1- Gentling the horse:
The horse must first become gentle, trusting and confident in both you and within himself. This is accomplished through building a relationship, friendship and partnership. Doing this requires us to consistently practice and put into play good leadership skills. It demands of us to face and work through our discomforts, pains, fears, and feelings of inadequacies, and come to know ourselves and the horse for what we truly are—as horses, humans, and as individuals. It requires us to step into the realm of the unknown where we can feel vulnerable and allow our senses, intuition, feel and emotions to lead us to our thoughts, actions and responses. This is how we can feel, sense, and come to know intimately the knowledge of unity and true communication. It is through this ever increasing knowledge that we come to know how little or how much it takes at any given moment to get a response or thought in the direction we are seeking. It is also through this knowledge of unity and true communication that we learn to become more aware. The more aware we are of what we are thinking and feeling, and what the horse is thinking and feeling at any given moment, the more we are able to help the horse keep his mind and emotions with us and on the task at hand. This helps the horse stay out of anxiety and fear and thus trouble.
The journey to knowing oneself and becoming a skillful leader are the qualities that can help the horse to feel safe and keep their own sense of unity with nature. To know oneself is to accept the Whole of life, we acquire this knowing by allowing and accepting the positive and negative to work together in a coming together to create the Whole. When we can be honest with ourselves and others, be authentic, and be able to allow ourselves to let go of ideas of right/wrong, and good/bad, we can start to be in touch with the senses, feel, intuition, and emotions that can truly guide us. These are the qualities of a skillful leader, and the horse must know that the person they are with is a skillful leader that can help them to feel safe and keep their sense of unity with nature and share that with them in order to become trusting enough to become truly gentle.
2- Education in the Halter:
We must help the horse understand to become responsive in the halter. This means that when we ask him to go, he goes with willingness and confidence, and he never feels the need to push through our presence or our aids. The horse is considered to be properly educated in the halter when:
Step into rhythm with your steps, increasing or decreasing his pace and or gait.
Step into halt.
Turn away from you (turning front quarters around the hind).
Turn towards you (turning hindquarters around the front).
1. Move hindquarters away from you in each change of direction, each up and down transition, or to rebalance the horse by stepping the far hind foot in a large step away from you, the near hind foot then steps up under the center of the horse, while the front quarters elevate and stay parallel to the ground.
2. Move the front quarters away from you stepping the far front foot farther in the direction away from you, and then stepping the near front foot away from you by stepping it across and in front of the far front foot.
3. Move both quarters forward and away from you, as in a leg yield.
4. You should be able from the lead rope to stretch and lengthen the top line simultaneously drawing the inside hind foot into a longer stride.
3- Lungeing and Working In Hand:
The horse learns:
Flexions consist of:
The flexions teach the horse:
A proper lateral bend consists of:
1. The horse will give the jaw.
2. Bend the head on the neck.
3. Move the ribcage to the outside of the bend.
4. Then they will initiate the movement by stepping the inside hind limb up under their center.
5. They will keep their shoulders square and elevated (not tip more weight to the inside or outside shoulder, nor drop their weight to the front quarters) as they move their shoulders into the turn.
A proper longitudinal flexion consists of:
The flexions teach the horse the basic principles of keeping their lateral and longitudinal balance, and non-resistance by methodically and separately suppling the jaw, neck, haunches, and loins. These flexions systematically work out the resistances in the horse that are caused by the horse’s natural sense of self preservation, confirmation flaws, or resistances caused by poor handling either through good intentions with lack of knowledge, or through means such as thoughts of training a horse through conditioned responses, or getting the horse to submit rather than allowing them the time to figure things out in their own mind.
5- Connecting the reins to the hind feet:
This teaches a horse to connect their right hind foot to the right rein and the left hind foot to the left rein. It begins as a half-halt on one side of the horse, or as the beginning of a turn on the forehand, and ends by being able to move either hind foot through the connection of the rein anywhere from a deep step across and up under the body, to reaching in a deep straight forward step. As you reach for your right rein, the horse should begin their movement with the right hind foot bringing it forward and across near their center of balance and vice-versa.
This teaches the horse the basic principle of connecting the reins to the hind feet, so that the rein can move the hind feet up under the horse’s center of balance while turning without the horse feeling confined and forced. In time, the horse will be able to connect each hind foot to the coordinating rein and reach the hind feet straight forward in deep supple steps as you reach slightly forward with that rein. Along with teaching the horse to laterally and longitudinally balance it also teaches the horse to always initiate the movement starting from the hindquarters.
6- Rein-back to forward:
When the horse understands this movement, they will be able to keep a balance of readiness to step forward and the elevation in the front quarters while in the rein-back. The horse will be able to step forward from the rein-back keeping the balance in the sit, or the carrying of weight on the hindquarters that they had while in the rein back. This teaches the horse the basic principle of carrying more weight on the hindquarters and builds the collection.
7-Gaining control of each step:
Once the horse learns the balance from working the rein-back to forward, we can then begin to rate and regulate the walk. We can from rein-back, as we begin our forward step, ask the horse to reach a hind foot in a big step forward while stretching the topline forward into long and low. Progressively from long and low, we can start to develop deeper states of collection and/or extension in the walk by adjusting the length of frame and the length or cadence of the steps, as the horse understands. For example, once long and low is accomplished, we can then from rein-back put the horse on the aids and ask for an engaged walk and progress to medium, extended, and then collected walk.
Eventually we can build from rein-back to forward into a deep state of collected walk by attaching our reins/hands to the front feet. For example, as the right front comes off the ground, you close your fingers on that rein with a slight feel of up a little higher and keep that foot up a moment longer. And you do the same on the left rein in time with the left front foot, while making sure you don’t interfere with the movement and impulsion coming from the hind feet. This creates a deeper state of collection through keeping the same amount of impulsion coming forward from the hindquarters while regulating and rating the front feet, which brings height or cadence into the steps.
We can also practice gaining control of each step while riding in circles and changes of rein by practicing placing the front feet where we would like for them to land while keeping the shoulders square and parallel to the ground. For example, while going from a straight line to a circle to the left, as the left front foot leaves the ground, ask that foot with the left rein to move over and forward to the left a predetermined distance. Do this by lifting your left hand slightly up, forward, and around to the left (opening rein), while asking the right front foot to stay in the ground a moment longer keeping the horse’s weight over that foot, by closing your right fingers on the right rein. Then ask with the right rein for the right front foot to step over in front of the horse’s center by taking your right hand slightly forward and around into the neck (closing rein).
It is in the bringing together of and building upon these seven stages of education that develop the balance in the horse, and it is the balance that builds the collection. It is through the horse understanding these stages and basic principles separately and then building upon them and bringing them together into the various states of collection and lengthening that brings the horse onto the bit and into self carriage. This is the foundation from which we can build upon and be able to accomplish all else we ever wish to do with our horses.
In the end, I am looking for a horse who knows how to come up into and carry themselves "on the bit" in"self-carriage". To accomplish this, the horse will have to learn how to balance himself in each movement, pace, and transition asked of him. He will also have to learn how to carry the weight on his hindquarters, not just use them to propel himself forward.
On the bit basically means the horse understands that as we engage our backs, our life, and feel the horse through the bit, the horse is to engage or take more weight onto the hindquarters thus lengthening the topline, which then flexes the poll forward and parallel, putting himself into your hands, into various degrees and forms of collection, and/or lengthening. As the horse does this, he can now carry the bit on his own with a soft flexible jaw, offering us his tongue instead of the jawbone, which allows us to ride the horse in the giving feel. This means that you are able to relax your back muscles, which will lower your hands and opens the fingers slightly to where there is no grip on the rein. The rein is gently pinched between the thumb and forefinger, while the feel of the mouth is gently felt in the drape of the rein lying across the slightly open fingers.
Self-Carriage basically means that once we show the horse the balance and/or degree of collection and/or lengthening, and the amount of impulsion required to accomplish the task at hand, he can hold himself in that balance without the help of our hands and legs holding him in that position. The horse is then able to carry himself in that balance with the more subtle aids of thought, feel, balance, and energy coming from us.
I feel it is essential to understand that in order for the horse to relax and give us his jaw he needs to feel relaxed or content and he needs to be balanced. When we are able to help the horse bring these two elements of contentment and balance together, they can then relax their jaw, offer their tongue and come onto the bit and into self-carriage. It is also essential to understand that the jaw and the hocks are intimately related. If the jaw is stiff, the hocks will not be supple and bendable. If the jaw is soft, the hocks will be supple and bendable; then the horse can offer deep forward reaching, or deep cadenced stepping of the hind limbs. The proper balance of the neck allows the topline to bridge and engage the hindquarters. This is the connection which allows them to work united and through themselves. Again it is through the mouth, from which our feel can balance the neck, elevate the front quarters, influence, shape, and elasticize the topline and engage the hindquarters.
The mouth is a very clear, precise indicator of what the rest of the horse’s body is doing, as well as telling you what he is thinking and feeling. Thus, whenever the mouth is not soft, light, responsive, flexible and feeling back to us, the horse is either troubled, resistant, unbalanced, protective, or in some manner does not understand. If any one, or any combination of these are happening, the horse cannot feel our more subtle aids. The result—the horse will not surrender his body to dance with us, and therefore we cannot clearly help the horse balance, nor can we direct the mind, energy, and feet.
When these two things of balance and contentment come together, the horse is able to come onto the bit, into self-carriage assuming, holding, and adjusting their balance as we ask for various maneuvers and movements. This is what creates lightness, obedience, and responsiveness to very subtle aids, and it is what contributes to the longevity of the horse's physical and mental health.
To create the conditions that make this outcome possible, it requires the horse to learn pieces of it at a time—pieces that are built one upon the other. To accomplish this, I work to teach the horse basic principles and build one principle upon the next. I do not try to teach conditioned responses. And I work to help the horse balance himself for each movement and/or transition while staying soft on the bit or in my hands, (which not only means his mouth is soft, it also means all his muscles are soft and elastic, therefore subject to being shaped, adjusted, and moveable) this keeps his back filled up in, and under my seat, and keeps his feet connected to my hands and seat. I work to balance the horse, which develops the collection. I do not work for collection to bring the balance. When the horse is in balance, soft, engaged, and ready to move freely, anything is possible.
The Seven Stages of Education
By: Clay Wright