The Balanced Horse

Related Articles:
  1) The mechanics of the movement and the body structure. 
  2) Impulse - Impulsion  
  3) Collection  
  4) Impulsion Line  

Today's style of "dressage" displaying the horse heavy on the forehand and as a result the rider is leaning back. The horse's neck is over flexed below the horizontal, refusing the bit. Note, the bit below the hip
The front is overextending and hind is dragging. The hind is off the ground (disengaged), while all the weight is on one front leg where it shows the immense stress on the deep flexor, hence future navicular problems. In balanced horse in trot, if and when both hinds are off the ground, so should be the fronts. (see collection)
Shortly said " a riding nightmare".

     The laws of physics prove, that an object is most stable/balanced if its gravity is in its center and when the balance is equally divided on individual supports.

     The body of the horse is supported with four legs forming a rectangle. From the torso forward is extended neck with the head, the front of the fore-lever that is not balanced on the other end with much, which of course causes the horse to be weight-forward and over loads the front legs to some point even without a rider.

     The center of gravity is therefore not in the center of the rectangle, which the legs are supporting, but is moved further forward, approximately there where the horse’s heart is. (see picture above, right corner-red line)

     When the horse is weighted down by the rider, who sits behind the withers and on the fore part of the back, the center of gravity will move somewhat further back but the weight will not be equally distributed still (green line above right). The front legs will remain over weighted and suffer from premature overuse. All in all, the stability and sure-footedness of the horse is significantly reduced due to the added weight of the rider.

The "classical" western European style. Note the bit is well above the hip, head more on vertical however, the need for a stronger and severe aids like two sets of reins and pelhem. Longer stirrups and the heel down as against the rider below.

The typical old eastern style of riding, more on the notion of the natural style (rider and the horse adjusting to each other), rather than the "classical" adjusting the horse. The bit above the hip, head less vertical than above. Note the more forward seat, shorter stirrups and characteristic of the easterners, the toe down, rather than the heal. Note the less severe bit and one set of reins.

Note the head equipment of the horse of this Red Army cavalry rider (1928). In basics, only a halter with a snap-on snaffle.
This is all they needed to guide their horses on the battle field.


     In practice this can be seen by young horses when moved forward in trot or canter/gallop while overweighed forward by their forward sticking neck and head, as well as by the weight of the rider. The front legs of the horse have difficulty to catch the forward push of the hind legs as the timing of the whole mechanics is off and the front is landing somewhat prematurely. This causes the young horse to lean forward into the bid, his gait tends to quicken as well as his speed often accelerates; this also sometime results in the sudden stopping of the horse and/or refusing to move altogether, as well as unseating the rider in some cases. The horse left in this/his "natural" balance will often begin to lean strongly into the bit (pulling, often called “running on the forehand” and “throwing himself on the chest”). Horse like that becomes un-maneuverable, difficult to turn or stop and for turning will need a large space. The lower set neck and head causes an uncomfortable feeling to the rider (who then tends to lean back), as well as, the premature overuse (abuse) of the animals forelegs.

     By riding (only) the Rider is to influence and change the center of gravity further toward the rear, more to the center of the rectangle and thus bring the horse into the “artificial balance” (collecting); this will aid the horse to gain more stability, he becomes maneuverable, better balancing the rider on his back, easy to control while gaining solid (fine) contact on the bit and at the same time distributing the weight equally on all four legs, thus preventing the premature overuse (injuries) of the front legs.

     In the basics there are recognized two extremes:

     The Natural Balance by the racehorse, where the center of gravity is moved more forward by the extended neck, lower set head and by the rider’s saddle. The back and the rear are minimally burdened to enable the maximum extension of the hind legs under the horse, which of course results in tremendous impact of the front legs, hence these horses riding career is mostly very short, because they overuse the front legs and go finally lame. (More on the balance of the racehorse coming up and how to prevent the abuse/overuse of the front)

     The Artificial Balance by the school horse, where the center of gravity is by the help of the rider moved further toward the center of the horse (rectangle) and in some cases completely on the hind end (high school/work in the air). The carrying capability of the hind overrides its pushing capacity, which rests in the hind end being set well under the horse, in the sufficient lowering of the hind legs joints, in the collection and the more erect position of the neck when exercising more refined, natural and artificial gaits of the horse in limited spaces.

     The “Campagne” riding is trying to move the center of gravity as much toward the center as possible, thus bringing the horse into the theoretical balance in order for the horse to carry the weight equally on the front and hind, thus using all legs equally, becoming maneuverable and easily controllable.

     The “Campagne” horse is supposed to be an “universal” (all-around) horse; handling the basics of the school riding requirements – individual figures and exercises in the riding arena, while at the same time be a good horse in the terrain, as well as, a good jumper and a runner. (Here is, where the misunderstanding/abuse can be seen in the “three-day event” these days due to the "off balance" going of most horses.)

     The “Jumper” horse is supposed to be well balanced and responsive to the basics aids of the rider, easily controllable and maneuverable as well. His basic campagne training is often completed with a special jumping training.

     The Italian school, known as natural method of riding, used to leave the horse in its "natural" balance as against the "classical" school that required certain form of balanced and collected horse. The "classical" rider was teaching/forcing (The Spanish Riding School) the horse to adjust to him, while in the case of the Italian school the rider adjusted to the horse. This school did not required the repositioning of the center of gravity toward the center and the theory behind it was, that the horse during the training will to some point adopt his body to the given tasks.

      After putting this theory into practice the following was observed by some writers; most horses remained unbalanced in the first stage of the remount training, as well as, in the second. For this reason that type of riding was abandoned and even the Jumping horse was trained/taught the basics of the "classical" school. 

     From the Italian school (The riding academy in Pinerolo and Tor di Kvinto) still remains the basic requirement of the jumper using (jumping with) his back and neck, while the technique of the rider is in the strong and supple seat, leaning forward (the butt out of the saddle) to prevent interfering/disturbing the horse when jumping. The English style of jumping (sitting in the horse/leaning backwards, still often seen in the steeplechase today) was abandoned long time ago. (If you say that you ride English, you should think twice about what you are saying. The saddle does not justify a style.)

     The ultimate balance

     Yes there is such thing, but to most people it is unheard-of and unknown and in simple description it would be: “You and the horse will meet halfway. You will adjust to him and teach (not forcing) him to discover how to adjust to you and to the given tasks in his new found artificial balance”. Before you want to learn how to write music for the whole orchestra you need to learn how to play the piano; the latter however, most do not even manage in their lifetime and the first you will more likely never see. (The needed talent and the ability to feel cannot be taught or acquired, they are God's gifts that can be refined). To understand the following you need to know and be familiar with both, the natural balance (like in the case of racehorses) and the artificial balance (like the “classical/old” dressage). You also need to be familiar with the "campagne" style, as well as, the "classical" style of riding including vast experience in the light seat as well as the heavy seat, short and long stirrups etc. Here exist the ultimate balance and style of riding which is actually the combination of the Italian school and the "classical" school of riding. You are no longer leaving the horse in his natural balance or forcing him into the artificial balance. The ultimate balance is achieved literally by guiding the horse to look for and ultimately find his own artificial balance while at the same time the horse is teaching you how to ride (adjust to) him. (This cannot be taught at its early stages in the limited riding space of arenas, rings etc. and in slower gaits). The difference between the forced (programmed) and the (individual) new found/discovered (by the horse) artificial balance is the fact, that you will not need any longer to remind the horse constantly to stay in the artificial balance (gait, speed, rhythm etc.) as it is done by the classical-want-to-be style today, but the horse just for his own sake will keep the new-found, most comfortable and safe way of going. (Turning out such horse loose (if he is a performance horse) in the paddock/pasture is very foolish, but that is another subject). The result is enormous, as the horse is so willing and so mush more interested in his works, since he is no longer constantly agitated, aided by the rider in every move. No need for spurs, the curb, various restrains and the concept of “driving the horse forward” gains the ultimate stupidity, especially in the case of dressage. This cannot be achieved without the proper seat and balance (physical and mental) of the rider himself.

     In today’s dressage you will find mostly women, who are doing such funky things (the men too) with their hips and butts when riding, and one needs not to wonder why most of the guys prefer to watch the women ride (nice tight riding pants) rather than to do it themselves. To some sense it is almost erotic, especially in the “new way” of posting when sticking their hips out and in (forth and back); hilarious and very entertaining. Well… for some, but surely not for the horse, when the often too heavy butt is landing on the cantle and mercilessly pounding the back of the horse.

Typical dressage horse of today. Heavy on the forehand, the bit below the hip/line will always show it, even to a novice.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any photos to show balanced horse, but this should give you some idea. The bit is well above the hipbone.

Written* and translated by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek
*The technical aspects of this articles is a translation from the 1953 Special Zoo-Technique - Breeding of Horses
Published in 1953 by the Czechoslovakian Academy of Agricultural Science and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by: MVDr Ludvik Ambroz, Frabtisek Bilek, MVDr Karel Blazek, Ing. Jaromir Dusek, Ing. Karel Hartman, Hanus Keil, pro. MVDr Emanuel Kral, Karel Kloubek, Ing. Dr. Frantisek Lerche, Ing. Dr Vaclav Michal, Ing. Dr Zdenek Munki, Ing. Vladimir Mueller, MVDr Julius Penicka, pro. MVDr Emil Pribyl, MVDr Lev Richter, prof. Ing. Dr Josef Rechta, MVDr Karel Sejkora and Ing. Dr Jindrich Steinitz.