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training tips

the key to
text and photos by Chris Irwin

roper alignment and balance Proper alignment and balance with a rounded frame
are key training concepts,
without which it is impossible is a basic training fundamental.
to produce the rounded frame
necessary to compete successfully.
The natural conformation of a horse’s directly related to the comfort in its willingness and quality of going as he is
back is inverted, not rounded. Some body as it approaches the fence. lunged over the cavaletti.
breeds are more naturally rounded than Inverted horses are never comfortable Please keep in mind that although
others, and alpha stallions and mares in and are therefore, unwilling to the horse is carrying a western saddle -
the wild achieve that state for brief challenge their bodies or their balance a horse is a horse is a horse - and how
moments, but you will never see a by jumping big fences or complicated you work with your Thoroughbred or
consistently rounded and collected courses. Naturally, they’d rather Warmblood wearing English tack is
horse cantering around in the wild. challenge the rider by refusing to jump exactly the same.
That’s where training comes in. the fence than challenge themselves by
We can often get away with riding trying to jump without the correct align-
hollow-backed horses to the smaller ment in their bodies that allows them to 2
fences, but once the fences get higher jump with balance, calm and confi-
then a metre, and/or the courses dence.
become more demanding with compli- This month, using a series of photos,
cated grids with lots of bending lines, we will look at how alignment
how willing and well a horse jumps is issues affect this little bay Arabian’s

Here, Gem, is not nearly

Gem, of course, refuses the cavaletti and
balanced enough to be
throws his shoulders in towards Gisela while
schooled over a cavaletti.
he avoids the jump. His tail still shows that
He is extremely inverted,
he still has his "game on," and that he is not
with his head high and
afraid of the cavaletti - he's just being pushy
back hollowed out.
and disrespectful. Also notice that when
Instead of bending
Gem moved into Gisela, she let the lunge
throughout his entire
line go slack. Gem now knows that if he
body, he is too straight
throws his shoulders at her, he can get rid
through his hips, ribs and
of her "inside rein" contact, which allows him
shoulders, while only
to turn his head counterflexed, even farther
flexing his neck into the
outside of the circle, allowing his body to fall
circle. His tail is in "game
into Gisela even further.
on" mode. It is neither
Because Gisela brought Gem to the fence
clamped with fear, nor
before he was balanced and ready, he
wringing with anger, so it is fairly safe to assume that Gem is merely feeling frisky.
naturally tested her by refusing the fence.
But, since Gisela wants him to jump, she takes him to the cavaletti anyway.
This will only get worse if Gisela does not
aid and train Gem to move away from her
impulsion while staying in a truly balanced

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training tips

Gisela needs to move away
from the cavaletti and focus
instead on the alignment
issues of how she moves Gem
around on the lunge line in
order to facilitate the balance
that will cause his adrenaline to
turn off and, instead, for his
endorphines to flow. We see
now that Gem is no longer
inverted, his tail (and entire
body) is beginning to relax. He
is beginning to allow Gisela to Because Gem approached the fence in a
move him around without less then comfortable shape, the act of
resistance to her impulsion. popping over the cavaletti while out of
As Gisela gets focused on her balance now has him feeling distressed
body alignment and the use of about the experience and therefore more
her aids, Gem is now beginning to bend throughout his body instead of staying stiff and inverted than ever.
straight while only flexing his neck. All in all, a much better balanced "way of going" for a He is back to a stiff/straight body instead of
horse to be lunged to the cavaletti. a supple/bending body and his tail
(although not clearly visible) is now
swishing with annoyance. Gem once again
sees and feels that Gisela has lost the
contact that prevents him from
counterflexing and, worst of all, he
4 suddenly sees that she has allowed her
centre to get ahead of where it should be,
Here, Gem is better balanced, on his shoulder, and instead she is now
and is more relaxed. Notice, aiming her "push" at his head.
however, that Gisela has again This sudden impulsive aim at his head, with
lost contact. By tipping his nose a lunge line that allows him to counterflex,
out of the circle, Gem is able to all after jumping in an awkward frame, adds
change his bend from the up to a very distressful experience that
inside of the circle to the Gem associates with "what happens and
outside, allowing his ribs and how he feels" when he allows Gisela to
shoulders to fall into the circle move him over the cavaletti. However,
and out of balance. At the trot, because "he did it" Gisela is about to make
over a cavaletti, Gem is able to the mistake of taking him to the fence
forgive this seemingly minor again instead of taking him away from the
pilot error. At a canter, to a fence in order to re-shape him into a better
bigger fence though, this aligned, better balanced way of moving.
sudden loss of support from the
inside rein would typicallycause
a horse to lose its balance and rhythm just before it reaches the base of the fence. For the
inside rein to disappear and suddenly allow a change of bend just before a jump, will most
often result in a horse that will either suddenly rush to regain his balance or jump too long or
too short, or simply run out and refuse.

Gisela is now working her lunge circle to the left and she has Gem lined up
for the
cavaletti. Notice, however, that he is inverted again as he approaches the
fence. His tail lets us know that, again, he is not inverted out of fear or anger,
but rather because he has his challenging attitude back. In short - Gisela
should not be taking Gem to the fence!
Notice that while he is appearing to be focused on going forward over the
fence his inside ear lets us know that he is also paying close attention to
Gisela. After he found out on the right side that she was going to loosen her
contact going to the cavaletti, he now knows that he can tip his nose out, if
he wants, and throw his shoulders into Gisela to avoid the fence.

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training tips
7 10
Because of his prior poor experience,
Gem has now gone back to refusing the
small fence. He is again inverted but,
still, his tail is not clamped in fear. He
simply knows that he can avoid the
uncomfortable feeling of going over the
cavaletti because Gisela has allowed
the lunge line to go slack. Also note that
Gisela has once again allowed her
centre to get ahead of Gem.
No, Gisela does not need to get
aggressive with his shoulder when it
comes towards her. Instead, she need
to take him away from the fence and
focus on aligning all of her body
language so that she can use her aids to reshape Gem into a more balanced and comfortable As Gisela takes Gem to the fence with
way of going before she asks him to go to the cavaletti again. improved balance he is now happy and
comfortable as he pops over the cavaletti.
Note that he is not inverted, but has stayed
relaxed in his back - with no braced resist-
8 ance against going over the fence.
By being in perfect alignment with Gem and
Although Gem is indeed going over
by using her whip in a low to level manner,
the fence, the quality of how well he
Gisela is able to support Gem's ability to not
is going over the cavaletti is still
only approach the fence with balance, but
distressing him. He is extremely
also to complete the jump and still "feel
inverted letting us know that he is
good" about the experience. Gem has a
braced against the experience
soft, happy expression in his eyes and ears
instead of happy to allow the
and there is no indication on his part that he
impulsion that Gisela is asking for to
wants to find a "gap" or a way to avoid the
come through his body from back
to front. His ears are back instead
of forward, letting us know that he is
more concerned about what is
happening behind him instead of
where he is going next.
Notice that Gisela has raised her
whip in an attempt to convince Gem
to keep his shoulder away from her. This raised or "inverted" whip is most often interpreted by
our horses as a threatening gesture. As long as her core is in his face, however, this will cause
him to drop his shoulders into her as his head is yielding "away" to the impulsion aimed at
his face.

9 As Gisela works on the alignment of her body, and the appropriate use of her
contact and the lunge whip, Gem immediately becomes more relaxed. Gisela now
has her centre on his shoulder while she uses a low to level whip to ask for forward
from his flanks. She is also using the right side (outside) of her body to move
Gem's hips "out" so that he carries his haunches "straight" or aligned behind his
shoulders while the left side of her body (inside) is "open" and flexed away from the
front end of her horse.
Gisela is not using the lunge line to pull Gem into the circle by his head.
Her contact, however, is now consistently blocking Gem from tipping his nose out
of the circle which would allow him to counterflex his neck and fall in through his
shoulder. Instead, as Gisela works on showing Gem how well she can balance his
body on the lunge circle, Gem is now "coming through" nicely from hindquarter to
forehand without resistance - his eyes and ears are focused on where he is going
instead of worrying about Gisela and his body is beginning to bend in a balanced

Sum it up
As Gisela consistently trains Gem, both from the ground and in the saddle, with
exercises that aid him in moving in a truly balanced manner, then and only then, will
Gem start to carry himself more balanced because she has shown him the
difference between how good it feels to stay aligned together and how bad it feels
when the two of them lose their mutual alignment. Once Gem consistently
chooses to stay aligned with Gisela because he prefers the way it feels in his body
to work with balance, the real schooling for specific disciplines can begin. June 2005 / HORSE SPORT 71