Conventional Ideas 1 - Balance and LDR

 
We hear and read many things regarding the training techniques used by top-level dressage riders.
In France, it is hard to access information from varied sources, because the best trainers and riders live overseas and their publications are often only translated in English. The same thing goes for scientific works: even studies written in French are usually published in English.
French readers and auditors, even when they are open-minded and curious by nature, therefore usually only have very limited information available to them, which is often presented as the absolute truth.
I would therefore like to demonstrate, not that these traditional ideas are incorrect, but that they represent only one way of seeing things - and in order to ensure that our reasoning is not overly simplistic, we must understand that there exists other points of view, each as feasible as each other.


Conventional Idea 1: When a horse is ridden in LDR (low deep round) attitude, or low and round, it is necessarily on the forehand
When I speak of balance, I speak here only of longitudinal balance, that is, the weight distribution of the horse as between his forehand and his hindquarters. I will for now leave aside lateral balance, which is the weight distribution of the horse as between his right side and left side, as it is not necessary for this discussion.
First of all, there does not exist solely one longitudinal balance, but many. Between a horse which is in mézair and one which is "on the forehand", there are a variety of possible balance points.
Unless otherwise stated, we will use the definition of balance used in the old classical work of riding (editions Lavuazelle), which explains that "a horse is balanced when, at any given moment, his muscular power can move his mass in any direction".
During the previous centuries, studies done on the horse's balance (Captain St Phalle, General Morris) have come to conclusions about weight distribution depending on the placement of the horse's neck.
During my professional studies, we were shown various tables estimating that for a horse weighing 450kg, the hindlegs carried 200kg, the forelegs carried 200kg, and the neck weighed 50kg, which created a 50kg surcharge towards the forehand when the horse was in a neutral position... This was followed by a study of the weight distribution of this same weight depending on the horse's head and neck position, and the presence (or lack thereof) of a rider (which sits rather more on the forelegs).
These studies, which were worthwhile doing and do trigger analytic thought, nevertheless omitted one important element: horse riding is a dynamic activity, and the centre of gravity of a horse is continually displaced to ensure that he is in correct balance during movement. This balance can be perturbed by a rider who sits badly, or by hindered motion in parts of the body (for example through blocking by the rider).
But this balance is not solely dependent on the placement of the head and neck. The role of the hindquarters is essential.
Riders sometimes complain that their horse lacks balance. They would like to ride with less "weight", but their horse, insufficiently "well-balanced", bears down in the hand and is "sticky" to the aids. These riders, to solve their "balance" problem, will often try to work the horse with a higher attitude, even sometimes an open attitude.
Train your eye to focus on the functioning of the hindquarters, and you will soon realise something: the propulsive power of the hindquarters moves the centre of gravity of the horse towards the front, and the quick bending of the joints of the hindquarters moves it towards the back.
Therefore, when your horse does not want to walk calmly - when he becomes hot and jig-jogs on the spot - you will not have balance problems. On the other hand, a horse that takes big slow strides is likely to have a balance that is difficult for the rider to manage.

Photo de Cathy Paul 
Let's come back to our starting point. Can a horse which is in LDR attitude be balanced?
The horse ridden in LDR can be balanced if his back articulates and works properly, and if his hindlegs are quick and move forward under his mass. Note however that "quick" does not mean rushed, but rather dynamic, active, and most of all, reactive. There is then a connection between the hindquarters and the mouth, going through the back to the rider's hand, but this rein weight is not due to a lack of balance on the part of the horse, nor from a pulling motion from the rider. The rider can at any time give the reins forward, and the horse remains mobilised and can return to a competition frame once the rider increases their body tension and shortens the reins.
The horse ridden low and round in this way is therefore balanced, attentive, light, a pleasure to ride and mobilised in every direction.
Does a horse in LDR have the same balance as a horse in competition frame?
Of course not. One of the objectives of LDR is to be able to move the mass of the horse around as desired, and to obtain a more horizontal balance when desired. During LDR, the horse has a balance which is more horizontal than uphill.
In actual fact, to have a horse balanced "on the hindquarters" is not always advantageous. Propulsive power can be affected; the back can become stiff; the weight on the hindquarters can hinder their mobility and quickness; hindquarters are not mechanically designed to carry the weight; by lifting the base of the neck, the horse can drop the withers and draw back the base of the neck, so that spinous processes of the first thoracic vertebrae come closer to each other... The drawbacks can be numerous.
This is why many riders want to be able to control distribution of weight of the horse between a horizontal balance and a balance on the hindquarters. The horizontal balance is asked for during the warm up, in relaxation, and when learning new movements while teaching the horse to stay relaxed and round.
When a rider rides his horse LDR, what is mostly sought after is a horizontal balance. He is preparing his horse to accept, without tension or hollowing, a greater effort once the horse is in competition frame. For example, by asking for downward transitions with a low and round frame, will teach the horse that it can reduce its pace without changing its balance - neither toward the front or the back, which will make it possible to avoid that he goes through the hand, opens himself, lifts his head or blocks the hindlegs once he does transitions that ask him to shift his weight towards the hindquarters.
The horse learns that he can respond to the rider's demands without changing his balance and without tension.
If your horse does not hold himself in self-carriage, if you cannot give the reins for 2 or 3 strides without the horse going faster or diving down, of if he bears down on your hand, think about solving the problem from behind by asking for smaller and quicker strides, or sometimes longer stride in the same tempo. Do not solely focus on balance on the hindquarters and do not hesitate to vary the balance while checking that you can obtain a horizontal balance if desired.
Lydie K
Translated from French by Clara Mehel