Achieving Self-Carriage with Lara Beth
For the full article check out HORSEWYSE magazine 2018 winter issue.
When a horse has built the strength to hold himself in a balanced frame we refer to this as Self-Carriage. By teaching horses to use their muscles and bones with good posture, they strengthen their body and carry their rider with ease.
While some horses are more naturally balanced than others, carrying a rider lifts their center of gravity, making it hard to maintain strength and balance. Imagine trying to carry your school bag while doing a gymnastics routine; it would change your center of gravity too, I am sure.
When a horse becomes balanced under saddle, he will be able to maintain an upright posture while working on circles and making turns. A balanced horse will find it easy to stay in rhythm on any line required without falling in, falling out, rushing forward or lagging behind.
Good trainers work on all four parts of their horse. Last issue we focused on contact as well as the horse's head and neck position. This issue, achieving Self-Carriage requires all four parts of our horse to be working together in balance. The hind legs need to engage forwards, the ribs need to lift the back, the shoulders stay light and upright, while the head and neck search for a soft contact on the bit.
Let's start from behind... The Hinds
Engage the powerful hind legs forward, by activating and driving your glutes forward in your seat. Your glutes are the muscles that make up the back of your seat….. your bum. A good way to practice is to take your feet out of your stirups, lengthen you leg, lift your energy and engage your glutes as you allow you horse to walk freely from behind.
‘Once we learn to go with our horse, our horse can learn to come with us.’
We need to encourage the horse to lift his ribs, and develop the strength to hold his own back up. When a horse lifts his own ribs he is creating space for his hind legs to come forward and through. If a horse can bring his hind leg all the way under his belly, he will be more able to support his own body weight and the rider.
Leg yield, side step, shoulder in (lateral work) are all good exercises that teach a horse to lift his rib cage.
The aim is to guide the shoulders. The horse's withers should always seek to find the center of your reins. Therefore we can use our reins and shoulders to gently guide the horses shoulders. By turning our shoulders we naturally, open one rein and close another. Therefore turning our shoulders changes the center of the reins and creates a target for our horse to find.
The Head and Neck
The head and neck need to remain soft and supple. As we bring balance and strength to our horse’s body, his head will naturally lower and begin to seek our contact on our even, soft hands. Offer your horse a soft rein contact before you begin to engage and lift your horse forward onto the bit.
You will now be riding all four parts of your horse. It will take time for you and your horse to develop strength and balance. Remember: Self-Carriage comes from encouraging you horse to lift and engage forward onto the bit.