Manolo Mendez Dressage

How the Horse’s Posture Impacts Its Ability to Move Well

The right in-hand and ridden work plays a crucial role in shaping a horse’s body, which in turn, influence the quality of its movement. A horse moving correctly will be balanced, straight, supple and have regular rhythm in its gaits. Once this is achieved, its entire body will work freely without constraint and it will feel like the horse is floating.

The handler/rider needs to observe the horse’s body at all times and respond to any issues that are identified. All requests should be made in relation to these issues, and to the horse’s capabilities, aiming to assist it in achieving freedom of movement and strength building during the training process.

"Harmonious movement throughout the body should be the goal ."

Manolo Mendez

Important things to look for:

  • Does the horse move forward easily and happily , or does it seem restricted and require constant pushing forward?
  • Is the neck and back moving freely, with the neck symmetrical and forward? Where is the horse’s head and nose in relation to its chest and shoulders? Contact that is too strong will affect the ability of the front legs to extend and cause its back to hollow and its hind legs to trail out.
  • Are its muscles relaxed and allowing full range of movement – or does the horse appear stiff and its movement restricted?
  • Does the tail swing freely from side to side, allowing a lovely swing of the hips? Or is it predominantly to one side?
  • Do the hind legs step under and into the track of the front hooves or do they fall out behind?

All these elements impact the horse’s freedom of movement, regularity and evenness of gaits. Restricted neck movement hinders the ability of the joints to work evenly, affects the mobility of the shoulders and correct movement of the hind end and pelvis, resulting in stiffness of back movement and hinders the engagement of the hind legs.

Make sure that you seek a light and even contact. If you use forceful contact to shorten the neck (i.e. by pulling the head and nose behind the vertical) it will hollow the horse’s back and cause the back legs to trail behind.

Be careful not to pull the horse’s nose behind the vertical as this prevents the shoulders from moving freely and inhibits movement of the whole body.  Ride with the awareness of the degree of bend you are requesting and whether this is achievable at the current stage of the horse’s training. For example, asking for too much angle in the body will lead to riding neck-in instead of shoulder-in, o and you will lose the correct position of travelling 3 track.

Training that restricts the movement of the front part of the body while simultaneously demanding the hindquarters to step under does not promote the horse’s well-being. In the long run, it can lead to restrictions and injuries to the back – such as kissing spine – pelvis, ligaments or tendons, because the body cannot function as a whole.

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