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Toss the gear! First, achieve relaxation & balance

Published: 12/2/2015
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.

In this new multi-part article, Skinner discusses the improvement of gaits, from warmbloods to gaited horses, and all equines in between.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

Part 1

Horse people of every type of discipline often believe their chosen breed of horse is unique to all others, and must be treated differently to achieve the type of gait they are searching for.
  • Gaited horse riders often suffer from the notion that a big “gaited horse” bit, weighted shoes, and the like, are necessary to achieve a correct gait.
  • Dressage lovers go to their side reins to achieve a rounded topline for those big movements they crave.
  • Western pleasure riders and rodeo ropers have their tie downs and various other implements to keep a horse's head down.
How many times have you heard someone say: “Well that natural stuff is all well and good, but my horse has to _____(fill in the blank). So, I have to use ______(fill in the blank)____ (fill in the blank) in order to achieve it?"

All these disciplines share one thing in common: 

In order for a gaited horse to gait correctly, or a warmblood to round over its topline, or a western pleasure horse to lope slowly, or a roping horse to slide to a stop in balance, they all need to be working from their hind ends.
Assuming the movement you hope to accomplish is natural for the horse (and that's a whole other discussion in which many things can be said), all of these types of horses benefit from being taught self-carriage to do what they were born to do in better balance.

The sad part is that all those discipline-specific gadgets often don't produce the desired result anyway. A big bit, weighted shoes, side reins, and tie-downs all create the opposite effect for which they were created because they have the effect of putting the horse out of balance and forcing it to work in tension in order to maintain its balance.

So, whether you're looking for a smooth sliding stop, a lofty trot with lots of suspension, a smooth gait down the trail, or good scope over a fence, you must first teach your horse to ride in relaxation, have self carriage, and carry you with balance. Once you've laid that foundation, depending on your horse's genetic ability and natural talent, the rest is just window dressing.

Part II: Skinner talks about teaching horses of all types to find the center of the rectangle so they don't need to be pushed and pulled into a frame, but instead, they hold themselves up.  
Read Part II
Read Part III

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12/3/2015 Rob
Why isn't it everyone's goal to ride with less attachment to the horse , just a halter or maybe no bridle at all, Stacy Westfall does it with balance, that's my goal. Nice article Amy! Rob

"In the language of the range, to say that somebody is "as smart as a cutting horse" is to say that he is smarter than a Philadelphia lawyer,smarter than a steel trap, smarter than a coyote, smarter than a Harvard graduate - all combined. There just can't be anything smarter than a smart cutting horse. He can do everything but talk Meskin - and he understands that." - Joe M. Evans, A Corral Full of Stories