By CYNTHIA HODGES – Forward riding is an essential element in achieving the ultimate goal of dressage: balanced self-carriage. To carry the rider in balance, the horse’s center of gravity must be centered. The rider can help the horse achieve balance by causing him to shift weight from his forehand onto his haunches, and then move the center of gravity forward again to the center of his body. This is done through a combination of half-halting and forward driving aids.
A half-halt, for example, shifts the weight of the forehand onto the hind legs momentarily. This causes the horse to sit a little, bending his hind legs to take weight onto them. If the half-halt targets the hind leg that is in the air stepping under the horse, the croup will lower on the targeted side. When the hoof hits the ground, the horse’s weight will compress the “spring” of the hock. Because of this compression, the horse will push off of the ground with greater force when driven forward. This will lift and lighten the forehand, and create a bouncier stride. In addition, driving the horse forward moves the center of gravity from the rear to the center of the horse’s body. The rider then keeps it centered by half-halting and then driving forward as often as necessary. This combination of aids shifts the weight from the forehand onto the haunches, and then moves the center of gravity forward again to the center in a continuous energetic loop. As the horse’s hind legs grow stronger and can carry more weight, the center of gravity can be gradually moved more towards the rear, thereby increasing the collection.
The rider can use half-halting and forward driving aids to “bounce” the horse off of his hind legs to create big, springy gaits, lighten the forehand by shifting the center of gravity from the forehand to the middle, and eventually to the rear. This allows the horse to carry the rider in balance, which improves the quality of the gaits, and preserves the horse’s soundness.
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