Monday, March 25, 2013

Balancing Act by Gerd Heuschmann

I have just read this book twice through, and I have to say, this is an absolute treatise on developing a young horse or retraining a rehab horse. While I did read his previous book, Tug of War, I felt it was more of a soapbox statement and didn't offer much help for riders and trainers. Balancing Act, on the other hand, is my new dressage bible.

I put its theories to the test this past weekend at the Las Vegas Spring Fling I. On Saturday, Frisco's classes were back to back. It was the hottest day so far this year, and we both got too hot. I was on him for well over an hour, during the hottest part of the day. He gave me all he had, and we scored very well on our Training level tests, a 69.464 and a 71.8. So on Sunday, we were both pretty tired and pretty sore for our First level test 1 ride. I gave him plenty of time at a walk on a loose rein around the grounds before entering the warmup ring, and even once entering, I spent a lot of time going from medium walk to free walk. This is described in Balancing Act as a very effective tool for preparing the horse's back. In trot and canter, I allowed Frisco to work mostly in a stretched position, especially during changes of bend. His back was so tight that he was going irregular in the changes of bend at the beginning. He was also tending to stay behind the vertical in the stretch at the beginning. Frisco is naturally a very uphill horse, with a well set on and well shaped neck that tends to the short side. He also has a very supple poll and jaw, and tends to overbridle. Teaching him the stretched position and to reach out to the contact has been a process of long term correct riding from the hind leg to the contact over the course of the last couple of years. In the beginning, he would not stretch, AT ALL. He did not think it possible or necessary. Now that he has developed the muscular strength to stretch correctly, he loves to stretch and seems to understand how beneficial it is for him. Dr. Heuschmann discusses the importance of waiting for your horse during this process. Until the horse is strong enough in the right way, it will often not be able to stay stretched to the hand at all times, and he repeatedly stresses that the correct basic training of a young horse usually takes a minimum of two years. It is so important not to rush, even when judges are giving you poor scores. Wait for the training to develop your horse properly, instead of forcing things to happen for the sake of a good score. In the long run, it will be the much faster road.

While I know how important it is to begin developing an uphill balance in the horse sooner rather than later, it is pointless to force a fake uphill outline when the horse's back is tight. So, we worked in a stretched position for the vast majority of his thirty-five minute warm up, even in the canter. I chose sound biomechanical theory and patience over forcing false activity and elevation onto a horse that was already too tight. The result was a solid score of 67%, including a 7 on the 10M half circle left/10M half circle right, and an 8 on the trot stretch circle. I was unable to get his back loose enough for the lengthenings to be available, and, the tempo stayed too quick, but, I am happy with the final score in light of how the warmup began. He is very easy to bring up into the correct outline when it is time, so my patience in the warmup that allowed him the time to loosen up kept him calm and forward thinking, and he was a very good sport during our test. Below are some photos to illustrate the stretching, and the later more polished product just as we prepared to trot up centerline for the test. Stretching done correctly does not put the horse on the forehand. On the contrary, it prepares the hind leg, abdominal and trunk muscles, long back muscles, thoracic sling, neck muscles, the jaw, the mouth & tongue, and the poll-in that classically and biomechanically correct order-properly for a relaxed, uphill balance with an honest reach to the hand. I can't thank my wonderful husband enough for the beautiful photos he took on a beautiful morning so that I could illustrate these concepts for you. He was by far the most handsome groom at the show :) Between he and Frisco and our grandson Cooper, I am surrounded by some very handsome men and am one lucky girl indeed!

Stretching in Trot

Starting to develop some bend while continuing to allow a stretched trot frame

Stretching in walk-look how long his neck looks!! And how short his back looks!! Long neck=short back=CORRECT BIOMECHANICS

Absolutely no problem to bring the horse up into a peppy, square halt with a neck that reaches for the hand

Which results in a balanced, uphill strikeoff to trot
And a nicely uphill canter, still fully stretched to the hand from tail to poll.