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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

 

Vertical Flexion

also read Flexion Lateral and TRAINING for FLEXION

 


To the layman, vertical flexion appears to be only a downward flexion of the neck, but the real horseman knows it is the beginning of one of the most necessary ingredients of pure horsemanship, roundness in the horse's top line. It's totally dependent on two things: the amount of relaxed flexion in the neck and the amount of collection or "reach" from behind.  A horse having a relaxed, flexible neck is just imperative. You'll never have a bad ride if the neck is good, and you're not going to have a good ride if the neck is bad. So how do you get that perfect neck?

Any message from the rider must go through the reins, to the bit and from there to the horse's brain. But even the most perfect signal from the rider can't make it from the horse's brain to his body if he has resistance in his neck. In order to make sure that a clear message gets through to our horse's body we have to teach the horse to be supple in his neck. We have to teach him vertical flexion.

Vertical flexion

Vertical flexion appears to the layman to be only a downward flexion of the neck; however the real horseman knows that vertical flexion is the beginning of one of the most necessary ingredients of pure performance horsemanship. If the horse is round in his neck, it also allows for his top line to be round.  The degree of roundness we achieve is dependent on two things: the amount of relaxed - and that's the key word - flexion in the neck and the amount of collection or reach from behind. If we don't have collection along with the flexion we've achieved, then the opposite of what we're after occurs; the weight of the horse will tip on to the forehand.

In our present horse society there is so much emphasis on the vertical flexion that it is easy to forget how important it is to engage the hindquarters. And, a horse who is flexed but unengaged looks nearly the same to the untrained eye. It took me a long time, and I watched thousands of horses, to understand what they meant when they said, 'You've got to get him round on top, get him to lift his rib cage, raise his back.' I didn't get it. When someone would say, 'His back is up pretty good.' I'd just say, 'You bet it is!'

The essence of making the horse rounder in his top line is to get him to re-distribute his weight from his natural state of 60% weight on the forehand and 40% of his weight carried behind to 60% of his weight on the hindquarters. In other words we need to shorten his wheelbase. This makes him much more comfortable and fun to ride; it doesn't matter if you're on a reined cow horse, a rope horse or a trail horse.  A horse who is carrying himself correctly will go from a lope to a trot or stop smoothly whereas - and we've all had this experience - a horse who is balanced on his forehand will make this transition very uncomfortable for the rider.

Since the horse doesn't speak English, our job is to send him a message that he can understand. A horse with a soft supple neck has a better chance of interpreting our signal correctly. Whereas a horse who is scared or defiant will have a neck as stiff as a board. The importance of a supple neck is one of the best kept secrets in horsemanship. It is the key. Any horse that has resistance in the neck is going to have performance flaws.

How to teach Vertical Flexion

During foundation of ground training the horse learns lateral and vertical flexion.  He learns to bend at the poll this is because during the training exercises the rope training halter puts slight pressure on the horse’s nose and chin so he learns to tip his nose in and bend at the poll.  If the horse does not learn this before transitioning to a bitless or bitted bridle; with the bit our direct rein pressure goes to the horse’s mouth and draws his head to his chest without bending at his poll.  Instead the horse breaks or yields more at the withers.  Horses that break at the withers dumping more weight on their forehand because they are not soft at the poll, they will not round their backs to collect, therefore they will not balance naturally so they do not move well.  Horses tend to stay stiffer in the face no matter what we ask of him.  Often I see riders using gizmos on their horses such as; tie downs and martingales and try to temporarily fix these issues.

Before you can teach a horse to flex vertically, you need to teach him to flex laterally by that I mean side to side.