I think it's really important that your horse learns to relax under saddle and travel correctly BEFORE you ask for a good quality gait (such as a good working trot or a powerful extension).
As I mentioned last time, your horse can only think of one thing at a time and if that is speed, rather than relaxation and lifting its back, then speed will always win. The fact is that speed, if the horse is asked to go fast for a long time, will kill the horse (in an extreme situation) so that has to be his primary focus. Forget relaxation, softness in the bridle or using your back properly - she's trying to kill me with working trot!
Relaxation, softness in the bridle, shoulder elevation and rounding the back all become automatic responses to being ridden. The horse learns that, in order to get a release of pressure, all of these things will need to be in place. When they are automatic, you can then address the quality of the gait.
If you do it in that order, your horse will maintain relaxation (and all of the other things mentioned) while learning the new gait expression. This will give you a much happier horse, much less conflicted and a considerably prettier picture in the end.
Ever wondered why some of those top level dressage horses look so tense and stressed? Here's your answer, relaxation never became automatic, was never sought first and was impossible to obtain as an afterthought.
Can you think of another situation where you MUST have relaxation first? Leave me a comment below.
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