I often see debates about the frame and movement of the horse. Do you allow the horse a longer frame, in order to develop certain areas? Or is allowing that longer frame risking the future of collection? Is putting the horse “on the shoulders” automatically damaging? Or is there a purpose to be served, even if risking the horse being somewhat on the forehand? It’s amazing, to me, just how high the passion can run in these debates. From my own personal perspective, this topic is like everything else in life – there are no absolutes!
Variables such as conformation, previous training, and temperament can all impact the frame you choose for any horse at any given time. For example, Tally is much more fluid and relaxed in a long low frame. Since she has a very upright conformation, and a tendency to want to go “head high” all of the time, I see no permanent damage likely to occur from encouraging a longer, more relaxed frame. In fact, it changes her from a knee and hock high mover, with a tight back, into a more balanced, round but reaching stride. On the other hand, encouraging that same frame in Coffee, with his less upright conformation, could easily create a snow shovel!
All of this is leading to a wonderful passage I recently read in Henriquet on Dressage. He brilliantly provides a balanced and sane view of the two different equilibria and their role, in a way I’ve never heard it expressed.
From these reflections, there emerges the fact that the rational gymnastic development of a horse toward an ideal equilibrium takes place continually in two directions that are apparently opposed. There is the development of the forward propulsive force in a natural, horizontal equilibrium which, at the start, weighs more on the forehand. This alternates with the effects of the impulsive aids, which engage the hind legs, encouraging them to advance and bear more weight, thus assisting in the raising of the forehand, and there are support aids – halts and half-halts – which contribute to the placing of more weight on the haunches.
These two series of actions can only be consistent and beneficial if they are based on this lengthy gymnastic process which we have abundantly described. What is important to remember from this whole lengthy schooling period is that we must never lengthen the steps more than we are capable of shortening them and we must never elevate more than we can straighten out [lengthen].
It is by constantly offsetting these two directions with each other that the feeling of lightness in the hand and to the seat can result, and from which results the sensitivity that will produce easy transfer from one equilibrium to the other, thus maintain [sic] the scales of balance equally. Does this mean that, of these two forms of equilibrium (that is, elevation and lengthening), one corresponds to the rassembler*, the other to its opposite? Absolutely not. Brought to his highest level, the rassembler horse can maintain himself perfectly in balance in his most spectacular extensions.
*Rassembler is the French term, translating to “gathered together”. According to the author, it goes beyond the English term “collection”. In his words, it is “… the all-round perfection of a horse who is well schooled and moves with great impulsion matched with great lightness …”.
Clearly, in an appropriately trained horse, there is benefit to be gathered from alternating frame and step. This fits with what I was taught, not only in Dressage but also in jumping and eventing. The only things that can truly be damaging are a forced position, or a position held for too long without relief. Both will create tension and potential physical as well as mental damage to the horse.
So, whatever your equine pursuit, remember the two equilibria, and incorporate both into your training. There is nothing more beautiful than a horse moving full out who can softly fold his joints and return to an easy halt with no apparent effort or loss of balance!
Be good to your horses!