I once heard from an old horseman that you should look at confirmation like art. You have in your mind’s eye what the optimum shape and condition of you horse’s breed should be. Hold that picture in your minds eye and then superimpose that image onto your horse when you look at him.
Like everything in life nothing is perfect so you may notice differences in your horse, like the position of the hind legs or the hocks may stand further out rather then under them selves. The back may be a bit swayed or roached, your horse’s neck may not seem long enough over the top of the neck from the withers to the poll. These are all the subtle differences you need to start to become familiar with. I must point out that this is not so you can look for faults but more for the purpose that you have a starting block and understand which key areas you need to work on through training to help your horse support himself correctly and put less wear and tear on joints and tendons as well as the added bonus of your horse changing shape as he reaches ideal fitness and condition.
When your horse starts walking try to notice if the tempo is a clear four beat, in trot that it has a clear two beat and with diagonal pairs tracking up (by this we mean when you horse’s hind hoof lands on the front hoof print impression made in the sand) Then in the canter it again shows a clear three beat tempo when the feet hit the ground.
Does your horse overreach? Especially in walk and trot by striking his front hoof with the hind one coming forward? If so this means your horse doesn’t yet have sufficient core strength to lift the shoulder in time to move the foreleg forward before the hind comes through. This is not a sign your horse has big movement.
In canter does your horse have a four beat tempo at times and then becomes disunited behind where the inside hind and outside fore legs do not work together and hit the ground in unison. This shows weakness.
Firstly the stomach area that starts behind the shoulder, in front of the flank where there generally is a whirl where the coat changes direction.
Then the second and third regions are which are left either side of the stomach area. These should work together as a whole but the engagement of the hind region showing the hind leg and quarters lowering and seeing the hind leg step under the horse more.
The front region showing the neck for stretch and reach thus finishing the end of the arc. For this you should be looking for the base of the neck to fill out and up to show a muscle that looks a little like a sausage standing out under the skin bowing from the middle of the base of the neck, mid shoulder on the horse, to arc in a round bow undisrupted to a hand’s width away from the horses ear.
So when training towards this, look at it as setting off a chain reaction, asking the horse to go forward, then teaching bend through the horses body to get the inside hind leg to diagonally hit the inside of the front fore hoof print.
When the horse has a contact to go, I go through with the chain reaction I have started, asking the horse forward and bending the horse to go into the contact and then arc or bow upwards. Showing the lowering of the hindquarters and softening the neck to round into the outline of the arc.
Thus the hind quarter muscles stretch to allow the horse to move under himself, the stomach muscles shorten and tuck the stomach up so you can see a line in the muscle running parallel to the outside edge of the stomach behind the ribs, the back muscles lengthen and the neck activates the muscle from the mid section of the neck up to the top line continuing the bow.
Training your eye in this way and understanding how each part of your horse works together will definitely help with supporting and improving your training journey. With each horse’s strengths and weaknesses assessed I will put together a plan of varied work, which will include ridden work in the school, lunge work and ground schooling and also look to the hills for strengthening! This correct physical stimulus then encourages the horse to use all the muscles in the correct chain of events.