I'm getting ready for the “School of Légèreté” clinic with Bea Borelle next week. Part of my preparation is to go over my notes from the previous clinic. I wanted to share with you Philippe Karl's circular chart to horse-training. The chart focuses on what to train rather than the result of the training (rhythm, relaxation, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection). The start, and end, of all training is the horse's lightness to the rider's hand. But before I go into the sequence of what to train, let's look at what is in the centre of the circle.
Respect to the horse
Respect to the horse means knowing about the nature of the horse's psyche in order to be able to present the request you have so the horse can understand you. Horses don't speak English, Swedish or any other spoken or written language. They speak horse. To respect the horse also means to know about the biomechanics of the horse, how the horse balances himself and how he carries his weight distributed over his four legs. It also includes respecting and seeing the individual horse and recognising both similarities with and differences from other horses.
Lightness to the hand, balance and impulsion
Lightness to the hand is the starting point in Philippe Karl's training chart. Without lightness to the hand the horse is not in a proper balance. Impulsion (lightness to the legs) is only of use if the horse is in balance and light in hand. These three concepts cannot be separated, therefore there are arrows connecting all three of them.
1) Lightness to the hand
Lightness to the hand means that the horse neither leans on the bit (again balance as mentioned above. This can also be phrased as resistance of weight) nor contracts the jaw (resistance of force). Lightness to the hand means that the horse is gently playing with the bit, lifting it with its tongue and that the horse can easily swallow. This is something the horse can and should be trained to do. For the horse to be able to express lightness to the hand, the nose band (if used at all) should be loosely fitted, and the rider cannot act backwards with her hands.
The part of the horse's spine that is the most flexible is the horse's neck. Contrary to popular belief, the horse's anatomy does not allow the horse to bend laterally in its spine throughout its whole longitudinal axis. The only part of the horse's body the rider really can influence with stretching exercise is the horse's neck. Exercises to improve flexibility are the flexion of the horse's neck up and down, to the right and to the left in halt, walk, trot and canter. These exercises will lead to suppleness and, together with “3) Mobility”, also to straightness and rhythm in all gaits. The double headed arrow indicates that when a horse becomes more flexible, he will also get lighter in hand.
To train mobility in the horse includes bending the horse in both directions, turning in both directions and also practicing sideways movements like shoulder in, travers, renvers and half pass. A horse is said to be straight when it can just as easily be turned to the right as to the left, perform right shoulder in as well as left etc. When the horse is light in hand, flexible and mobile, he will also move with rhythm. The double headed arrow indicates that when a horse becomes more mobile, he will also get more flexible.
Collection means the horse is carrying more of its weight on its hind legs by flexing the joints in the hind legs and in doing so engage the hind legs under the body. Transitions and rein-back where the horse lightens the forehand (raises the neck) and remains light in hand, together with lightness to the rider's legs (impulsion) are used to achieve collection. The circle is complete since as the horse develops the ability to collect, he will also become lighter in hand. The double headed arrow indicates that when a horse becomes lighter in hand, he will also develop a more brilliant collection.
Thanks to Mark Stanton of Natural Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading! All remaining errors are all my own.