There are two topics in my opinion that do not get enough emphasis and in some cases are overlooked in teaching schooling.

Mechanics of the Gaits

The horse moves in DYNAMIC BALANCE. There is a constant loss and regaining of equilibrium forward. the walk has four beats. the canter has three beats. Both gaits have a BALANCING GESTURE of the head and neck similarr to the BALANCING GESTURE of the head and neck over a jump. The trot and back each have two beats in diagonal pairs. The fast gallop has four beats. the diagonal pair touch ground separately, then the leading foreleg (fourth beat), and the first beat (hind leg) starts again. Both the canter and the gallop have a period of suspension after the leading foreleg. (See Diagram on page 18 of “Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse” UVA Press).

Stages and Mechanics of the Jump

The Jump is divided into four parts: approach, takeoff, flight and landing. (the departure from one jump can be the approach to the next.)

During the approach the mechancis of the gait of the approach (walk, trot, or canter) are exactly the same as the mechanics on the flat. In the takeoff, flight and landing, the mechanics are each different and important to know. The horse has a distinct balancing gestures of the head and neck that the rider must folllow. The rider mush have a hand independent of the body.

The approach to the jump involves the mechanics of the gaits on the flat. It is important for the horse to be mentally and physically stable, straight and connected in forward balanced at the approach to the jump. He will have an extended head and neck. If cantering or walking, there should be balancing gestures. The approach stops when the true gait of the approach is broken (walk,trot,canter) by the forking of the front legs, the lowering of the head and neck and the raising of the hind end and legs.

The takeoff to the jump begins with THE FORK: the lowered neck and head, the forward movement of the horse’s body, the forked front legs taking all the weight, the lifting up of the hind end, and the preparation for the double engagement of the hind legs. Next in the takeoff is the DOUBLE ENGAGEMENT of the hind legs, which, when combined with the forward movvement of the horse’s body, provides the main thrust to help complete the takeoff. the front legs lift off, and, due to the position of the fork, one front leg must catch up to the other. they fold evenly over the top of the fence, but the takeoff is not complete until the hind legs (double engagement) leave contact with the ground.

THE FORK is important to the height of the rear end and thrust of the double engagement. Clearly the stretching down of the head and neck with all the weight on the front two legs should be followed by the rider’s hand. the rider keeps the weight in the stirrup and off the back, which will help the horse lift up his hind end as high as he needs to for the spring and thrust of the DOUBLE ENGAGEMENT. The double engagement is important, but it is enhanced and predisposed by a good approach and by a successful FORK. In the takeoff phase the fork is missed by some teachers and riders and should be studied carefully. It has significant implications for modern theory development and challenges some old ideas of schooling and riding.

The flight phase is often photographed. There are three main points to look for: (1) the folding of the front legs at or above the horizontal (below the horizontal is often unsafe). (2) Note that the flexibility of the arc in the middle of the flight comes mainly from the balancing gestures of the head and neck. Some believe that the horse is rounding his back, but in fact it is mainly an illusion caused by the head and neck position. (3) In flight the horse begins to unfold the front legs, one ahead of the other, before the hind legs are folding evenly and at their tightest to clear the top of the jump with the rest of his body.

When landing, one front foot touches down first, starting the landing phase, and is followed by the other front foot. This is combined with the raised head and neck balancing gesture. The hind legs land one at a time, the regular mechanics of the gait resume. The reader should note how vulnerable the horses’s back is in the landing phase and how important it is for the rider to have a nonabusive position united with the movement of the horse. Again the rider, weighted with spring in the stirrup through the ankle, will have much less chance of banging the back, which, in addition to causing pain to the horse, will affect the horses jumping effort. Failure to follow this last point often causes a horse to”scoot” after landing. it should be noted that over smaller fences the landing has starting while the hind legs are folding their tightest over the top of the fence. After landing, the normal mechanics of the gait instantlly resume in the departure from the jump. (See photos on pages 68-71 of “Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse” UVA Press).