Who hasn’t struggled to get a horse in front of the leg? None of us want to resort to kicking like a kindergartener in a Thelwell cartoon, but sometimes, when the piggy pony comes out…
Dressage trainer and exhibition performer Sandra Beaulieu suggests that music can be used to increase forward energy in the sleepiest, most sluggish of equines. In her new book FREESTYLE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO RIDING, TRAINING, AND COMPETING TO MUSIC, she explains what to consider when faced with energy problems in the arena:
Is your horse unmotivated? When your horse is on the low end of the energy spectrum, you can use music to help “find the forward” by changing the energy around him. In my experience, some draft and Warmblood breeds are more likely to fall into this category, but remember: It doesn’t matter what breed your horse is…he’s an individual.
In the same way you can use calming music in the barn and while you ride, choose upbeat, lighthearted music for the low-energy horse. Pick up your pace around the barn, have some fun with your riding friends, laugh a lot, keep spirits high.
Be aware of how your horse is affected by the change. You may notice that your version of “high” energy may actually be irritating to your horse. There is a big difference between positive, light energy and frantic, fast energy. Your horse’s reaction will let you know if you are on the right track.
Are You Too Grounded?
One of the reasons a horse may not move forward under saddle is because his rider’s energy is really grounded and slow. When you ride, do you tend to work harder than your horse? Do you follow your horse’s rhythm more than you create it for yourself? If you are a more advanced rider, you may find that you are better paired with an overly forward horse that your grounded energy can help slow down. Many horses respond well to a rider who is quiet and peaceful, but there is a difference between relaxed, positive energy and stuck, depressed energy.
Some riders have the ability to excite a horse and get him to move really forward, and others can kick and kick and nothing happens. The horse is reading the energy and body language of the rider. If you lack confidence, balance, and the right energy, you will struggle to create forwardness in your horse until those things are in place.
To help improve your riding when you suspect you are “too grounded,” you can try yoga, tai chi, or dance classes to become more aware of your energy and how it affects those around you. These exercises will not only help you understand and manage your groundedness, they teach you to lighten your energy, go with the flow, feel more elastic, and discover awareness through your body.
Is It Pain-Related?
I have dealt with many types of horses over the years, and in my experience, a horse that does not want to go forward is sometimes feeling pain physically and/or emotionally. If you find that increasing your energy makes your horse more upset rather than more forward, you may be dealing with a pain issue.
My Friesian gelding has taught me volumes on this topic. He came to me with a lot of emotional and physical baggage that was difficult to unravel because he is very stoic. His reaction to everything is to not go forward, whether he is experiencing pain in the hind end, ulcers, or just “stuck” in his own mind. I have tried every exercise and technique I can think of to encourage him to be forward and in front of my aids. What works often depends on his mood and how he is feeling physically. He is an odd mix of highly sensitive and dull to the aids, so being too aggressive can shut him down and being too loud also bothers him. He is very receptive to my voice commands, and I have found some success in creating voice cues to encourage “forward” and “collect.”
Create an Upbeat Playlist
If you are in the early learning stages when it comes to tempo and how to stay consistent in the saddle, try the following technique. For a slow horse, create a playlist featuring music that is a beat or two faster than your horse’s stride for you to match with your own body’s movements. The slightly faster music will give your body something to “sync up” with, encouraging you to post in a more determined way, use your driving aids more effectively when you feel the tempo slow down, and feel amazing when you and your horse find the beat.
In FREESTYLE the book, Sandra Beaulieu provides everything readers need to know to enjoy Freestyles of their own—whether for fun or for ribbons. Discover how to choose suitable music, explore choreography techniques, and learn basic music editing. Review required movements, then use Beaulieu’s expert suggestions for weaving them together. Plus, enjoy a section on preparing exhibition performances—complete with ideas for props and costumes.
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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.