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The Whole Horse newsletter No. 20 - The Mechanism of Engagement
November 30, 2012
The Mechanism of Engagement
Spotlight On Training
Spotlight On Training
A good way to describe the phenomenon of the ring of engagement of horse and rider is to liken the horse to a bicycle. When riding a bike in gear, you are applying force to the pedals which engages the chain and turns the wheels. When a rider engages a horse they have to activate a similar cyclic system, except it is made of muscles and ligaments rather than cranks and levers.
One difference is that in riding a horse, the engine lies within the horse whereas it is the cyclist who powers the bike. This, in addition to the fact that the horses is not already straight and ready to carry a rider like a bike is, makes riding a horse such a complicated enterprise. Thinking about the difference between riding a bike in gear and freewheeling along, however, does help to define the sensation of engagement, as well as illustrating that engaging a horse is a real, physical phenomenon. Unfortunately, because it requires accurate posture and weight positioning of the rider - itself the result of a specific gymnastic development, many people never experience it when they ride.
Just as a bicycle is nicer to ride when it is prepared properly i.e. pumping up the tires and oiling the mechanism, a horse benefits hugely from the right kind of preparation before riding. This involves tuning the cardiovascular system to an extent, but most importantly strengthening the musculoskeletal system for engagement . This is so that the rider's weight does not trigger the hollowing reflex in the horses back, as well as improving the horse's ability to rebalance themselves before they are unbalanced further by the rider.
The actual process of engaging a horse is powered by the leg in the same way as a cyclist pushes the pedals. In the rider's case it is a stimulation as well as a balancing and softening effect, because the true power comes from the horse, and it must be managed as well as encouraged in each moment.
Looking at it in this way, all of the correct aiding from a rider, which generates, maintains and controls engagement accesses the horse directly where he engages, in his muscular ring (see HHT page 'What does 'on the bit' really mean?'). This is because this is exactly where the rider touches the horse which their body. Direct physical connection is the secret to becoming 'one with your horse'.
The Parallels with Management
The same concept of direct physical connection can also be practiced on the ground with your horse (See the recent posts on the HHT blog: contact yielding). It is the way horses calm each other and groom and play. Whether you are teaching a youngster not to push into your space, or strengthening your bond with an older horse, direct physical contact is much more tension reducing than using ropes or sticks.
A new bicycle from the shop with clean, oiled chain and pumped-up tires will be easier to ride than a rusty, dirty old thing at the back of the shed. The same is true for horses. The horse which is supple from an outdoor life, balanced nutrition so his feet aren't sensitive, and barefoot so he can feel what he is doing with his feet, will give a very different performance from the horse who is shut in for most of the time making his joints stiff and inflamed, with a diet is high in cereals which upsets his gut making him feel grumpy and depressed in general.
HHT's monthly Try This At Home Tip
How To Feel Engagement
How To See Engagement
Just Click here to go to the HHT group page, and then click on the 'join group' button at the top right of the page.
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