Know the horse

There are many fundamental principles of dressage that must absolutely be known and respected

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First of all, to be able to understand and apply the principles of dressage, it is necessary to know the nature of the horse and its physiology. This is a task for every rider: to study the nature of the horse in all its aspects, its physical structure, its movement, its way of communication and expression. Only having acquired this culture is the rider able to understand the reactions of the horse, to know what and how to keep it calm, relaxed, extended, straight and able to respond to its demands, maximising its body, its strength and energy to work together at all times, to take the jumps correctly and to preserve its body and mind. There are four of these principles: calmness, forward movement, asymmetry and straight posture.
By their very nature, horses can be calm or nervous. Their nervousness is often exacerbated by an incorrect approach by trainers, by an excessively demanding workload, especially for a young horse, or by inappropriate methods. Conversely, it is possible to decrease nervousness through patience, sensitivity, correct knowledge and experience. But we must not confuse calmness with laziness: a calm horse does not mean being lazy. When calm, the horse must still be bright, active and connected to its rider; its cooperation must be obtained without losing its personality and self-will.
Forward movement
This is the good will of the horse to move forward, feeling calm at the request of the rider. Energy and impulsion are the two elements that characterise it. Also in this case, forward movement should not be confused with nervousness. A forward-moving horse is not nervous. Regularity of the gaits is proof that the result is correct. A horse mounted correctly in forward movement must be extended, vigorous, rhythmic, fluid and calm.
Perfectly straight horses are rare. We can define asymmetry a natural characteristic. Often this asymmetry is increased by riders, right or left handed, and by an unstable posture or lack of experience. Asymmetry is the opposite of straightness. We can observe a horse advancing right towards us: we can see asymmetry if the rear is not aligned to the front. It is possible to see an aligned rear and the front diverted. The body appears to be slightly curved. In the saddle we can perceive asymmetry through posture. The body of the horse, as that of a person, is not symmetrically developed. Each horse has a strong side and a weak side. In general, its strong part is the one from which the mane falls. The horse pushes more from the side where it is strongest and this promotes a greater range of mouvement and suppleness, favouring horizontal balance but making it more difficult to control. By contrast, from the weak side balance is more sustained and therefore better and the length of the stride is reduced which facilitates control.
​A horse in mouvement is straight when its spine forms a straight line through its entire length, from neck to tail. In turning, the horse remains in line with the whole body with its shoulders also forward. Imagine a train moving on rails. The horse is then flexed in the line of movement. If we look at a horse coming straight towards us, we note that the rear and front are on the same line. When we are in the saddle, we can feel the horse straight when we are well seated in the centre of the saddle and our legs fall naturally, remaining in the same position and are symmetrical. We can also perceive that the shoulders of the horse move in parallel in a symmetrical manner. In conclusion, once we are able to recognise the four basic points, we can start to work on technique, performing work exercises on a flat, starting from achieving the best results from the simplest of exercises, following the rules of a correct work method...