Series: Equine Biomechanics and the Timing of the Rider’s Aids, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts. Check out Part 1 if you haven’t already!

How do I know where my horse’s feet are at any point in time?

This subject ought to be covered at the very start of each thinking rider’s education, but I recognize that we do not live in an ideal world when it comes to learning to ride. It’s easiest to figure this out when you have the eyes of a knowledgeable horseman or –woman on you, who can announce to you what a specific leg is doing while you are focusing on what you feel under your seat.

It is essential to make the connection between “When I feel this” and “The horse is doing that” so that this sense becomes second nature. Fortunately, it is not difficult although it takes dedication, patience, and persistence.

In general, I find that most students feel the horse’s motion at walk in one of two ways: they either feel (a) their seats swaying from left to right in a circular or pendulum-like motion, or they feel (b) their seat bones lifting and being carried forward on one side and then on the other, rather like traveling across a floor on your own seat bones.

Both types of riders need to understand that the movement they sense in their seats is being caused both by the rise and fall of the horse’s back and by the side-to-side axial rotation of the horse’s barrel. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that his hips or pelvis rise and fall, but we don’t sit on his hips! And anyway, they’re connected to the muscles of the back that we do sit on. So I will continue to refer to the movement of the horse’s back.

The horse needs to swing his midsection out of the way to make room for his advancing hind leg: If his right hind leg steps forward, his barrel will swing to the left, and as his left leg steps forward, his barrel swings to the right, like the pendulum of a clock. This causes the left-right component of the feeling for both types of riders.

At the same time, the horse’s advancing hind leg causes his back to drop or lower as he steps down on the ground (Phase 1). Then we feel it immediately begin to rise again as the horse’s body travels over the top of that grounded leg (Phase 2). That gradual rising sensation reaches its highest point when the horse’s leg is at its rear-most point, just prior to lifting off (Phase 3). Then we feel the horse’s back immediately begin to fall or lower again as (in Phase 4) the leg travels forward through the air en route to its next touch-down (Phase 1 again). At that point the rider’s falling sensation changes over to a rising sensation again. These movements are responsible for both the rising/falling feeling some students discern, and the forward and back movement that others discern.

When one side of your seat feels like it is…The horse’s hind leg on the same side…
At its lowest or most forward point in the cycle, just before it starts to rise or move backward.Has just stepped down onto the ground at the beginning of Phase 1.
Moving backward or upward or both, until it reaches the highest or rear-most point in the cycle.Supports the weight of the horse’s body as it passes over the top of the grounded leg in Phase 2. At the end of Phase 2, it has reached its rear-most point, just before pushing off against the ground.
At its highest or most backward point in the cycle.Lifting off from the ground in Phase 3.
Moving forward or downward or both, until it reaches the lowest or most forward point in the cycle.Traveling forward through the air in Phase 4, en route to contacting the ground again, which begins a new cycle with Phase 1.

Next week, we’ll begin discussing what we can ask from the horse at the walk, what aids to use, and when to employ them, based on our new understanding of the feeling of the walk cycle.