Breakthrough day for June! This formerly stiff-as-a-board but quick-as-a-whip little mare learned to release to the pressure of the bit. We’re not talking turn or tuck her head. We are talking release negative tension throughout her entire body. This elementary lesson is June’s first step towards losgelassenheit.
…Before you say “gesundheit” let’s pull our dictionary!
The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) translates the German term “losgelassenheit” as: “Looselettingness” or “letlooseness,” shortened to “Looseness….”
The USDF further elaborates: “The supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse’s musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs.”
For purposes of the Training Pyramid, the USDF uses the translation “Relaxation” … and the FEI uses the translation “Suppleness.”
Why pull out complicated foreign terms when we’re tallking about training a pleasure horse who will most likely never see be seen halting at X in a dressage arena?
Regardless of the owner’s goals a horse is a horse is a horse. “Dressage,” literally, is the French word for “training.” Classical dressage is the oldest, most pervasive, and most effective system of developing a horse into an athlete for war, for sport, for exhibition and for enjoyment.
Any effective training system, including what we’ve come to know as natural horsemanship, has its parallels in classical dressage. Every athletic effort between horse and human requires “the supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse’s musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs.” A fixed frame or headset results in athletic–and emotional–restrictions.
Horses can achieve their athletic best only when their physical framework is supple enough to transmit energy efficiently to the rider’s chosen task, regardless of what style of saddle they wear. Unfortunately, this can be taken to the extreme. EVERY discipline has their offenders who persist even through threatened action at a regulatory level.
Detractors of natural horsemanship often point accusingly–and sadly, accurately– to well-intentioned novices who overuse flexions and one-rein stops to the point of abuse. The result are horses whose necks are disconnected from their bodies. Their backs can can be rigid, their hindquarters trailing, but their heads and necks flop back and forth like some macabre bobble-head toys. Such horses are difficult to ride and fall far short of their athletic potential. They may even end up injured, or worse.
June “knew her flexions” when she first came. She was quick to snap that neck around. But she bent through muscular effort, not release. She stiffened to the bit and locked her back, even as she curved her neck. The intended antidote was instead the pathology.
For June, it all changed in that lightbulb moment. The bit used to mean tense yourself and twist. Now it means release your body and mind to what comes next.
NOW we can begin an athetic adventure!