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The Basics…

For those of you who have studying along with me, you know that I have several horsemanship "mantras" such as: "Work the eyes to get a hold of the feet…Work the feet to get the whole body to the mind".

"It’s about both human and the horse finding a

Willingness to Yield with Respect".

A third commonly heard chant is…

"It’s all about the Basics.

The better the horse goes forward, backs-up, moves sideways, and particularly disengages, the better he will do everything else."

For the next few newsletter articles, I would like to discuss the elements of that last statement, and begin by examining that all-important disengagement.

In February, during the Tom Dorrance Benefit in Texas, I was again struck by Ray Hunt’s focus on "the basics". Here were 60 of some of the finest clinicians and aspiring horsemen in the world, and Ray had us working on four basic maneuvers:

  • One – Go forward;
  • Two – Halt to a back up;
  • Three – Disengage hindquarters;
  • Four – Bring the front end through one-quarter turn.

Amazing that Mr. Hunt would use just those four little skills to illustrate the possible partnerships between horse and rider. Equally interesting was the variety of results!

So as we focus on the elements of proper disengagement, let’s begin by defining the maneuver, and then examine how we can work towards achievement.

Disengagement of the Hindquarters: The crossing of the hind feet, with the inside foot reaching under the body, forward and towards the outside of the circle, followed by the balancing-up of the horse with the outside hind foot reaching to the outside of the circle.

Things to WATCH for:

Whether on the ground or on-board, the first thing I watch for is the attention in the horse’s eyes. In order for a smooth disengagement, not only do I need a lateral bend (arching of the horse through his rib cage & neck), but also I need both eyes seeking the direction of travel. Watch for the inside eye and outside ear to follow your suggested movement towards the hip of the horse. This prepares the horse to lighten or free up the inside hind foot. Don’t PULL on the lead rope or rein!! Wait, watch, and feel for the eyes to follow your suggestion.

Next I will watch for the hind foot to almost leave the ground and move under the horses belly. Timing here is important. FEEL for the horse preparing his body, and quit your suggestion just before the inside hind moves. Relax your intentions. If you are on the ground, simply stop your feet. If you are on-board, relax your slightly bent inside leg, and seek the centerline of the horse with your posture, eyes, and belly button. Allow the horse to step under and square up on his outside hind foot.

Remember…THINK about what you are asking first; PREPARE your eyes, posture, and legs to best advise the horse of the movement you want; ASSIST, help, fix, and refine with your hands last; ALLOW the horse to find the movement; REWARD by balancing-up and find the centerline.

Why is disengagement such an important basic?

We could probably discuss this for hours! Here are a few thoughts:

  • It allows us to watch for, feel for, and understand the separation of the front end of the horse from the back. In so doing, we can disengage the motor and power of our horse. It is our best method of staying safe, and allows both horse and rider to face the danger.
  • It gives us the tools to prepare the horse, in a balanced manner, for additional movement requests, such balanced turn-on-center, turn-on-the-haunches, shoulder-in & haunches-in, correct canter departures, to name a few.
  • Disengagement allows the human to feel the subtle importance of the use of our aids, our focus, our posture, our balance, our rhythm, and our timing. It prepares us humans to be more in-tune with our horse.

As you go out and practice perfect riding, think about the importance of this basic maneuver…disengagement.

I think that if you apply the elements we have discussed above, you will find a new willingness in your horse/human partnership. One that allows you and your horse to discover…It’s all about the basics!

Going Forward... Disengagement Holidays 2001 Tom Dorrance Lessons for 2000 Sideways Self-Carriage NWHS 101


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