Going behind the vertical vs placing behind the vertical

Published on 1 November 2023 at 15:06

Going behind the vertical vs placing behind the vertical


Before I go on my 3 week holiday, I thought this post might be helpful and lessen the online fights I see online, all the time.

✅ On or before the vertical
Let me be clear, a horse should go on or before the vertical because that way his body can function best and most healthy and naturally. This way he can relax his back muscles, use the correct neck muscles, and free his shoulders and engage his abdominals and hind quarters, needed for maximum suspension of the hind legs. Suspension of the hind legs is what protects the body from wear and tear. That is why we always want that and train for that. Ironically, trying to achieve that is what often wears and tears horses, because many people are trying to achieve this wrongly, creating exactly the opposite effect: a horse on the forehand with zero suspension. This is also not a new concept, Xenophon talks annoyed about it in his book, 300BC.
The reason is that people somehow think that ‘rounding the horse in front’ creates collection, which if it were that simple, my 326 pages book and all other equestrian books, instructors and what have you, would be superfluous.

⚠️ Common misconception
This common misconception probably comes from the fact that when horses move via suspension of the hind, they lift their shoulders and withers, which lifts the base of the neck, resulting in what we perceive as a rounded frame. Unfortunately, it does not work from front to back, only from back to front. You might have heard that over and over. Still, many (competition) riders from basic to Olympic level even, keep mainly showing horses ridden front to back. This results in unfortunate and unhealthy movement for the horses, which is one of the major factors that makes animal activists, a growing number of legislators and horses owners wanting to abolish equestrian competition.

👉 Going behind the vertical
Because of the above, seeing a horse go behind the vertical during training has (understandably) become some sort of a deadly sin, to which horse lovers and often purist classical dressage enthusiasts have begun a crusade. It is however impossible to never have all horses going behind the vertical, as horses are animals, not machines, and enforcing a head position is never a good thing, not even if it is ‘the correct’ one. Reasons for horses to go behind the vertical can be their build (many Spanish type horses but also the modern day Lipizzaner as well as most modern warmbloods have a tendency to go behind the vertical as soon as contact is taken, no matter how soft). An other cause can be loss of balance but also weakness in the hind quarters and abdominals. One most always strive to get the nose in front of the vertical, but with a horse that tends to suck in by himself, that is not always 100% possible all the time, nor should it be a huge problem, if the time spend on or in front of the vertical increases with each training, as a result of the horse becoming stronger and more balanced.

❌ Being put behind the vertical (rollkur/LDR)
What one should look for in a horse is the aids of the rider and the shape of the horse. If a horse is continuously deliberately placed (far) behind the vertical, his body will shape that way because the muscle will develop after this contra collected form of movement. You must look for clear gaits. Horses forced behind the vertical will lose their correct and clear rhythm, horses that go behind the vertical will not. The shape of the horse, his rhythm, and the aids of the rider, tell you whether we have an innocent moment of a horse going behind the vertical or a horse put there, because to many riders that is seen as beneficial and a form of training system that produces (competition) results. Of which the saddest part is, it often seems to be the case. For which I again warn, that if that is not changed -more like yesterday- the equestrian competitions might find themselves in trouble and turmoil very soon. Of course a horse that has suffered rollkur in the past, is with a new well meaning and better equipped rider not instantly cured, that too can be the case. I therefore advice to be a bit more careful before making rapid judgement, when the aids of the rider clearly look soft and correct.

✅ In my book I explain a lot about what rollkur/LDR is and does, I dissect research from Van Weeren amongst others and I explain how to help horses who have been formerly trained in rollkur to find a natural and comfortable position again and heal the problems, rollkur inflicts on horses. Find my book here.


For the love of Horses,


© All rights reserved Josepha Guillaume - Dressage in Hand

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