Romy, my idea is that you teach Summy the wonderful feeling of having his head very low. At least below the withers but preferably even lower.
I'm learning a lot about this lately and this is a great opportunity for me to start to allow some of what I'm learning to gel in my head. I knew it was important for the training progression (forward/down/out - "out" being the nose) or you can call it long/low, but "forward" is a key component. But I certainly wasn't aware of ALL the benefits. It was recently explained to me (short and sweet!) by JP Giacomini. What he told me helped to fill in some knowledge gaps (of which I have many
). So it's very good for me to try and explain it. Of course I may get parts of this wrong, so anyone...please feel free to correct or challenge what I'm saying here!
There are two kinds of relaxation. One that is rather static and lazy (nice stretch, healthy for the horse). In this mode, either standing still or in slow movement, the horse is indeed on the forehand.
The other though is a "relaxed energy" in which the horse finds a freedom of balance and movement, allowing him/her to move with great fluidity and even collection - because once energy is added, the horse MUST balance the hind end more under himself (or herself) or risk falling on their face. Effort is required, but it feels easier for the horse because they are rounded, so they are more likely to feel good doing it and therefore are more likely to offer greater energy in this position because it DOES feel good to them...so it would be great for those like you
who like to allow the horses to find the movements on their own without too much interference. It has the potential to be a great "upward spiral" of beneficial effects.
Most of us know that in asking the horse to drop it's head, it is a nice relaxing stretch for the topline of the horse. We also know that within movement with the head low, a horse will tend to round up it's back if it is able to (that is, if nothing is impeding the back like a badly fitted saddle or a rider than cannot absorb or flow with the movement of the horse). There are great benefits for the horse in this relaxation alone. There are even greater benefits for the horse though when the head low position is coupled with energy and engagement.
Now...I'm still learning what "engagement" really means (what it looks like, what if feels like and what it means for the horse), so for now I'll simply talk about head low with energy. A good forward pace. When you add some energy (well, when the horse adds energy at our request or freely offers it) the horse's balance is more greatly challenged so they must compensate for the low and forward reach of the head and neck by reaching the hind legs further under themselves to counter balance. This reaching engages the tummy muscles, lifts the back strongly and you will also likely see the base of the neck lifted when the head comes up slightly and the hind legs are really driving the horse forward. Your horse may still look like he/she is travelling on the forehand, but if you watch the reach of the hind legs, you will see they are over-reaching (hind feet on or past the hoof prints of the front feet) to some degree. How much depends on the horse (conformation and degree of general fitness and to some extent speed and energy).
This is what you see good cow horses do. They are extremely low in the front, but they never the less can dance in any direction on the haunches because they are so under themselves behind. The entire body is an arch of power, and that arch can quite strongly carry a rider. I'm thinking of this FDO (forward/down/out) now as my magic position, and the one that Tam and I are working in a great deal lately. I am not the best rider...I'm still struggling to learn, so until I can ride better, this is our "holding pattern". I can still teach Tam to collect, but in a position where he can most strongly protect himself from me. Also in this position (in riding) if we stay off the reins, the horse seems to have a greater ability to remain in self carriage and balance. All I have to do is stay as neutral as can, concentrate on relaxing my own back, and just go with the flow. He's SO much more forward in this position. He likes it very much. This has "fixed" Tam's lazy walk. His walk is now energetic, forward and his back is swinging. It's a lvoely feeling. At the canter it's actually a bit exhilarating as he's so forward and his head disappears down...it keeps me from leaning forward because I feel if I did I would tip us on his face.
So it's helping MY balance in the saddle as well.
So now I have the means by which I can get Tam going in any gait, very forward and engaged, back rounded up and reaching well with the hind legs, then ask him to bring his head up slightly and see if I can still maintain the exact same feeling in him and in myself. Then ask him to drop his head immediately again. I am excited by this!
There is also a great untapped benefit to the Goat On A Mountain. This position of course mimics the extreme of FDO (forward/down/out) and once learned, you can do Goat to walk transitions. If you have also taught your horse to walk forward well with the head down, they WILL drive out of the Goat with the haunches. Now...I have to say that my friend Paul introduced this concept to me over a year ago (maybe two?), but I didn't get the result I was looking for. Paul says that when it's done perfectly, you can work toward what he calls "Gateado" or a Cat Walk (?). Later, I understood that there is a huge difference in leading the horse out of the Goat, and DRIVING the horse out of the Goat. I was lazily leading Tam out of the Goat. So I finally got the driving part, but Tam would pop his head up at the same time. We almost got a rear he was popping so high. So that didn't work either. The goal is to literally crawl forward out of the Goat but with great strength and drive. Now, I'm thinking I have the key to doing it!
Tam is getting so comfortable with working with his head low, that I am thinking that now I can ask him (slowly at first until he understands) to drive forward out of the Goat while keeping his head low and we may have what Paul was talking about all along.
Nevertheless, the Goat is wonderful, and it can't be a small coincidence that there are so many parallels between the GOAT and FDO even though one is stationary and one is moving forward.
So Tam is currently being a dressage cow pony
And I'm amazed and fascinated with the whole concept of "relaxed energy".
Thank you for bringing this topic up Romy! Serendipity!
And here is more reading:http://www.sustainabledressage.com/roll ... tretch.php