Line Up For Success
Tucker really had a great lesson last night!
Gabriel is a super trainer on the long lines for a start. Now, to all interested, he uses the lines on the lower rings and does bring the outside line behind the horse’s croup. He has a specific purpose for this as he uses that line to both help engage the hind end by pushing it along and also to bring the hind end in to encourage the horse to step forward more with his inside hind leg.
According to Gabriel, most horses are usually a “little slow” with the inside hind as it is the leg to take more of the horse’s weight when he engages. So, bringing the haunches to the inside encourages that leg to step under more quickly, and while at first the horse steps a bit laterally—like a haunches-in—eventually, he can be straightened with the leg stepping more under.
This gets a big tricky to explain. The outside rein also acts to control the outside shoulder, again, at first, with the horse in a counter bend on the circle. Keeping the outside shoulder from falling out keeps the horse from evading by letting the hind end’s energy “escape” to the outside. If you have ever tried to turn a horse that does not want to turn by just using the reins, you can perhaps understand the concept. When the horse’s head bends in the direction you want to go, if there is nothing to hold his shoulder and body from going in the opposite direction, he will go where he wants to go with his head bent where you want him to go. Using counterbend with the long lines keeps the horse from using that against you when you ask him to engage.
Now, a quick word about why I am not keen about using the lines behind the croup. At one point, Tucker bucked up, and sure enough, ended up with the line between his hind legs. Gabriel, who is very quick on his feet, unlike me, dropped the line and managed to maneuver Tucker out of trouble. He had a lucky break when Tucker somehow stepped out of the potential tangle, but still, it did happen. It was the only incident, but it’s the kind of thing that always worries me whenever lines are too near a horse’s legs.
Because he can run, Gabriel was also able to work Tucker on some straight lines, some serpentines, and some slight lateral work at the trot from behind. He was really pleased at how Tucker was taking the contact and more and more working from behind.
Both of us marveled a bit at how cooperative, attentive, and responsive Tucker was. He only got upset a few times and that seemed to be mostly because he just didn’t understand what he was supposed to do. I could see him trying to figure out every moment of the session and he completely focused on Gabriel the whole time. By the end, as he was standing, he had his hind end under himself as if it was just the most natural and comfortable way to stand square.
Gabriel was very complimentary both of his attitude and of his ability. “He really can do it!” he said, going on to suggest that Tucker is perfectly capable of the upper level work. As Gabriel had just spent some time teaching another horse to piaffe on the lines, and in working with Cindy Ishoy and her husband Neil, has gained a lot of good insight into longlining skills.
Tucker is, of course, no stranger to the lines, as I trained him on them before he was ridden. Still, for him to work in a new way with someone else working him was delightful to see. I can only do about half the exercises Gabriel did with him as I cannot physically run with my bad knees. Still, I can do some of the circling work and intend to add it to my training repertoire, such as it is.
Another interesting discussion after the lesson involve just how “high” the horse should be when working the piaffe and other in hand exercises. Apparently, Neil want his horses to be round and low as he begins to ask for the half steps. This, of course, brought up the evil word “rolkur” as we talked about how “deep” the horses needed to be. Gabriel said Neil seems to want the horses to reach to their knees, and said you can visibly see the horse’s back and entire frame round in the exercise. He said the rolkur he has seen seems to close the horse’s neck to its chest.
To my mind, by asking the horse to stretch “down and round” the neck is lengthened instead of shortened and does encourage the horse to lift his back accordingly. Rolkur tends to overflex the neck into the chest, and may well make the horse surrender to the bit, but it does not necessarily engage and lift the back.
I won’t get into the whole debate here. I do know every horse I have ever taught to stretch down and round loves it and chooses that as a way of relaxing after a workout.
Tucker seemed quite pleased with himself after the lesson. His eyes were soft, content, and decidedly friendly. I am hoping that part of that was that his back—stifle and sacroiliac—are finally feeling better.
I guess I’ll find that out when I next ride him.