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Paul D. Cronin

Equestrian Program Consultant, Equine Clinician and Teacher

Behind the Bit/ Not Educated Contact

The horse escapes a forceful hand and discomfort or pain by rolling under and behind the vertical. Heavy misuse of gadgets such as draw reins and tightly adjusted side reins can produce this carriage as a habit, (P. 136 Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse/ UVA Press). For correct carriage/ 2 levels: see Paul D. Cronin Facebook 1/27/17 and 10/28/16 posts

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Versatile Three Part System of Riding

Excellent photo of the Modern American Forward Riding System. Position based on the stirrup (angles at heel, knee, and hip). Advanced control/ “Following Arm.” Versatile 3 part system (position, controls, schooling) for Hunters, Jumpers, and Cross Country.

Fox Hunter Timber Race/ Piedmont Hunt Meet 3/17. Janie Covington rider. The first Timber start for horse and rider.
(Joanne Maisano – Photographer).

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Quality Example of the Modern Forward Riding System

The horse: Flight Phase: Folding well in front and ready to fold tighter behind when he reaches top of the jump. Extended/ rounded head and neck/ balancing gesture. Question: Is the back itself “rigid” or “round?”
The rider’s controls: advanced/ “following arm.”
Position: based on the stirrup with the three angles of the hip, knee, and ankle weighted. This correct design of position is used on the flat and over uneven terrain, as well as jumping varied heights (the stirrup length is adjusted accordingly).
“Seringat” and Cian O’Connor – winner of the City of Ocala Grand Prix 2017. (Molly Sorge Photo)

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A Progressive Modern Schooling Program Can Replace the Use of Tranquilizers

Please read this article by a successful, experienced professional: NINE REASONS AGAINST TRANQUILIZERS IN THE SHOW RING (by Patty Heuckeroth p. 26 The Chronicle May 2nd & 9, 2016).

Below are comments and photo from Paul Cronin author/ Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse:

In the first year, developing the balance of the young horse, achieving stabilization, and introducing contact are the first objectives. This important foundation is time consuming, boring for some trainers/riders, but essential for a successful schooling program.

Stabilization (mental and physical schooling) on the flat, in company, alone, outside the ring, and jumping is an important objective in a schooling program. Below is a stabilized horse on soft contact, trotting.

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A connected, ground-covering trot on soft contact. Note the horizontal engagement of the hind left leg and the free swing of the right shoulder. The rider has a united position with efficient and effective use of the aids. The design of position and weight distribution (ankle, knee, hip) is the same at the trot and the jump. In forward riding, a correct posting trot can strengthen the rider’s jumping position. [Makala Benjamin, rider; Dorado (Sweet Briar College); Sarah Black, photographer]

Quality Forward Riding on the Flat

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The trot (two beats) with head and next extended, mouth closed (not tied), accepting contact created by the leg. Good horizontal engagement of the hind near leg and extension of the outside shoulder, humerus, and foreleg. The horse demonstrates advance-level contact with reserve energy. The rider demonstrates a correct design of position on the flat, including angles at the ankle, knee, and hip. (Anne Kursinski, rider, Reinhold Tigges, photographer) Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse, UVA Press 2016 page 98

Advanced Forward Riding. Flight phase of the jump.

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The horse is folding well and is allowed a full balancing gesture of the head and neck with following arms, a direct line from bit to elbow. The rider’s correct design of position allows correct Weight Distribution and Spring in the angles at the ankle, knee and hip. This advanced jumping position represents a complete Forward Riding System with three interacting parts – Position, Controls, and Schooling- for flat riding, uneven terrain and jumping. (Joe Fargis, Rider; Tish Quirk, photographer) Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse, UVA Press, 2016 reprint, page 99.

Quality Schooling Requires Educated Riding

An educated position is essential for schooling horses in the Forward Riding System.

In Summary, Points Concerning Position

Nonabuse of the horse, unity of the rider with the horse in motion, the security of the rider, and the efficient and effective use of aids are the four fundamentals of a good working position.

The rider should know well the seven physical qualities of a fluid position and exercises that help to develop each of them.

The three hinges, angles, or springs in the leg position are the ankle, knee, and hip.

The three areas of grip are the inside lower thigh, inside knee, and inside upper calf.

All horses move in dynamic balance, and the rider’s position must be efficient and flexible to be in balance with the horse at different speeds, on uneven terrain, and during the jump, The modern Forward Riding Position is based on the stirrup for this reason.

In educated riding over the past three hundred years, two main systems of riding have emerged. One is the classical dressage system based on principles of manege riding from 1550 to its golden era in the eighteenth century. The second system is the Forward Riding System/American hunter system based on field and sport riding with jumping. It is a complete system that has evolved from the 1920s through the work of Caprilli, Chamberlin, and Littauer.


For more information, see Schooling And Riding The Sport Horse (P.D.Cronin), pp 23-38; pp 3-20.


The Importance Of Head Carriage (part two)

Behind The Bit:

The horse escapes a forceful hand and discomfort or pain by rolling under and behind the vertical. The rider cannot achieve soft, precise control. These horses are often mentally unstable or have upset reserve energy. Heavy use of gadgets such as draw reins and tightly adjusted side reins can produce this carriage as a habit. To reclaim this horse he will need to return to a young horse head and neck carriage and have reschooling, starting with stabilization.


Above The Bit:

The horse escapes a forceful hand and discomfort or pain by pulling up to escape each time the reins are used. This can be a habit of carriage. Horses that are ridden in a tight martingale or draw reins often escape up as soon as the “tie-downs” are taken off. To reclaim this horse he will need to return to a young horse head and neck carriage and have reschooling, starting with stabilization.


Young Horse Head And Neck Carriage:

This is the approximate carriage of a young horse on a looped rein starting schooling on the flat and over ground poles and jumps. It is the first objective in reclaiming and stabilizing an upset horse and is similar to the carriage of a trained horse first warming up to work on contact.


Head And Neck Carriage Of A Horse Schooled First To Passive Contact:

Appropriate for most trained horses in hunter under-saddle classes, hunter over-fences classes, basic flat work for young horses, amateur riders on the intermediate level, field riding, and for specific goal or function that can be better achieved on this level of connection and contact.


Head And Neck Carriage Of A Horse Schooled To Educated Contact With Reserve Energy:

On this level of contact and schooling there is more reserve energy created by the leg. The head and neck carriage changes as the horse’s balance under the weight of the rider develops over months of schooling. On the flat longitudinal and lateral agility exercises, jumping through combinations of varying distances and going over uneven terrain help the horse achieve connected forward balance. The Horse’s training moves from loose rein (elementary control) to passive contact, and to soft contact with more reserve energy – the latter only appropriate for the horse, his owner, and his function or sport specialty. Gadgets can produce a fake frozen frame for some gaits and movements for short-term objectives. However, they cannot produce the mental and physical development needed for a sound, athletic, calm, and useful horse.

The Importance of Head Carriage

The head and neck carriage cannot be emphasized enough. It is with this carriage that many trainers make a serious schooling error. Many people hurry the horse to market or a competition. With gadgets and forced upper-level aids, one can get the young or uneducated horse to make an abrupt upper-level transition or sudden halt; however, doing so predisposes the horse to stiff muscles and to resistances such as grinding the bit, fear of the rider, nervous attitude, and, with horses of certain temperaments, stubbornness or sourness. Some of these horses may be seen later at a competition being lunged to exhaustion in order to be quiet enough to compete. Others may be drugged and completely locally. Others may find a new owner and be reclaimed.

In reclaiming an older horse, the work in the second schooling period may take longer, six to ten weeks, but it will be vital to success. The “reclaimer” will have setbacks in the program as he recalls unhappy experiences and repeats old habits. It is, therefore, necessary to return to stabilization regularly to reestablish the foundation before moving on again. The trainer should take the older being reclaimed to the point that his head and neck carriage is nearly returned to his three-year-old stage. This will help the horse establish both mental and physical stability.

The horse’s mental stability and movement are closely related to the head and neck carriage. If an error has been made by introducing something too soon or too harshly, return to simple exercises that he knows in order to restore mental calmness and physical relaxation.

The horse will begin to become better balanced under the weight of the rider through simple exercises and gradual transitions. Eventually, the head and neck position will be raised, especially in transitions down. Avoid the temptation  to force the head and neck to come up in the transitions.

The rider is passive but not permissive. Each lesson must be planned out, but little is accomplished relative to an advanced lesson. The horse’s physical and mental progress needs to be evaluated regularly, although at this period, for some riders not much exciting is taking place.

If the rider is used to riding only upper-level horses, then it may be difficult to feel the changes or to understand the role interval learning plays in training the young horse. Given time, the horse becomes more naturally connected, remains calm, and develops the best qualities in his movement. The importance of stabilization as a foundation to the future training of the horse as he develops mentally and physically may not be fully realized until a rider/trainer has achieved it successfully on at least two or three horses.

In the second period of schooling, it becomes clear that the ideal conformation of a hunter or jumper works best in this system. Accommodate any serious conformation faults, especially head and neck carriage, as the training progresses. Horses are built differently. If a horse is lower in the front than behind (assuming he is has finished growing), this will lead to problems in schooling, specifically teaching contact and establishing a good connection. If a horse has a very high head carriage, mental instability may be a consistent problem as well as shortened gaits. Further, a horse with above-average natural agility will be able to handle all the lessons (lunging, gradual transitions, wide turns) more easily than a horse that is less coordinated. The latter horse will require  more practice with wide turns and very gradual transitions.

Do not go on in the schooling program until the objectives of the second schooling period have been achieved; that is, the horse is stabilized and maintains the gait and speed asked for, whether alone or in company, on the flat in a field or “jumping” with the rider using elementary control techniques. All of these are achievable at this stage of development provided they are on the beginning level; for example, “jumping” here means calmly approaching and departing from the poles.

Allowing the horse to learn to balance himself under the weight of the rider with an extended head and neck through a series of gradual transitions and large circles and turns is the key to schooling the young horse in this period. When pupils are learning to school, these first two periods or eight weeks are very difficult for advanced junior and amateur riders who are used to riding upper-level horses, especially with accuracy and promptness. The aids, transitions, and turns are made simple for the unbalanced green horse. The rider should use controls that are on the horse’s level of education. The training goes slowly and takes considerable patience and thought. Consider often what the horse thinks of the rider and what he is doing.


Balancing Gestures and Mechanics of the Jump in Four Phases

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).


Schooling Topic

Evaluating and Selecting a Horse for and in Schooling

To begin, the rider must decide what the objective for the horse is to be. When schooling is finished, what should the horse be?  A show hunter for A-level competition, an equitation horse, a local show hunter, a jumper, a field horse, an event horse, or a dressage horse? These questions should be revisited throughout the selection process and the schooling program.

It should be emphasized that the success of schooling efforts depends largely upon the selection of the schooling project. A horse that starts as a naturally poor mover cannot be made into a great mover that will win under-saddle classes in A-level competitions.  Schooling can improve the movement, but it will not make a poor mover a winning mover. That same observation also applies to jumping and temperament.  The quality of success in this system of schooling and riding depends largely on the qualities and the characteristics of the horse.

When objectives for the horse have been selected, an evaluation of the rider is the next step. Is the rider experienced enough in the system to train the horse without professional guidance? Regardless of the answer to this question, having a qualified amateur or professional who will help with schooling at least periodically is a good idea. Evaluations and help sessions should be clearly laid out in the schooling plan and calendar.

Some riders might decide to use a professional teacher for part of the schooling, such as jumping.  If the person helping with the schooling is involved with the selection of the horse, things may go more smoothly. Actually, in contemporary commercial riding as it stands in the United States today, most professionals will insist on being involved in the selection of the horse.

Whether one is purchasing a prospect or taking on a clients horse to school, a sound horse is essential no matter what the objective.

Finally, it is important to develop your own routine for evaluating a horse in training as well as for looking at a prospective horse when visiting the seller or a client wanting a horse trained.