal. but Cowboy and Bandit are both confirming it is entirely possible.

"I want it there if my horse wants to rush downhill, or there's something spooky ahead."

When we are in a situation that overloads the horse, then we do need to "get in the mouth" as required to prevent the horse's fear or inexperience from endangering us both. But from a training perspective, I want to seek out experiences that stretch the envelope without breaking it - a hill where my horse can find out rushing downhill is harmful without exceeding his ability to stay upright, for example. Then he learns from experience, and gains judgment.

There are equine sports where one cannot get to the upper level by trusting the horse's judgment. Showjumping, dressage and barrel racing would all be tough to do at a high level with slack reins. But as a philosophy of riding, I think we are too quick to "take control" and too slow to accept the horse as a rational being.

All of which is off topic for a discussion on how the horse's back works. But maybe not entirely off-topic, since part of what we are discussing is our idea that we teach the horse to move better when we conform his movement to our ideas, rather than let him learn the balance that flows naturally from HIS body!

"With the seat and legs you can teach them to respond to the bit, if their head gets high you don't brace, and lower the hands while half halting and driving forward, which helps them learn to lower when there is nothing to brace against. It's an uncomfortable position for them and something horses go to when they feel they must. For me it hasn't been a long process to untrain the habit, anymore than untraining the habit of curling behind the bit and running off or reaching the neck long and forward while rushing off. All are evasions horses learn to get away with and it just takes consistency to untrain them."

This. In my inexperience, I first taught Mia to brace. Then I lost control. To get control back, I needed to give up "control" and learn trust - trust I had already done a lot to destroy. Mia and Bandit both, by nature of their breeding, carry their heads higher than many other horses. But Mia only braced when I made it possible for her to do so, and stopped when I gave her nothing to brace against. It was freedom that gave control. I think Bandit initially found "freedom" disconcerting, but he is becoming a more forward and confident horse with it!
 

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Discussion Starter #52
The upper picture leaves no room for the Slinky approach to collection. It doesn't pretend collection is more efficient or makes it easier for a horse to carry a rider. But it does allow for someone to seek collected movements for the pleasure of them.
This is why I believe this is an important topic. What I would wish for others is that they might avoid what I went through, which was trying to force some horses that were not built to move a certain way to move that way because I was taught it was better for them. That's not to say some horses aren't built that way.

Collection - as in a sustained, collected gait - take a lot of work - both for the horse to perform, and for the horse to learn. Brief collection is something horses DO understand. It isn't wrong to want to teach a sustained collected gait, but it is a bit elitist to think other riders have never experienced collection (at least to some degree).
I also want to be clear that I am not against collection, at all, and it feels beautiful to ride. I just don't want people to believe collection
= a horse moving properly, or = the way a horse uses their back properly, or that it is the pinnacle of riding.

This mare was one I started, and she used her body well naturally. She was born knowing how to collect, and in the field would do canter pirouettes when she got to corners, and once I saw her gather herself by doing some piaffe steps and then leaping in the air and flipping around 180 degrees before landing. All for fun. She was built uphill.

Several horses I rode trained by this trainer definitely create that "round" feeling underneath you.

This mustang I used to ride was also built naturally uphill and could collect and extend very easily.

He was strong and could get on his hind end easily with a rider. He scared one of my friends used to western riding because he was uphill and she felt like he was close to rearing since he'd get his weight back so far.

This guy also collects easily, can shorten his stride tremendously and rock his weight back. He can canter and only move forward a tiny bit with each stride.

Another horse, my friend's warmblood collects the easiest of any horse I've ever ridden. He was full time with a very good trainer for something like 12 years. If you touch the bit and put your legs and seat on slightly, his weight comes back and he shortens his stride. Loosen up on the bit and drive lightly with your seat and he extends. He has degrees of extension and collection based on the strength or lightness you give him.


Then there's the horse my friend bought from the dressage trainer. She also can collect easily, since she was taught to move collected almost exclusively before my friend bought her. She is a queen of lateral movement.

I've ridden many other horses that collected very well. I remember a half Arab, an Arab and a Friesian that all made you feel like you were traveling more up and down than forward at times. I've been lucky to have people let me ride their well trained horses. And the backs do feel "round." But I'm learning this is an illusion, and I've seen that horses can and do develop strong backs without ever being worked in collection and even with what some would call an inverted frame.
Constant contact communicates to me a need to control the horse, rather than work with him as a partner...
However, that approach precludes the idea of the horse as a thinking, rational partner. Mia sometimes made me wonder about that goal. but Cowboy and Bandit are both confirming it is entirely possible.

But from a training perspective, I want to seek out experiences that stretch the envelope without breaking it ..Then he learns from experience, and gains judgment.
This is something I still work with as a delicate balance with some horses. I've run into three so far (two were not my own), where finding the balance is such a trick that it may never be accomplished. How to not have to control the horse that IS a rational, thinking partner but still wants very strongly to go, to run, to take over the pace when it is dangerous to do so. My goal is also to work off a loose rein at all times. With almost every horse I've found it possible to do this 99% of the time. With several I've found that was only possible about 75% of the time.

But for me a "loose" rein is rarely a draping rein, because I've found it necessary at times to help a horse that trips, to direct a horse that spooks or bolts, and I much prefer to be able to shorten my reins in a split second to have contact rather than have to reel the rein in. Friends of mine who ride more mellow types of horses seem to prefer a draping rein.
My friend riding in the left photo also prefers this type of non-contact.
 

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" I remember a half Arab, an Arab and a Friesian that all made you feel like you were traveling more up and down than forward at times."

And that is a completely acceptable goal if someone enjoys it! As long as they understand the horse is working hard, and that it isn't a motion that defines "good balance", it is fine.

" But I'm learning this is an illusion, and I've seen that horses can and do develop strong backs without ever being worked in collection and even with what some would call an inverted frame."

This. A horse can have a strong back and carry weight well without significant collection. Collection should be valued for what it is, and not for what it is not. It is not a way to make it easier for a horse to carry a rider. It is not more efficient. But it can be fun to ride, I assume. If collection is thought of as a continuum instead of binary - a sliding scale instead of an on/off switch - then modest collection is obviously fun for the horse at times AND it gives a better feeling ride. It tends to feel smoother and you are aware that your horse is ready to change directions or speed quickly.

" I've run into three so far (two were not my own), where finding the balance is such a trick that it may never be accomplished. How to not have to control the horse that IS a rational, thinking partner but still wants very strongly to go, to run, to take over the pace when it is dangerous to do so."

If I had the answer, I'd still have Mia! No getting around it: I never really cracked the code for how to make her a safe ride in the Sonoran desert. In the open country of the Navajo reservation, she'll do fine - safe enough, if sometimes quirky! Not much to get hurt by if she jumps sideways or tosses in an unexpected 360 here:



I miss her, but I may live longer without her. :-? It might be that she was a horse who WOULD benefit from a good rider using constant contact. I never had the skill to find out.

But in terms of how a horse moves, there is a lot to be said for allowing a horse to figure it out himself. For example:

Another explanation of the preferred speed was offered by Hoyt and Taylor (9). In their ponies, the relationships between Vÿ O2 and speed are described as curvilinear. The relevance of linear vs. curvilinear relationships between metabolism and speed is important when an animal’s CT or the mass-specific cost of moving a unit distance is calculated. If Vy O2 increases linearly with speed, then the slope of this relationship (which equals CT) is constant and independent of speed. In a curvilinear relationship, there is a speed where CT reaches a minimum value.

In the pony study, this speed of minimum CT, i.e., highest metabolic economy, coincided with the animal’s preferred speed.

In the present study, we found that the relationships between metabolism and speed (Fig. 1) were better fit by a curvilinear equation resulting in a speed where CT was minimum (Fig. 2). This speed where movement was most economical was virtually identical to the preferred speed of the horses analyzed.

What happens when the horse carries an additional mass? Adding mass to an animal increases the force that must be generated by muscles (4) and increases metabolic rate proportionately in a number of animals (15), including the horse (16). In our study, addition of a 85-kg weight saddle [187 lbs], equal to an average of 19% of the animals’ body masses, increased the metabolic rate an average of 17.6%, close to the predictions by Taylor et al. (15)...Again, the speed that produced a minimum CT for the horses with a load occurred at a speed that correlated well with their measured preferred speed while they carried that additional mass.



Effect of load on preferred speed and cost of transport - S. J. WICKLER, D. F. HOYT, E. A. COGGER, AND K. M. HALL - J Appl Physiol 90: 1548–1551, 2001

My most efficient jogging speed seems to be about 7.5 minutes/mile. If I don't have the aerobic conditioning to maintain it, then I need to take breaks. But that speed hasn't varied for me in 40 years. It is just where I can jog with the least effort for my body type and proportions. It can be more complex for the horse to figure out [same study, different article]:
Not surprisingly, horses who are free to choose their own speed tend to slow down when weight is placed on their backs. Coupled with their investigation into metabolic changes, says Wickler, "we were also hoping to see a tie between metabolic economy and preferred speed."

In this phase of the study, seven Arabian geldings and mares were trained to walk and trot along a level fence line in response to voice commands. They were timed as they walked and trotted the distance unburdened as well as with a saddle weighted with lead shot. The saddle and lead together weighed 85 kilograms (about 187 pounds), which amounted to about 19 percent of the horses' body weights. Not surprisingly, the additional weight caused horses to move more slowly, reducing speed from about 7.4 mph to about 7 mph. "Not only does their metabolic rate go up, but their preferred speed goes down," Wickler says, adding that the most important finding was that the horses' preferred speed was the most economical in terms of moving a given distance with that added weight...

... Carrying a load caused the horses to leave their feet on the ground an average of 7.7 percent longer than they did while trotting unburdened. On the level, the addition of a load caused the swing phase of the stride to become 3 percent shorter, but going uphill this phase of stride lasted 6 percent longer.

In short, explains Wickler, carrying a load causes a horse to shorten his stride, leave his feet on the ground longer and increase the distance his body travels (the "step length") with each stride. All of these gait adjustments work together to reduce the forces placed on the legs with each step. "Forces are damaging," says Wickler, "so keeping the foot on the ground reduces peak forces and reduces that potential for injury."

- See more at: How Much Weight Can Your Horse Safely Carry? | EquiSearch
Only the horse knows how to adjust for a specific weight and speed. We don't even know what peak impacts and how long they leave each hoof on the ground are without extensive instrumentation - but the horse knows how it feels, and will try to adjust for efficiency. He'll do it like I have - without conscious thought, but trial and error.

For a human to suggest we know more about how the horse needs to move than the horse does is arrogance, unless we are doing so based on what we enjoy riding. It is OK to say we know more about how we enjoy riding than the horse, and that the horse can work harder to please us in return for food, shelter, care, safety, etc. But when it comes to motion and efficiency, we need to accept that the horse knows more about being a horse than we do!

BTW - maximum drape for me:



And, truth in advertising, Bandit often gets less (none) - although the amount is increasing as I learn to trust him and he learns to trust me. Trust is earned, in both directions:


 

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Agree: contact on the bit, or "on the bit", or whatever you call it, is all about submission.

But it's not like roping their legs. It's a learned submission. The horse is in no way forced to listen.

In a perfect world, you'd never need this kind of thing, because nothing would ever spook your horse, he would never drag on your hands, or balk, or rush, or move in such a way that he ends up kinking his muscles and hurting his back.

So many of us have horses that came with behavior we'd like to change, or with whom we've made mistakes we'd like to fix. We usually start with submission to the halter, and move to a bit. You don't have to use the bit. But if you do, it's surprising how many things you can "say" to each other, even with the mildest pressure.
 

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Agree: contact on the bit, or "on the bit", or whatever you call it, is all about submission.

But it's not like roping their legs. It's a learned submission. The horse is in no way forced to listen.

In a perfect world, you'd never need this kind of thing, because nothing would ever spook your horse, he would never drag on your hands, or balk, or rush, or move in such a way that he ends up kinking his muscles and hurting his back.

So many of us have horses that came with behavior we'd like to change, or with whom we've made mistakes we'd like to fix. We usually start with submission to the halter, and move to a bit. You don't have to use the bit. But if you do, it's surprising how many things you can "say" to each other, even with the mildest pressure.
I wanted to "like" this more than once, so quoting it is my second "like".

when I became a good enough rider to be able to "speak" to my horse through the reins, and hear him/her back, I discovered the joy of dialoguing with the horse, via reins and a bit. sorry, yes, maybe at times it's uncomfortable to the hrose when he wants to lean on it, or go somewhere I'd rather he not go. but, it does make for some amazing discussions, and when the horse is listening to, accepting and respecting what the bit say, he is on the bit, and that is not a harsh /tight contact. it's a close contact, like how two dancers hands push lightly against each other so that the leader can tell the follower where to move.
 

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We rode Trooper for about 3 years bitless. Mia too. We switched to bits because it is easier to communicate with a bit. With Mia, I ended up switching her to a curb so she could not give herself "relief" and bolt. Once she learned to hold her ground when scared, she started getting better. I am not anti-bit in any way. I'm not opposed to getting in my horse's mouth, not at all, IF there is a reason.

What I do not understand is staying in the horse's mouth continually. If I told someone "I need to constantly squeeze with my legs to keep my horse moving", I'd be told I was teaching him to ignore the leg. So with the exception of some horse sports where it apparently is helpful, why would I teach the horse to ignore contact?

This is what the horse experiences (when ridden by an experienced dressage rider):



Looks like the weight of the reins gives around 1 lb on contact. That is inescapable with a bit and reins. 8lbs for a half-halt. I can give the same cue by taking some slack out of the reins (not quite all) to communicate "Either ease off and re-balance, or more pressure will follow".

So, why would I want to have that "white noise" of 2-6 lbs of mouth pressure that I have to exceed before my horse can recognize I'm trying to communicate something?

"I very strongly believe that every one of us should think twice before asking the horse to do something which is not imperitive for the game to which the horse is assigned." - Littauer, Schooling Your Horse, pg 8

For those sports where it is needed, I say nothing. How can I? If someone says it is needed to teach a horse to do XYZ, and I've never tried XYZ, then I have no way of knowing. But if someone says it gives better control, or better communication, or helps the horse in some way for general purpose riding of a young horse - then my question is, "How?" Because my experience with spooky horses indicates that most of the time, they will learn better on slack reins - either by taking more time, or by showing them on foot.

I'll get in Bandit's mouth quite regularly to tell him, if needed, "We are NOT doing a 180!" But if I want him to conquer his fear and learn trust, I get it better by THEN giving him slack. The exceptions are emergencies (cars very close, a drop-off, cholla cactus near his butt, etc).

But I do not understand a preference for constant, continuous contact. In what sense is it different from constant, continuous squeezing with the leg? I'm asking. What do you communicate through continuous contact that cannot be communicated equally well outside the mouth? Bandit is quite capable of talking back via his posture, tension, ears, head elevation, etc. We HAVE continuous discussions while riding, just not continuous contact on the bit. Same was true of Mia. EVERY ride with Mia was a constant conversation! And she could talk very well with a curb bit and slack reins...
 

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But in terms of how a horse moves, there is a lot to be said for allowing a horse to figure it out himself...
Only the horse knows how to adjust for a specific weight and speed. We don't even know what peak impacts and how long they leave each hoof on the ground are without extensive instrumentation - but the horse knows how it feels, and will try to adjust for efficiency. He'll do it like I have - without conscious thought, but trial and error.
when it comes to motion and efficiency, we need to accept that the horse knows more about being a horse than we do!
This is true in endurance riding also. Many horses are more efficient over distance at the trot, but many are more efficient at the canter. One of my mares prefers the canter, and I've learned that many horses have slower heart rates at the canter versus a big trot. It makes a lot of sense if a horse does not have as much ability within their physiology to store energy and release it with tendon/muscle recoil and must use more muscle energy at the trot. Versus the canter which can be very efficient with the motion of the gut assisting with respiration and different use of the muscles.

Beling: Agree: contact on the bit, or "on the bit", or whatever you call it, is all about submission.

But it's not like roping their legs. It's a learned submission. The horse is in no way forced to listen.
And some horses understand very well that they are not forced to listen, and may sometimes choose not to listen. I'd like to say it was the original trainer that didn't get the horse to believe strongly enough that the horse had to listen. It's important to give the horse the illusion that you can always get the obedience you are asking for. But I think many horses may pick this up on their own despite good training, based on their belief that the dominance in a herd is never a fixed thing and they can always try to take over control.

I agree that reins can be good for "talking" to a horse. That idea was something I picked up as a young person reading Walter Farley books where he talked about the rider or driver communicating through the lines and described it in detailed language. Most of his books were pure fiction, but when I began riding this was something that I found could apply to real life.
When you talk about "touch," though, some people mean a touch that if you applied it to your dog sleeping on the couch wouldn't make him get up. Other people mean something more equivalent to a jerk or a shove.
To me it is a mere "feel" that there is something on the other end of the reins.

But keeping that feel or not should depend more on the horse than on the rider. Some horses would like you to talk to them frequently. With others, they'd like to be left completely alone until you're about to do something. One horse I know does not like you to use the reins at all, but if you're going to speed up he wants you to talk to him about it first. For him, you must give a firm, "Hello, hello, I'm here, let's go," before taking off. If you just leave the reins with no contact and then ask him to go, it seems to offend him and he will ignore you completely for awhile.

One of my mares is similar, in that she prefers to have a talk about everything before you do it. My other mare prefers that you leave her head alone, but she wants you to tell her with your seat and weight every step you are traveling. Literally, if you just sat there loosely she'd veer off the path and find herself stuck in some bushes. You must tell her to avoid things like trees or she'll just run into them. When you're riding her, she puts her brain away and expects you to do the work. But she lives this way in the pasture as well, with other horses deciding the schedule and paths to travel for her. Another horse has to say, "Dinnertime!" for her to notice and come up to the shelter to eat.
 

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Firstly - You do NOT have to ride your horse in contact all the time just because it understands how to ride in contact
Secondly - Contact does not mean that you've got the horse in a vice like grip - the amount of pressure you have on your reins isn't a constant, it changes depending on what you're doing. Really its more about the horse knowing that you're there and in control - not just a passenger with the horse in the driving seat.
I have no clue where these ideas come from other than some sort of a mental block when it comes to discussing contact and collection
Just because some dressage riders (and showing riders) never venture out of an arena doesn't mean they all do that, the horses on the Carl Hester yard are hacked out regularly and you can't get much higher than they are in the dressage world
This is a photo of a friend (cropped for privacy reasons) who does dressage and endurance with this Hanoverian x Welsh gelding. Navigating trappy ground on a fairly light rein doesn't destroy his ability to 'collect'

You also don't have to ride in collection all the time to get a good topline on your horse - but what you don't do is ride in a bad outline all the time.
A horse with good strong back muscles that protect the spine is always going to do better than one that lacks them
A horse that moves properly, knows how to carry itself properly under saddle and is responsive to contact either to the bit or bitless is always going to be a safer and more comfortable ride
But that's something you can only understand if you've ridden both types of horse - you cannot get that experience from a book or a video
Two horses - one that's got a bad topline but not underweight and one that's got a good one.
I know which one I'd rather do a days riding on
 

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A 'LIKE' is now where near adequate for Jaydee's post,

This
A horse that moves properly, knows how to carry itself properly under saddle and is responsive to contact either to the bit or bitless is always going to be a safer and more comfortable ride
But that's something you can only understand if you've ridden both types of horse - you cannot get that experience from a book or a video
Is so true, that feel, well it is something different.

I have ridden inverted TB's, I was young and dumb and don't know WHY we had so many of them, but they were darn uncomfortable, and somewhat dangerous, but what do you do when you are a riding school, you ride what they give you.

I've ridden a couple of nice showjumpers, they needed more contact than I ever realized, trying to negotiate my way to a fence the first time was embarrassing, I could jump, but I had been riding school horses, little contact, lots of leg, yeah, tried that approach, and get carted off around the arena, seemed I needed LOTS of contact and a steady leg.

Lets see, reiners, been lucky enough to ride a couple of good ones, still a ton of fun, but WOW, that is a lot of power, but my English ways really confused them, see they were beautifully balanced, with no contact. WP, also no contact. but very balanced.

Fergie, my latest ride, boy is she teaching me a lot, see she is naturally inclined to invert, so someone in the past 'fixed it' with draw reins, so now if you overdo the contact she will curl right up. For her I know that I am in fact shouting, at her, when I think I am talking, in other words she needs the lightest of 'twinkle' on the rein to communicate, I'm learning to whisper. She is learning that there is a comfortable place between, head up hollow back, and being over bent to a serious degree. I am NOT looking for collection, not yet, just connection, we have got her rhythm now, she is doing a lot better with relaxation so we are starting to ask for connection, and with those three in place we will be hitting the dressage ring, depending on her fitness, of both body and mind, I would love to take her up to collection this year, but I'm guessing we probably won't make it. True collection takes a long time to develop......
 
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The purpose of contact for the short answer is to have full communication and connection with the horse's entire body. If you're out on a trail it doesn't make sense to ride this way, it would likely interfere more than it would assist. Especially going up up and down hills where the horses needs it's neck for balance. It doesnt make sense for an endurance type ride, it is NOT the most efficient or best way to go but if you're a dressage rider, riding in an arena or field or a jumper and you're asking for 10m circles and asking for correct leg yielding, asking for shoulder in, actual collected engagement, etc. it makes sense in order to organize and balance the entire horse. A 10m circle needs to be ridden entirely so that it serves a purpose vs just a tight turn putting extra pressure on the horse's legs. We ride a 10m circle to strengthen and increase balance from the horse and to increase engagement and throughness.

In saying this I'm not saying dressage is the only way but I am saying give credit where credit is due. Many dressage horses never really develop collection. Collection is a process that takes time to develop the muscular strength and coordination to do so correctly. When we train horses to collect, we start gradually. We usually introduce the basic steps of collection at 1st level for example a basic reaction to a core half halt through transitions after the horse has already learned to work into a contact and maintain a regular rhythm to help them learn to shift weight as they gradually advance in exercises and gain condition.

The other thing with the one example of bit pressure is how much does that horse weigh? How strong is that horse to ride? How hard is that horse to ride? Is the horse very up and hot? Or how do I know this information is standard? I've seen trainers who are poor riders and amateurs who are skillful. Also different horses feel different in the bridle and need various amount of pressure to ride effectively, effectively meaning to influence the entire horse. For example my under 16h half arab most likely isn't going to be nearly as strong in the bridle as a 17h warmblood. Contact and connection should be like holding hands, it should not be fixed or stagnant or pulling. It's there to connect the entire horse to the rider and allow us to perform the movements of dressage in an organized, balanced and rhythmical way. A connection should be breathing, still enough to be effective but breathing to allow the horse movement and elasticity. The connection should feel elastic and not fixed.
 
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