For those of you
who have studying along with me, you know that I have several horsemanship
"mantras" such as: "Work
the eyes to get a hold of the feet…Work
the feet to get the whole body to the mind".
about both human and the horse finding a
Willingness to Yield
A third commonly heard chant is…
about the Basics.
The better the horse goes forward, backs-up,
moves sideways, and particularly disengages,
the better he will do everything else."
For the next few newsletter articles, I would like to discuss the
elements of that last statement, and begin by examining that all-important
In February, during the Tom Dorrance Benefit in Texas, I was again
struck by Ray Hunt’s focus on "the basics". Here were 60 of
some of the finest clinicians and aspiring horsemen in the world, and Ray
had us working on four basic maneuvers:
- Three – Disengage hindquarters;
- Four – Bring the front end through one-quarter turn.
Amazing that Mr. Hunt would use just those four little skills to
illustrate the possible partnerships between horse and rider. Equally
interesting was the variety of results!
So as we focus on the elements of proper disengagement, let’s begin
by defining the maneuver, and then examine how we can work towards
Disengagement of the Hindquarters:
The crossing of the hind feet, with the inside foot reaching under the
body, forward and towards the outside of the circle, followed by the
balancing-up of the horse with the outside hind foot reaching to the
outside of the circle.
Things to WATCH for:
Whether on the ground or on-board, the first thing I watch for is the
attention in the horse’s eyes. In order for a smooth disengagement, not
only do I need a lateral bend (arching of the horse through his rib cage
& neck), but also I need both eyes seeking the direction of travel.
Watch for the inside eye and outside ear to follow your suggested movement
towards the hip of the horse. This prepares the horse to lighten or free
up the inside hind foot. Don’t PULL on the lead rope or rein!! Wait,
watch, and feel for the eyes to follow your suggestion.
Next I will watch for the hind foot to almost leave the ground and move
under the horses belly. Timing here is important. FEEL
for the horse preparing his body, and quit your suggestion just before the
inside hind moves. Relax your intentions. If you are on the ground, simply
stop your feet. If you are on-board, relax your slightly bent inside leg,
and seek the centerline of the horse with your posture, eyes, and belly
button. Allow the horse to step under and square up on his outside hind
what you are asking first; PREPARE your eyes, posture, and legs to
best advise the horse of the movement you want; ASSIST, help, fix,
and refine with your hands last; ALLOW the horse to find the
movement; REWARD by
balancing-up and find the centerline.
Why is disengagement such an important basic?
We could probably discuss this for hours! Here are a few thoughts:
- It allows us to watch for, feel for, and understand the separation
of the front end of the horse from the back. In so doing, we can
disengage the motor and power of our horse. It is our best method of
staying safe, and allows both horse and rider to face the danger.
- It gives us the tools to prepare the horse, in a balanced manner,
for additional movement requests, such balanced turn-on-center,
turn-on-the-haunches, shoulder-in & haunches-in, correct canter
departures, to name a few.
- Disengagement allows the human to feel the subtle importance of the
use of our aids, our focus, our posture, our balance, our rhythm, and
our timing. It prepares us humans to be more in-tune with our horse.
As you go out and practice perfect
riding, think about the importance of this basic maneuver…disengagement.
I think that if you apply the elements we have discussed above, you
will find a new willingness in your horse/human partnership. One that
allows you and your horse to discover…It’s all about the basics!