Q: When do you start being particular about posture with a young horse?
A: The first thing to realize is that EVERYTHING effects posture. I am always noticing it, but not always directly 'talking to it' with my youngsters.
See if you can list all the things that you could imagine might have a negative effect on a horse's natural posture. Yes, it is a LONG list! My goal is to eliminate as many things on that list ... Then I will be left with my horse's best natural posture (as natural as it can be with my body sitting on top of it) ;-)
Then I will put more of a focus on directly asking for certain movements, etc., that will cause her biomechanics to operate more healthily (in a better posture) ... So she can carry me efficiently, comfortably and pain-free for many many years. I owe that to her. But I ALWAYS remember that posture is not a shape, it is a dynamic. It is born out of movement and functioning.
So, for my great big baby horse I need to make sure she is mentally engaged, calm, and motivated. I need to make sure she understands to follow a focus, to have responsibilities of maintaining gait, that she can melt to a stop, that she understands what it means when i ask her to turn, move her HQ or FQ's. She needs to understand the difference between thinking of a walk, trot, canter or back up. She needs to realize she is safe and that she can investigate things that worry her. She needs to know she can trust me to leave her alone when I need to and to answer her questions when I need to and to set her up for success.
If these things are in place, she can have a nice, free, young horse posture. Imagine what the posture of a horse might be if it didn't move forward from a suggestion, if it didn't turn when the rider directed it to, if it was always impulsive, or afraid ... If it didn't do any of the things listed above.
If you remember what a foundation is for and play with all the games and exercises so you achieve the result, then you will have something to build upon. I am building an addition on my house (or rather I am watching other people build the addition that I drew a picture of on a scrap of paper last year). And as much as I want to get to the part where I am picking out light fixtures and paint ... I know the key to my house having 'good posture' is to be patient and diligent in getting the simple basics (the foundation) right ... then the rest will fly.
Each horse has its particularities. For Natilla, for example, she is beautifully forward and eager, stops and relaxes fairly well, but the steering was an issue. That girl has the potential to just tank in any direction she wants. I saw this early and put a priority on anything about getting the message to her feet with respect to turning and directing her front end (particularly her mind/focus). I could see very quickly that she could get good at bringing her nose in to turn, but leave her shoulders bulging out ... and that will definitely effect her posture and general development. So, my 'dressage brain' says, "I have to get her neck straight and align her shoulders" while my 'foundation brain' says, "Well, of course she is over-bending her neck ... she is not 100% committed to following your focus!" So, I set up barrels on a circle for her to go around. This way I get her mind on the circle, and her body will follow. I also played with the whole arena and practiced forehand yields in corners.
Take the time to eliminate the reasons why postural issues will develop and then the rest will be easier. And, remember, the horse does not need to feel that she was 'put' in a frame or position.
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