GLOSSARY OF DRESSAGE TERMS*
It is important to note that “bending” in a horse is achieved by a number of very incremental displacements, rather than an actual bending of the spine laterally. In general a rider should consider the spinal area behind the shoulder to the loin as straight (thorax to lumbar). The cervical vertebrae in a horse (neck) IS relatively flexible of course.
Recognizing the thoracic to lumbar vertebrae as being only incrementally flexible laterally will help you understand why a rider should endeavor to sit straight and square in the saddle and why pressure from the seat easily impacts the horse.
By training and developing the relevant muscles, it is possible to increase the carrying capacity of the hindquarters. When a horse collects, more weight moves to the hindquarters. Collection is natural for horses and is often seen during pasture play. A collected horse can move more freely. The joints of the hind limbs have greater flexion, allowing the horse to lower the hindquarters, bringing the hind legs further under the body, and lighten and lift the forehand. In essence, collection is the horse’s ability to move its center of gravity to the hind-end.
Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider’s driving aids and “seek” a contact with the rider’s hand, thus “going onto” the contact. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each of the gaits. The poll should always be the highest point of the neck, except when the horse is being ridden forwards and downwards.
The contact should never be achieved through a backward action of the hands; it should result from the correctly delivered forward thrust of the hind legs. The horse should go forward confidently onto the contact in response to the rider’s driving aids.
The concept and term was first written about by practitioners of dressage, but an ability to move with impulsion is a desired goal in most other equestrian disciplines. Impulsion occurs when a horse is under human control and is one of the desired goals in horse training, but it may sometimes be exhibited by a horse in a free and natural state. Impulsion allows any horse gait to be more elastic and light, and also provides the animal with the power needed to perform complex movements, including the piaffe and the airs above the ground.
Schwung: A horse is said to have impulsion when the energy created by the hind legs is being transmitted into the gait and into every aspect of the forward movement. A horse can be said to be working with impulsion when it pushes off energetically from the ground and swings its feet well forward. Impulsion is created by training. The rider makes use of the horse’s natural paces, but “adds” to them looseness, forward thrust (originating in the hindquarters) and suppleness (Durchlässigkeit). Impulsion not only encourages correct muscle and joint use, but also engages the mind of the horse, focusing it on the rider and, particularly at the walk and trot, allowing for relaxation and dissipation of nervous energy.
No exercise or movement can be good if the rhythm falters; and the training is incorrect if it results in loss of rhythm.
Throughness is often compared to a circuit of energy between horse and rider: the rider’s leg aids encourage energetic movement in the hindquarters, which push the back upward, which in turn allows for connection with the front end and the bit, and the connection felt in the bit transmits a feeling of energetic movement back to the rider’s hands. Of course, this is a question of “feel”, meaning a very soft reaction in the rider’s hands. If a rider gives driving aids and the horse responds by putting a lot of weight into the rider’s hands, the horse is not “through” at all, but unbalanced and dependent on the hands of the rider to keep itself in balance.
Throughness is most important in dressage (essential for impulsion), but a through horse can make riding easier in ALL equestrian disciplines. Diagram Source: Klaus Schöneich Zentrum für Anatomisch richtiges Reiten® & Schiefen-Therapie®. Authored by Renate Blank.
The horse stretches or lengthens longitudinally along the topline by stretching, reaching, and arching the neck and lifting up and rounding the back. The horse can stretch its topline independently of the height of the neck.
Except in special cases, such as the counter-canter, it is desirable for a horse to lead with its inside legs when on a circle. Therefore, a horse that begins cantering with the right rear leg as described above will have the left front and hind legs each land farther forward. This would be referred to as being on the “left lead”.
A careful listener or observer can tell an extended canter from a gallop by the presence of the fourth beat. A controlled gallop used to show a horse’s ground-covering stride in horse show competition is called a “gallop in hand” or a hand gallop.
DRESSAGE GAITS (VARIATIONS)
* REFERENCES: United States Dressage Federation, 2011 USDF Glossary of Judging Terms; German Training Scale for Horses; German National Equestrian Federation (1990) – The Principles of Riding; Advances Techniques of Riding (1987) – Official Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation.