The Spanish Riding School knows
what it is doing when it requires novice dressage riders to sit on a lunge horse
for more than 300 hours (without reins and stirrups) to develop the rider's seat. Three hundred hours is a long time but this
is a small price a rider educated at the Spanish Riding School pays to have the best instruction in the world.
At the Spanish Riding School,
the older schoolmasters are used as lungeing horses. These horses are schooled to the hilt and possess all the qualities of
a good lungeing horse. However, a good lungeing horse does not have to come out of the Spanish Riding School. Often we have
them already in the stable but never recognized that particular horse's special qualities.
The idea to learn dressage on
the lunge, before attempting to ride or train a horse on your own makes sense. Taking the time to regularly ride on the lunge
teaches and improves balance, feel for rhythm and tempo, ability to time and coordinate the aids, and the skills to ride the
horse without constraining or interfering with its three natural gaits.
Students who learn to feel unconstrained,
swinging, elastic movement on the lunge, will be able to recognize what is correct once off the lunge. As a result, aspiring
dressage riders can begin to develop good riding basics on a horse that encompasses good dressage basics itself, without having
to go to the Spanish Riding School for instruction.
There are many important qualities
needed for a lungeing horse that will encourage faster learning and/or improve
feel for riding. Primarily, the lungeing horse should possess a good rhythm, use its whole topline when striding, have three
natural and rhythmic gaits, be broad backed and balanced. The horse should take the correct leads when asked, and respond
to the voice commands of the handler.
Three Unconstrained, Natural
Most important for a lungeing
horse are three natural and pure gaits. The canter should be three beats, the trot two, and the walk four. As it is stated
in the 1992 AHSA Rule Book [page 144], the qualities of a dressage horse, or in our case a good lungeing horse, will be shown
when the horse's "walk is regular, free and unconstrained. His trot is free, supple, regular, sustained and active. His canter
united, light and cadenced."
A four-beat canter, irregular
trot or lateral walk are bad news in the dressage horse and the lunge horse. To learn how to ride, the student must learn
to feel what correct movement is. The rider who learns how to canter on a horse with a four-beat canter will think four beats
All three gaits should be unconstrained.
This means that the horse moves throughout its topline from tail to poll and is not hampered by either the rider's weight,
rein, or stiffness in its muscular base. Once again, the rider will learn what a horse's free and unconstrained movement really
is when learning on a horse with three pure gaits.
At the trot and walk a horse with
good unconstrained movement will over-stride or track up. Of course, this should be expected of the lungeing horse. Only when
the horse does at least minimally track up is it stretching throughout its whole topline and carrying the rider, as opposed
to hollowing from the weight of the rider.
This is called 'coming through'
because the horse's back muscles are rounding under the rider's seat and, as a result, coming from the hindquarters over the
loins and back to the poll. 'Coming through' is the result of the horse taking a full stride, utilizing its whole topline
with each step, and the rider's body allowing the horse through, and not inhibiting its motion.
The short-striding horse that
is not coming through may be easier to sit, but the student who pursues lessons on such a horse will not develop an influential
seat, nor learn to recognize free and unconstrained movement. Any horses later trained by such a rider are apt to be very
conservative in movement and lack the full spring, suspension and elastic suppleness that good dressage exemplifies.