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Harmony is born out of a genuine empathy for the horse and a compassionate awareness of the mental and physical impact of the work on the horse.


Improving Balance - Finding the Tempo

© 2005 Tonja Dausend

The rider must first address his own imbalances that contribute to tension and imbalance in the horse. Once his own balance is sufficiently developed he can begin to address imbalance in the horse.  

Each horse has his own tempo, and the key is to find that tempo. An easy way to learn the feel of tempo and how it relates to the horse is to hold a dressage whip by its lash and swing it like a pendulum. You will notice that there is a rate or tempo at which the whip swings naturally and relatively effortlessly. Each pendulum has its own rate of swing depending on its length. A longer pendulum will swing more slowly than a shorter pendulum. If you try to speed that rate up or slow it down, it will require more effort because you are working against the laws of physics – it is unnatural.

 The horse’s legs are simply pendulums. Each horse has its own natural tempo. When he finds that tempo, he can move with the least amount of effort. If he goes a little bit too slow or a little bit too fast, it will create tension in his body, which hinders his balance and movement.

 If your horse has a tendency to go too fast, riding some small (10 - 15m) circles can help him find a better balance and tempo. The size of the circles can gradually be increased as he can do so without losing his tempo. Resist the temptation to hold the tempo with the reins. If you really have to make adjustments then add a few gentle half halts. Adjust the tempo for a stride and then release and repeat – but never do any more than absolutely necessary.

 When your horse finds his tempo you will feel his muscles free up as he lowers his head and neck and he will breathe more deeply. Often times he will even blow his nose with a big sigh. This is the beginning of relaxation and reaching for the bit.

When your horse is doing this readily, you can, ever so carefully, ask him to lengthen his stride a bit with increased energy. If he rushes, start over and ask again. As he uses the energy to go forward and lengthen his body instead of rushing or drifting, he will begin to reach with his head and neck for a contact with the bit. When your horse is to the point where he readily allows his energy to travel from his hind legs through his whole body toward the bit, you can gently receive the elastic contact through your reins while encouraging that reaching forward feeling. Be careful not to create tension or resistance in the horse as you pick up the soft, elastic contact. If the horse does become tense, begin again to regain the reaching gesture and elastic contact.

 With some horses it seems like you can get the tempo only close to correct and the horse will go beautifully. With others, the tempo can be off by only a fraction and the horse will go horribly. This is a sign that other basic elements may need to be addressed. The rider may be tense or out of balance. The horse may be crooked, lacking energy or perhaps having pain issues. This is where awareness and empathy come in to play -- building a partnership with your horse based on trust - not force. Understanding, feel and coordination are essential to success. Dressage is not intuitive. A certain amount of skill is required to ride effectively. There is just no way around that. But a solid understanding of the basics, and a grasp of basic skills are not out of reach of the average rider.

 When the basics are truly correct but just not working, the problem is usually that the horse has a painful physical issue. Unfortunately for the horses, many people don’t recognize this.

To learn more about the role of tempo in achieving relaxation, visit the link by Lynne Sprinsky: Understanding the Role of Tempo in Achieving Relaxation for the Horse, by Lynne Sprinsky

2000 - 2008 © Tonja Dausend  - Terms of Use

last updated April, 2008