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Amy Skinner describes "the rectangle" of self carriage.

Published: 1/20/2016
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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, Randy Rieman, 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

Read Part I, Read Part II

Self Carriage Part 3 : The Rectangle

In the last article, I discussed the basics that make up a horse's foundation:
  • giving laterally
  • untracking his hindquarters
  • going forward
  • going backward.
Once all of these movements with cues are in good working order, the horse can start to be asked to carry himself in a more balanced fashion. The concept of working toward self carriage can be introduced.

The rider can help keep the horse in balance by imagining a rectangle surrounding the horse. The rectangle determines speed, direction, and the horse's body shape. When a horse is working within the rectangle, he is between the rider’s aids, meaning between the left and right reins, the left and right leg of the rider, and between the rider's legs and hands.

When he is centered in the middle, he will feel light because he is not pushing against any of its edges. In truth, the rectangle exists all the time while the rider is with the horse, even from the very first ride, but the main difference is that a young horse needs a big rectangle, and as the horse becomes more finished, the rectangle shrinks.

As a youngster or green horse, the rectangle can be as big as a whole field at times, and as small as the confines of his body. It will change from time to time, as you may find some days he can't walk in a straight line, and can't be expected to understand the rider’s aids in the same way an older, broke horse would.

A finished horse should carry himself straighter and more vertically (meaning with more weight on its haunches), with a much smaller rectangle.

A horse that is centered maintains the speed of the rider as requested by his seat. If the horse lags behind the leg, he pushes on the back of the rectangle, and must learn to become more responsive to the leg and seat cues. If the horse rushes or bolts, he pushes on the front of the rectangle and needs help understanding how to respond to rein and back cues.

A horse who bulges at the shoulder or leaves their hips in during a turn pushes on the sides of the rectangle and needs support in learning to stay straighter and more balanced. All of the sides of the rectangle serve the purpose of helping us visualize the horse as it becomes more balanced and in tune with the rider.

The rectangle can travel with the horse as the rider asks it to change direction. When the horse and rider are riding straight and forward, the rectangle goes that way also. In a turn, the rectangle follows through the turn, so that the horse maintains the requested speed as the pair changes direction.

Photo at right:
Amy rides Ruby within her rectangle

The rectangle can go forward, right, left, sideways, stationary, backwards, and even up, as in over a jump. A rider going straight from a walk, to a halt, into the backup should imagine the rectangle staying on a straight line as all these movements are executed, so that the horse maintains balance and stays centered through all transitions.

As the horse becomes more advanced, the rider can shrink the rectangle, for a moment or longer, depending on the horse's level of education and strength. A rider asking a horse to carry himself in a soft feel shortens the length of the rectangle, asking the horse to get more compact and lift his back, taking more weight onto his haunches. As it is released back onto a long rein, the rectangle stretches again, and the horse follows the shape provided by the rider.

In order to keep the horse from pushing on any side of the rectangle, it's important to have him understand the basics of how to yield, and to ask of the horse only what he is capable of physically. For example, a rider asking a horse to get compact for longer than he has the strength to maintain forces him to lean on the rider's hand or leg, teaching him the habit of pushing on the rectangle. The rider should seek to always be teaching the horse to be lighter, more fit, and more centered.

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8/17/2016 Kiki

"No one can teach riding so well as a horse" - CS Lewis