versus Leg Mover
What does this title mean? Well I’m referring to how the horse should move vs how horses are often seen moving. One way of moving creates fluidity, freedom and integrity within the horse, the other results in structural breakdown, injury and finally often, sadly, end of life. In high end competitions such as Grand Prix dressage the differences between the two types of movement are well demonstrated with some spectacular examples of both. There are many ways to produce a leg mover but only one way to produce a back mover.
A back mover is a horse who has been exposed to a more classical approach to training, which pays attention to the biomechanics of the horse and, therefore, promotes movement that works WITH the horse’s physiology and takes into consideration the alteration in balance and muscle engagement that is caused by the addition of a rider. The rider is fluid in her movements and works hard to assist and complement the horse, rather than inhibit his movement. The easiest way to spot a back mover is in trot or piaffe. With the trot, the angle of the canon bone of the hind leg should match the angle of the forearm of the fore leg. This is true of working trot, medium trot and extended trot. With the piaffe, the hind quarters will lower, the pelvis will rotate underneath, allowing the hind limbs to come well under the horse, and there will be an equal appearance to the effort coming from both the forelimbs and hind limbs.
A leg mover is a horse who is usually given insufficient time or space to develop looseness, relaxation and strengthen structures that are critical to the integrity and soundness of the horse. He is the horse who is forced into certain shapes and positions before his body is ready, often with the use of artificial training aids or devices. His head is pulled in and his back is hollow. The rider is often tense and/or hollow in their own back, creating hollowness in the horse. In short, a hollow back creates a pelvis that is rotated forward, causing the horse to be ‘strung out’. True and complete engagement in this case is impossible and tendons/ligaments are at risk of stress and, ultimately, damage. The easiest way to spot a leg mover is, again, in trot or piaffe. In the case of a leg mover (in trot), the foreleg will be over expressive (over extended) whilst the hind limb will barely come through, giving an appearance of over extension in the forehand. Visually the effort seen in the forehand will far outweigh the effort seen in the hind quarters. In addition the angle of the forearm of the fore limb will not match that of the canon bone of the hind limb. In the case of the piaffe, the horse will appear hollow with much more action coming from the forehand and barely any effort from the hind quarters.
For the horse to be moving at his optimum he must move freely and easily under the weight of the rider. A young, or developing horse, or one who is being reschooled or rehabilitated should initially be encouraged to move forward with a long, dropped neck and his nose pointing forward and downward into the light contact given by the rider’s hands. Upon reaching this uninhibited way of moving, the horse relaxes, lifts and swings through the back, allowing the trot to move forward whilst keeping the rhythm and covering the ground without rushing. With the back lifted, free and swinging, and the rider balanced and ‘out of the way’ the hind legs are better able to reach under the horse in order that he may drive himself forward with ease and with little stress or strain on other areas of his body. Working like this will serve to strengthen and develop all the correct muscle structures within the horse’s body, preparing him well for the next stage in his development.