Last Updated on April 2, 2022 by Allison Price
Q: I ride in an arena that doesn’t have mirrors. How can I tell if my horse is behind a vertical? Do you have any clues? –Name withheld on request
A. I can clearly recall the days when I rode without mirrors, and I asked this question. Dressage requires that the horse be ridden with his poll at its highest point and his nose slightly forward of the vertical. How can we ensure that this requirement is metIt is a requirement of dressage that the horse go with his poll at the highest point and his nose slightly in front of the vertical. A person on the ground can help you tell if this requirement is met. If someone is not available, mirrors are a good substitute. (Credit: Silke Rottermann)
It is important to have someone on the ground. Mirrors can be used as a substitute if a person is unavailable. How can we feel when the vertical is behind the horse, if there are no mirrors or a ground person? Sometimes the horse behind the vertical feels more comfortable in the rider’s hands than it does on the ground. This can give the illusion of softness. Correct visual aid: The crownpiece of the Bridle should be at the top of the horse’s head.
To determine this, you need to watch your horse’s head. This will allow you to see if your horse is in an unnatural position. Your horse must be able to contact his poll from the side, with his nose slightly in front, while his nose should be at the vertical.
To establish contact properly, the horse must be in front and responsive to the leg. According to the USDF Glossary, a horse is considered “behind” the leg if he does not want to accept the contact/connection.
Remember that it is the responsibility of the horse to seek contact, and that the rider must receive contact with a passive, receiving hand. Too many riders attempt to accept the bridle by using an active hand, rather than encouraging responsiveness and encouraging the horse. An active hand can cause a shorter neck, with the poll at the lowest point and the nose below the vertical. The principle is the same regardless of the level.
The horse is either “on the bit”, “above it” or “behind it”. According to the USDF Glossary of Judging Terms the horse “behind” the bit retracts or shrinks from the contact/bit. His head might be in front of the vertical. The horse’s position “behind” the vertical must be evaluated based on whether it is riding with the aids of the rider, but is slightly behind the vertical, or if the rider is restricting him. The horse should feel as if the reins are being stretched, creating an elastic contact.
We are now back at the core of the matter that I can’t stress enough: It is the responsibility of the horse to seek contact. The rider is not responsible for being on the bit. The horse must stretch for contact and be on their bit.
Ride exercises with a helping hand are a great way to determine if your horse is correct in contact. Your horse must maintain his balance, rhythm and tempo. Stretch your horse often throughout the ride. Stretching your horse at the trot with the stretch circle is a great exercise to show your horse that he is properly stretching his back to make contact. It also shows you if your training is correct.
Let’s summarize: Your horse should feel like he is actively seeking contact from the back to front. This can be achieved by a swinging back, soft and elastic contact. Your horse will feel that he is going with his poll at its highest point and his nose in front.