Missy is demonstrating a common tendency among Friesians and Morgans: all front action, no back end engagement or motor. Horses that move this way are not correctly using their bodies. I hold that flashy knee action without engaged hindquarters is not desirable, nor pretty. My dear friend and mentor, Bob Riley called this 'cake walking' although, unfortunately I don't know why. When I see a horse moving this way, it looks like he is dragging himself around with his front end. Wrong. Not Pretty. In this photo, Missy is heavy on her forehand, a result of improper engagement of her hindquarters.
In order to correct this, I asked the whip to use good posture by sitting up straight, lighten her hands by supporting her arms with her shoulders and strengthen her contact. Strengthened contact is not a steady pull but rather like a firmer handshake. By lifting the hands slightly, the whip encourages the horse to rock back on the hindquarters and transfer the balance from the forehand to properly engage the hindquarters.
Missy's hindquarters are better engaged here, she is stepping under herself and her top line is more level, but her length of stride is still not balanced and her cadence is off. [Her inside hind will hit the ground before her outside fore.]
The whip has lost a little contact and Missy appears to be lengthening her front end to catch up with it.
Same corner of the arena as the last photo, contact is more supportive, producing a marked improvement in cadence and stride.
This is a great photo to show how hard Missy is trying to get it. You can even see her thinking about the whole process. She is trying to be engaged, but wants to go back to her habit of hanging on her forehand. The whip is using a half halt to ask Missy to drop her hindquarters, and a voice command to encourage her to take a longer stride behind to lift her off her forehand. Cadence is slightly off, but engagement is improved.
This is a wonderful photo showing how far Missy has come from the first photo. She is rocked back on her hindquarters, light on her forehand and her top line is more level: she doesn't look like she is going perpetually down hill. This is not a working trot, and I think it might be mid transition to the walk, since we will not even think about the collected trot until we get a consistent working trot. Missy's flashy knee action is still there, but enhanced by a balanced hock action. As she gets stronger and better conditioned she will seem to float above the ground, not dig herself into it.
Missy has lost cadence here, but her balanced frame is blossoming. The whip needs to encourage her to be more forward with a cheerful voice command and consistent aids from the reins, whip and voice. If you congratulate the young horse on improvement before you correct on another aspect, they come along very quickly and will work to get the congratulation diligently.
At the end of her lesson, Missy demonstrates better balance, correct frame and lovely cadence...
..and there is a pretty picture.
Once the horse is correct in balance, engagement and cadence consistently, conditioning will produce action that is heightened, elastic, flowing and above all natural. I think it was Charles de Kunffy who said, and I paraphrase, you know your training curriculum is working if your horse becomes more beautiful each time you work him.
As I discussed in the Reinsmanship Tutorial, the whip needs to be attentive to the horse's way of going to be supportive with the reins, whip and voice aides. The whip also needs basic skills in determining what is correct way of going and what is not. Look again at the first photo of Missy and then the last photo. Time elapsed was less than an hour.
Many thanks to Laurie Renda for her photos of Missy and for allowing me to publicly comment on them. I look forward to witnessing Missy achieve her potential as a driving horse, which is considerable, as the above photos attest.
If you would like to have your photos evaluated for working pleasure, reinsmanship or to arrange a seminar or clinic to help you understand how to help your horse achieve his potential, please contact me.
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