Everything Else Tip of the day Training

Tip of the Day: The feel (and look!) of true connectedness, ‘over the back’ etc.

Screen shot 2013-09-19 at 14.02.51

The daft expression is because I was laughing out loud at this point because she felt so good!

We seem to have a mass fixation at the moment in the horse world with what the horse’s head and neck are doing. As long as the neck is arched and the face is vertical or behind the vertical (which is not good for any extended period of time, however many photos we may see of ‘top’ horses in this position) a multitude of sins elsewhere (not tracking up, not engaged, hollow braced back) are often ignored.

A horse working properly will have a soft, swinging, rounded back, and the feel you are looking for is very similar to when a horse has a poo under saddle. The back rounds upwards under your seat. I worked this out when a former dressage trainer of mine was riding one of my horses, who was being a bit recalcitrant that day. After quite a bit of work, Orville (the horse) starting doing a poo (at trot), at which point my trainer said “Ah, that’s more like it” and then realised it wasn’t quite what he was looking for yet!

Nevertheless, it was a lightbulb moment for me. Ah, THAT’S the sort of feeling you are aiming for! Wow.

Screen shot 2013-09-26 at 09.44.35

Same horse, same rider, very different picture (combine harvester a bit of a distraction!) The dip behind the saddle is very clear, as the horse hollows and braces the back.

I liken it to sitting on top of a mushroom, I find that a really useful image. It is slightly spongy and bouncy and rounded, the way a huge mushroom would feel underneath your bum!

Of course the hind legs should be swinging through, the picture should look balanced and, ideally uphill (depending on the individual horse’s conformation, age, and stage of training) but the most tell-tale sign is that the area behind the saddle should be soft and up (or, at least, flat) and not dipped/braced/tight.


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  • I love this post. So many only teach how it should ‘look’ not how it should feel. For me it’s like surfing at the tip of a wave that never crashes, just lifted and carried. Suddenly the horse is adjustable and i feel slotted into a willing back and carried in the horse instead of bouncing around ontop.

  • I suspect that many who teach can’t explain how it should feel, or haven’t really felt it! That’s a great analogy, Sally, thank you, love it. In the top picture my mare felt like a lovely bouncy ball underneath me, one I could do anything with, I’ve never had another horse feel quite like that!
    I agree about the ‘willing back’, some horses don’t LET you sit into them (yet, hopefully!), a solid back is impossible to relax into imho.

  • Love everything about this post except the word “connectness”! Please could we just use Connection as the noun from the verb, to connect….apologies from an old pedant

  • Thanks for this. Today I had parts of my ride filmed and when I looked back at them I was so disappointed in how my horse looked as it felt really good. ie nowhere near ready to do a test outline wise. But after reading this I had another look and she was tracking up, nice and active with a good rhythm. It’s so easy to focus on the pretty picture rather than how the horse actually feels. My horse has a (stable) thrombosis in her jugular vein so she struggles to bring her head onto the vertical but she was working nicely into my hand, seeking it forward but light and flexible. So now I’m going to delete the videos and enjoy the fact that she felt really active but relaxed.

  • Elspeth, I’m a real pedant too, and “connectedness” is a valid word, I didn’t make it up! If you read it as “connectness” then I can see why you object, however!

    Lyn, if she was swinging along happily and enthusiastically with good rhythm and felt great, that sounds like a super session to me, especially as it sounds as if she has a valid reason to find it difficult. The big picture is what matters, not how it looked for a few minutes in 1 session… 🙂