As dressage riders, we want the horse
to carry us as if unburdened, the back not concaving under our weight, but rounding, filling out our seat elastically with
every stride. Developing in the horse's back and neck muscles the ability to stretch down and out will help to establish this
acquired natural carriage with a rider. This stretching down and out is one of the major suppling exercises to develop a pulsating
back (top line) with an elastic strength coordinating the activated muscles to reach for the bit, soften at the poll,
and consequently chew the bit.
The only requirement before beginning
is that the horse allow itself to be driven forward. The horse must basically move quietly off your leg, so you can activate
the hindquarters into your hand. We want to harness the energy, not by constraining the gait, but by displaying its elastic
elegance between our aids - legs, seat, and hands.
No attempt should ever be made to
slow the horse by framing it unnaturally, or by forcing it onto the bit, for these actions stifle the freedom of movement
in the gait. The horse must always be allowed to stretch and seek contact with the bit. If the hindquarters are not activated,
and the back is not allowed to pulsate and stretch through the neck to the poll, the horse will never arrive naturally with
acceptance of the bit.
Basically what happens with down-and-out,
or chewing the reins out of the hands at a trot, is that the hind end is activated into the receiving hand, which resists
until the horse nods or gives at the poll. At this moment, the hands give or yield forward, encouraging the horse to
stretch its neck and back muscles forward and down. The flexion or nod that occurs at the poll relaxes the muscles of
the poll and jaw allowing the back to reverberate through the horse's neck resulting in the start of forward and
down. However, only as far as the horse's back or top line is supple.
The nod will bring the nose momentarily
behind the poll, or behind the bit, but only for a minuscule moment, for immediately the reflex will return the nose forward.
With the hands already given in response to the nod, the horse's top line muscles will continue to move forward
the neck stretching down.
the horse lowers its head only six inches to a foot, you must ask it again from whichever point it stopped stretching.
However, more than likely, before you have the chance to adjust the reins and get a steady contact to ask again, the
horse has already raised its head back to normal.
Here is where tact and skill come
into play: driving, resisting, giving, and receiving must work together in one harmonious flow!
The rider must acquire the feel for
lengthening the reins and shortening them practically all at once. One suggestion is to widen the hands to take up the slack
in the rein when the horse suddenly raises its head, then bring them to center again and follow the neck back down after
getting the nod. The independent action of the rider's hand, elastic elbows and shoulders is as vital to the down-and-out
as the nod. The rider must be able to bring the elbows back behind the hip to absorb the instant slack and forward again
while maintaining balance. Many riders find this difficult, because their shoulders are stiff, or they lack the stability
of balance in their over seat, or position and were told to never move the hands.
We have to understand that during
the process of developing these muscles to stretch elastically, it is natural for the horse to raise its head suddenly. Therefore,
it should not be punished for doing so. This stretching must be a gradual process. Eventually, the regular stimulation of
stretching will give way to the muscles developing a lengthened resting place of wanting the stretch down and out.
A good way to discover the feel of
the horse's nodding is to practice this sequence at a halt. This is called Chewing the Reins out of the Hands. Learning
to feel for the the nod, or giving at the poll, is vital for knowing when the horse is submissive and ready to
stretch down-and-out, or even just willingly come to the bit and accept being on the aids.
Establish a halt with the horse on
the aids seat, legs, and hands. The hand's remain closed, telling the horse to stand still. The legs hold the horse into the
bit and are ready to ask the horse to move forward when necessary. Of course this does not mean that the hands are pulling
or the eg is constantly squeezing.
When the nod comes, it is minuscule,
the horse will drop its nose about an inch or less toward the chest. John Lyon's teaches this and he calls it
when the horse nods either , "a baby give, a good give or a great give." Certainly, we want the "great give," but often
we get a series of "baby or good gives!" After the nod, give slightly with the reins by moving the elastic elbows forward.
As the horse begins to seek contact again, ask it again to soften at the poll by resisting slightly until the neck gradually
lowers and the nose stretches forward pointing down-and-out. Consequently, the horse will begin to chew the bit out
of your hands. Not as easy as it sounds, as most riders get caught up in the asking and forget to allow. Riding
requires tact and feel, because oddly at the same time as we are talking to the horse with our aids, we have to be listening
After achieving Chewing the Reins
out of your Hands at a halt, practicing these subtle tactics at a walk can be more effective, since there will be slightly
more impulsion, provided the horse walks freely forward. However, the trot is the foundation gait upon which to base
the real work of down-and-out. The rhythmic impulsions established in the pulsating diagonal stride of the trot
creates an elasticized naturally activated back which then results in the stretching forward and down. Nevertheless,
one must first learn the sequence described above of what to feel and how to ask before beginning this work at a trot. Practicing
at the halt helps to refine the rider's asking and listening aids.
Even so, the goal will still be difficult
to achieve. At first, some horses, as they begin to stretch forward and down, will lose momentum as muscles of the back
become tensed from the unaccustomed forward stretching. The pulsations created from the trot, however, help to
loosen the tight muscles. When the gait slows, be patient with the horse and keep trotting, though do not force the
gait if discomfort persists. Let the muscles relax before pursuing the down-and-out at a trot once again.