Natural & Natural+
The Difference Between the Ridden Horse and the Non-Ridden
Natural = Classical?
Natural = Classical?
Well, yes. Those with an idea behind their riding that includes the word classical, all try to keep it as natural as possible. In our time, we tend to think that natural is soo good, that it is the ultimate. If Classical is ever good, it must be natural.
The Schooled "Natural"?
It may be more natural to do "free dressage from the ground", circus acts, ride bareback, sloppy western pleasure style, or sit in an unbalanced chair seat and hold ones balance on the reins. It all depends on how you define natural. If the rider would only follow his natural instincts, riding would be far from the classical style we strive for today. Just think of the natural reflex to grip that ALL green riders struggle with, and the tendency to crouch and grip with your hands. A lot of what is described on these pages will go against human and equine natural instincts and be completely unnatural to both horse and rider.
What is "Natural" & What is Not?
In his natural state the horse has his idiosyncratic weaknesses and quirks, just like us humans. No idle person walks around the place all fit and graceful with a godsent poise. In humans and in the domestic horse, that comes from training. Most of us slouch, turn our toes out, trip forwards, walk crooked, etc, and it's all natural. Our exterior and the things that have happened to us so far have shaped us to do it. Those are the things we want to "fix" when we go to the gym, (besides from burning fat.) We train in order to look better, use our bodies better, last longer, feel better, work better...
Most of us don't fix those things by bending over backwards, attaching contrapments or stretching forcefully, or working out for 2 hours after a 2 year lay-off. Or at least we shouldn't. Most of us do movements that are natural to the poise of the body and the bend of the joints, only a bit extra loaded, or alot of repetitions. We build the muscles we need to improve our poise and movements towards an ideal, from where we stand right now. In return we get ease, grace and beauty, and strength. Slowly.
What I mean when I say Classical Dressage is; un-artificial, in the best biomechanical way, the most constructive way to train a horse to become stronger, more balanced, suppler, better moving, happier and easier and nicer to ride. Classical Dressage is to develop the horse's coordination and muscle use to make him move in a way that wears the least on him - a bit like physiotherapy.
So we want the horse to move like he normally would but refine and optimize it. That means that we want the horse to keep his natural gaits, but we want to optimize them, make them more economic, smoother, more coordinated, easier and more balanced.
Rhythm, Tempo and Footfalls Remain
This means that the walk should stay 4-beat and relaxed, smooth and balanced. That the trot should stay 2-beat and diagonal, wether it be in a traverse or on a circle. The canter should stay 3-beat and keep it's moment of suspension inbetween, wether it be extended or a pirouette.
Progressive Collection & Suppleness
We want the horse to propell by using his hindquarters, and not by falling forwards. This means that the horse must keep his forehand in front of the hindhand, in turns and circles, and thus bend his body accordingly.
Slowly Improved Balance
We want to spare the joints of the forehand of the horse, so we want the horse to both push, but also support more weight over the hind legs, which can bend and cushion the impact better. This will in turn make the horse better blanced and better able to stop, turn, change gait or anything, really. And it makes him very comfortable to ride.
The point of equilibrium in the horse at standstill
In it's natural, unridden state, the horse supports more than half his bodyweight over the forehand. This is so, because of how the horse is built, and designed to move about.
It is easy to think that the horse moves with 4 equally strong legs pushing it forward. But that's not how it works. The horse is a "two rear wheel drive" with the engine at the back.
The horse works just like a man with a wheel barrel. The pushing happens behind and is forwarded through the arms and handles (back of the horse) to the front where the main part is supported.
The wheelbarrel combo - pushing
behind, carrying the load in front
And for a flight animal, this works very well. Like a dragster, the horse can accelerate monstrously using his hindlegs for pushing only, and the forehand for support and steering. A bit faster than a man with a wheel barrel...
The frontlegs do not have the same muscles for producing thrust as the hindlegs. The muscles of the forelegs are mainly for lifting the legs and placing them forwards or for supportiong the body resting in the sling between the frontlegs. The hindlegs have massive muscles behind their bony structure, to be used for extending the hind legs when pointing back - push.
The neck adds weight to the frontlegs of the horse because it sticks out in front, although not as much as one might first think. If you were to look at the horse from above, you'd realize that the thickness of the neck is hardly comparable with that of the quarters.
Center of gravity seen from above
The shoulders are also slimmer than the quarters, and so they weigh less, too. And the inflated lungs also fill the chest of the horse with air.
Depending on the particular horse, his build, and training status, the horse supports approximately 55% of his weight over the forehand and 45% over the hindhand. The neck can change this by lowering the height of the head or lifting it. It can be used as a balance rod for shifting weight between forehand and quarters.
There's nothing absolute about the equilibrium of the horse. As the horse moves, as it turns and through the different gaits, these proportions of weightbearing alters constantly. From having 75% resting over the forehand, standing half asleep, one hindleg cocked up, the horse can in a matter of seconds change to having 70-80% over his quarters spinning around to flee. He can even take all 100% over the hindlegs and go up rearing.
Playing free but on the forehand
You often hear idealistic (or simply ignorant) riders say that they want to ride the horse to move as when at liberty in the field or when he wants to show off, when he's happy or naughty or wants to attract the attention of a mare. This thought is all very nice, but it's not always the ideal. A horse burning off steam in the paddock or fooling around can be totally on the forehand, hollow, crooked and naturally very tense. Just like any one of us might have less than ideal posture when running and playing. Only the trained athletes among us have balance and strength to move with speed, stealth and grace.
In horses, these individuals seem to be those that have a natural ability to shift their weight over the quarters without tension or stiffness. All horses, except the lame can rear, folks. To be able to shift weight back without tension, the horse needs strength, flexibility, balance and proprioception, and not to forget, selfconfidence and the desire to do so. So it's not all about pumping muscles, it's also about the nervous system, comfort and motivation.
Equalling Classical with Natural also assumes that one would just be carried around on the back of the horse while he does his thing all by himself, left to his own devices, like he had intelligence enough to know that this would improve his life. But no horse "works out" to become fit to handle coming problems. They live now. Like any flight animal, they try to get away from anything that is hard on them, like lions or riders. It's just that in this situation the rider is also the leader. So the horse obeys, does the work-out according to instructions as far as he can decipher them, because the rider tells him to, not because it's natural to him because horses were made for dressage.
One just has to face it - riding isn't natural to the horse.
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