Relaxation…probably one of the most important parts of the Pyramid of Training as it significantly contributes to the work ahead. Relaxation prepares the horse both mentally and physically allowing him to perform his work without tension that hinders his movement. A relaxed horse willingly accepts his rider’s aids and moves with a supple back. In turn, he is able to bend throughout his body. He demonstrates his elasticity by willingly lengthening and shortening his strides. In the relaxation part of the training pyramid, the horse begins to develop his “push” (better known as impulsion).
The first major component of relaxation is elasticity. Elasticity is demonstrated in the horse’s responsiveness to the rider’s aids. The horse should be readily capable of adjusting his gaits while maintaining his cadence. This is to say, he should be able to lengthen and shorten his stride without losing his rhythm as we learned in last week’s article. As the horse develops his stamina and muscle strength, he will be better able to demonstrate elasticity.
Suppleness is as equally important as elasticity in the horse’s relaxation. A horse that is stiff or rigid in any part of his body will not be capable of utilizing his body effectively, resulting in irregular gaits, unwillingness and a general displeasure in his work. A sure sign of a relaxed horse is one that demonstrates a swinging back.
Ultimately, relaxation is not achieved overnight. It is an ongoing process to develop the horse’s physical and mental state. During the process of developing relaxation, the horse will become more supple and elastic. Most work at this stage is performed at the trot. This improves adjustability and develops muscle strength, stamina and flexibility. With time and repetitive training, the horse becomes a confident, obedient and willing partner.