Bringing the Weight Back
Dressage riders are so often told to 'bring the weight back' in a training situation. This can be a confusing command to the more novice rider or indeed the experienced person who has never encountered the expression before.
The one thing it doesn't mean is - sit further back or push against the horse with your bottom!
Instead, we are talking here about the horse bringing his own weight back, i.e. rebalancing himself so that he transfers his own bodyweight more over his hocks and less over his forehand - where it would naturally tend to remain.
However none of this rebalancing act can be achieved without our help, for it is we who unwittingly put our horses out of balance in the first place!
Fully to understand the concept of transferring the wieght of the horse back, it is important to understand about balance in general and how, in the natural sense the balance of the horse may drastically change at any given moment.
For example, when aroused and showing off in the field, a hose may be beautifully set back on his hocks in trot or canter, and if you are lucky even offering a display ofg passage.
Yet it is quite normal a moment later to see the same horse firmly on his forehand, perhaps when we lead him in, or rather more obviously, when he returns to grazing.
In riding, the balance can alter just as radically. It is a fact of life that most horses will naturally try to evade hard work by balancing or leaning on the foehand as much as the rider will allow. This tends to put them largely beyond the control of the rider unless he or she is very skilled at readjusting the balance.
From the horse's point of view, leaning on the forehand is an attractive option, since less physical effort is involved when he's asked to do something. However, remaining on the forehand all his working life will take its toll and cause deterioration in the horse's forelimbs - ultimately affecting the efficacy of his whole body.
After all, the horse is not naturally designed to carry the weight of a rider on his back and if his balance is mainly on the forehand, it will place unnatural strains upon his entire physique.
In the dressage arena, it is quite normal at Prelim or basic level to see horses working on the forehand. this is generally an age-related thing, the young horse - new to schoolwork - has not yet developed sufficient strength in his back or in the joints of hindquarters and hindlegs to transfer his weight back.
Nevertheless, as we progress up the scales of training, if we want our horse to remain sound, happy and to carry us with ease, we should work towards a definite change in balance. This is often described as putting the horse into an outline, and is expected in tests at around Elementary level.
Here the first signs of collection will be asked for, and this automatically implies that the horse has strengthened sufficiently to bring his hocks deeper underneath his body mass, with a greater degree of bending or flexion in his joints. The more the horse is able to do this, the more rounded he will appear. He will aslo look shorter in the frame; more what we call 'uphill'.
Now, the horse will be in a better posture, less 'sprawled out', more compact and generally more together. His movement will be more efficient; forwardness combined with elevation will give ease, spring, lift and balance to his gaits.
Such a horse, like a well-honed human athlete is more likely to stay fitter all of his life and should have a greater life expectancy for being ridden. The horses of the Spanish Riding School represent a good example.
(to be continued........)