We had covered the first four steps of the German Training Scale:
TAKT = RHYTHM and REGULARITY
LOSGELASSENHEIT = FREEDOM which includes RELAXATION.
ANLEHNUNG = CONTACT which includes ACCEPTANCE OF THE BIT and SEEKING THE CONTACT
SCHWUNG = IMPULSION and ENGAGEMENT
and started in the last two issue on
GERADERICHTUNG = STRAIGHTNESS which includes BENDING
Here now is the third and final part of that subject. In our last issue we started to explain and see why it is so important to have the whip in hand and be able to use it as an aid. There is no proper straightness and bending in driving without occasional whip aids. Which brings us to the next problem: When using the whip we cannot disturb the horse in the mouth with our whip hand moving around. We also cannot let go of the contact with our right rein. So if we hold the reins in both hands, our right hand with the whip must not go forward as we use the whip. Instead, the whip must be long enough (a long stick but fairly short lash, otherwise with a long lash it's very hard to direct it properly where you want it) so that you can use it out of the turn of your wrist, but you must be very skilled to do so without disturbing your horse in the mouth. The better way is to learn and use the Achenbach rein-handling style so that you can quickly change from the two-handed method to the one-handed method without disturbing the horses in the mouth as well as without losing any contact, and then have your right hand free to use the whip.
Further, in almost all cases and with only rare exceptions (which I won't list here now as that would take me too far away from our subject now), I recommend that the whip should usually be applied on the inside of the horse, that means on the inside of any circle or corner and also on the inside of the arena when going straight on the long side; applied on the inside, the whip will help with the proper bending. Whereas, on the outside it can easily lead to counter bending, or on the long side, to having the horse look to the outside. I explained above how the inside whip helps with bending, by either bending the horse around it when applied at the barrel or by encouraging the hind leg to reach underneath of the horse when applied there. But even at the shoulder or any other place, it helps with the proper bending.
Let me start with a simple picture. We all remember the game we used to play as children: You stand behind somebody on the left side and reach over and tap him on his right shoulder, right? And then what happened? The person tapped on the right shoulder turned around to the right to see who it was, and we laughed standing on the left. It's really a bit similar with the horse. You touch him on the right, chances are, not only will he bend by moving away from the whip after proper training, but right from the beginning and still fairly untrained, he will look around to the right to see who or what that was, and voila, there is your start of the bend to the right. After a while he will get used to the game, won't turn all the way around, and will learn to move away from the whip. But even in the beginning with a fairly untrained horse, it will still start the bend to that side. And contrary to our game with the people, here we never did fool him by standing on the left and laughing at him. Many horses are quite sensitive and don't like to be laughed at either. I do the same when I'm just at a halt and want my horses to stand there motionless (always). The moment one moves a head to one side, ever so slightly, he is touched with the whip also ever so slightly on the opposite side, which encourages him to stay straight and not look around. Of course, besides the whip, I also help in this with the rein and an ever-so-slight half halt on the side from which he wanted to turn away.
So for bending, whip on the inside and get that hind leg underneath of his body. Then start with large circles and watch that inside hind leg. If it goes to the inside of the circle and tracks to the inside of the print of the inside front foot, then the circle is too small for the horse at this stage of his training, and we need to make the circle bigger or even start on going straight again. That is why at training level, we have 40-meter circles in the test. Unfortunately, coming off the center line requires already a part of a 20-meter circle, but that means we must drive that very carefully, giving the horse good support with the reins. Similarly we must drive all corners very carefully and help the horse through. If we don't do that, he will not bend as he cannot balance himself, the inside hind leg will track to the inside of the circle, and soon he may go counter bend and will get stiff, nervous and afraid each time he comes to that dreaded corner of the dressage ring again. We all can see that with many of the lower level drivers and their horses.
This problem is especially evident with most lower-level pairs, which often were never trained to bend properly, are mostly leaning off the pole, and travel like this (l) with the inside horse always badly counter bent in each corner. That will not get better by more driving; it will only get worse, and the pair soon is forever ruined for going straight. Then people don't know why the horses are traveling so crooked in the pair, and they lengthen the coupling reins, only to find out that now the horses will still not go straight but will only move further away from the pole, but still as badly counter bend as before. Then they will switch them. That may help, but only temporarily, as now they are as badly counter bent but on the other side. So what is the cure? First, teach them to go straight at the walk! Use the whip on the outside to bring them to the pole. When they are calmly walking straight, start large 40-meter circles, leave the outside horse alone, and encourage the inside horse to bend ever so slightly with the whip. This accomplishes two things: A) You help the inside horse with the whip to bend, but B) when you touch the inside horse with the whip, you also encourage him to go more forward; now that is desired because when the inside horse now pulls that will bring the pole head to the outside, thus increasing the size of your circle. Then, you can use a little more inside rein, and voila, you get the heads and necks to the inside so the front of the pair is bent correctly, and with your whip you also encourage the inside hind leg of the inside horse to step underneath. And bingo, there is your proper bend. This is where the pair carriage actually helps in getting the proper bend, an advantage for training proper bending that only the pair offers and which is not available in a single carriage.
Then you do large figure-eights, 40-meter circles to both sides, always straight in the middle. That is good for a single, but even better for the pair. Not only will it change the bending from left to right after each circle, but with the pair, it will also change who has to work and who gets time off after each circle, as you should mainly (in the beginning: only) work the inside horse and give the outside horse time off, even to the point that the outside horse can hang back ever so slightly. It helps your bend. And it has one more advantage in the pair: Everybody likes it when a pair travels so nicely in step. How do you train that? You train it by driving large figure eights, where the outside horse always has to lengthen stride a little and the inside horse needs to shorten stride a little. Since inside and outside change after each circle in the figure eight, each horse alternates with one circle longer stride (and time off) and the next circle shorter strides (and working for you on pulling the carriage as well as bending properly). So they learn bending and adjusting strides and alternate between work and coasting along, and since they learn to adjust stride, then later they do adjust stride by themselves to often be in step with each other, at least on straight stretches. Why do they adjust stride to be in stride with each other? I asked them, and they told me they like to do that. It's equine nature, just the same as it's also human nature. You and I would do the same when we take a walk on the beach or through the woods and carry on a nice conversation with each other. It just so happens that it's much nicer walking with each other when you are in stride with each other-provided our strides are close enough in length with each other that we can adjust them fairly easily to be in stride. If our strides are too different to do that, well, then we wouldn't make a showy pair, at least not in that respect.
So driving the figure-eights is an all-around great and very beneficial training for a single but even better for the pair. This concept was developed by former pair driver Emil Jung, who had a big influence in driving in the U.S. 20 years ago, so many from that time still call it after him "Emil-8s."
So much for the pairs. But for a single horse, the Emil 8s certainly are good as well, even though they don't offer all the benefits as for the pairs. But for both pairs and singles, another great exercise is a serpentine, which for a young horse that does not bend properly yet should be very shallow and does not need to be driven in the restricted space of a dressage arena but can even be done by driving down a wide trail or road but slightly alternating sides as space permits. Not only does it help with bending when driven properly, but the alternate left and right bending also helps to get the horse more supple, and with that, helps in getting him straight. Before each change of direction, we need to prepare the horse by changing the bend and by guiding him through with a little more collection and a little more contact. We give some inside half halt while not losing the contact on the outside. However, as we come to the turn, we give a little on the outside rein without throwing it away, and as we had prepared our horse for the turn, perhaps also with a little inside whip, he now is ready to stretch on the outside into our hand and put his inside hind foot underneath his body to give us the bend. We also note here that driving turns with pulling on the inside rein would block that inside hind foot and not have it be able to reach underneath of the body; thus it is counterproductive. We drive the same as outlined above as we come to each dressage corner. After the turn, we give our hand a little and decrease the contact on the straight line. When we train this often enough and get it properly engrained into our horses, as with all our training, our horses will learn and understand, and we need less and less of the aids; thus our well-trained leaders in a four-in-hand certainly can bend well, even though we can't help them most of the time with an inside whip aid.
As I outlined above, time and again, too-tight turns result in the horse having to put his inside hind leg into the turn to balance himself, as he can't so tightly bend properly yet. That can lead to counter bending, which is not only bad for our dressage score but also bad for precision hazard and cones driving. That is precisely the reason why it is very bad for a horse that is not trained to bend properly yet to do tight hazards. He can't bend yet, so he will only learn to counter bend, and that is the main reason why we encourage training-level drivers to use only large-turning, wide-flowing options when driving hazards and do them slowly as well. It is in the best interest of their horses if they want to get further with them, as tight, fast hazard turns are very counterproductive in the training of a young horse. But let's also be very clear about this: A horse is never allowed to make a turn in counter bend. I believe even at the training level in a dressage test, a counter bent horse should not get a "sufficient" note.
As we need to get the bend by having the inside hind leg going more underneath the horse, we also realize that that leg needs to carry more weight then and needs to develop a stronger push, and that is exactly what we worked on in the last chapter when we talked about Impulsion and Engagement. So, without that, we cannot develop proper bending. And Impulsion and Engagement we can only get through proper Contact. But proper Contact certainly is also equally important for proper bending. Only if we can work the mouth properly ,and only when the horse seeks the contact, can we turn the horse into the direction we want him to go and get him to bend properly.
Let me also repeat from before, as this is so important: Proper turns are not driven by pulling on the inside rein and pulling his nose around. That would only turn his neck and stop the forward momentum as it blocks the inside hind leg to go underneath the body, thus does not only kill our bend but will also make us real slow in the hazard turns. Proper turns are driven first by preparing the horse for the bending with an inside half halt, then giving on the outside rein-without throwing it away-then the horse, properly trained to seeking the contact, will stretch on the outside, will continue going forward with that, will yield on the inside, and will start the turn with putting his well-engaged inside hind leg underneath his body toward the center of gravity to carry him, bending his body from poll to tail, which can be encouraged with an inside whip if needed.
And none of this we can do if we don't have a relaxed horse to start with, nor can we do any of it if the horse is not regular and in the rhythm because, otherwise, the legs don't work equally and already the horse can't be straight. So I hope we can now see how all of this works together.
In our next issues, we will cover the last two items:
VERSAMMLUNG = COLLECTION including Roundness
DURCHLAESSIGKEIT = SELF CARRIAGE including Confidence