The Power of Walk


Sit down with a nice cup of tea and have a read of Diana's latest horsey posts.

The Mindful Stretch

Nov 29, 2023

I have watched lessons when the horse was not allowed to stretch except at the start and the end of the lesson. I have watched lessons when the horse wasn’t allowed to stretch at all. I have watched lessons where the horse is allowed to stretch occasionally for a break.What I don’t see very often is the stretch being used as an integral part of the training.Let me explain why this is not just useful but vital. The rider can guide the horse into a suitable posture, and if skilled can even feel whether the posture is likely to be optimum for the horse. But only the horse can experience what the posture creates in their body. By moving in and out of the posture, the horse gets a deep felt sense of what feels good. By moving frequently in and out of collection, the horse begins to find it much easier and even intuitive, to move into collection from any posture. By frequently stretching and relaxing the muscles, they are revitalised and released, and much more able to be built up correctly without compensations forming from tiredness.A stretch is not just a throw away of the reins. A stretch is a subtle dance of communication. The stretch belongs to the horse. The stretch is taken forward by the horse and tells the rider about what the horse was experiencing prior to the stretch. If a horse has been bracing and hollowing and has been shown how to release the poll and jaw, a first stretch may come a little behind the vertical as the horse continues to release down in the opposite direction from the brace, undoing all of the tension that had been held there. Repeated a few times, eventually the horse will take the contact forward, which shows us that all of that tension has been released and the horse now has confidence in the contact.The process is to release slowly by simply feeding out the reins, and then pick up again with soft independent hands, the seat and legs maintaining independent synchronisation.Each part of the pick up and let out are important.The pick up belongs to the rider, who maintains beautiful soft consistent contact, and within this may correct with a finger squeeze to release the jaw if it becomes braced at any point in the pick-up. The let out belongs to the horse, who draws out the reins in whatever direction they choose without correction. The rider simply maintains soft contact and allows the hands to follow whatever is offered, using the nature of the stretch as information regarding the correctness of prior work and whether more stretching is needed. The only correction made will be if there is a snatch at any point in the let-out, when the rider will pause at this length and carefully pick up a little, releasing the jaw as necessary before letting out again.I believe that the reason people don’t use the stretch within the session is because of the fear of losing what they have been working at. For example, beginning to feel moments of lightness, softening, collection, the rider wants to feel more of these and they are worried the horse won’t remember if they stop, or they feel something good and want to make it better and better. It can feel like allowing a stretch is throwing away all the hard work and starting from scratch. As a result, some horses learn to be fixed in one position only - they understand the parameters of the “right” posture and end up holding in the posture with a certain level of tension and lack of confidence.Coaches will often be super focused on something - eg softening the poll or increasing flexion, and will spend an entire session working on this. In their mind’s eye is a picture of what this should look like and in the back of their mind is awareness of the time ticking away and their need to work towards this goal so the rider feels they have achieved. So they forget about the horse and just focus on the end goal without realising they may need to incorporate movement away from this posture to get closer to it. A few moments of improved flexion close to the picture in their mind, maintained often with a degree of tension and tiredness near the end of the lesson, and with relief, the coach allows the horse to be released onto a long rein (via mindless throwing away of the reins) and rested.What the coach doesn’t realise is that if they had incorporated mindful stretch and pick up from early in the lesson, they would actually have got there a lot sooner. I find invariably that if I have a beautiful moment, sustained for just seconds before releasing into a stretch, when I pick up again the beautiful moment is offered with even more beauty and softness.

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