The ability to allow your horse to go in a long and low outline, or stretch as it’s commonly referred to, has become something many riders strive for, but for your horse to feel all the benefits of being worked in this frame, it needs to be done correctly. It’s not simply a case of riding with a longer rein and hoping your horse will lower his head and neck. He needs to be working correctly, moving forwards and freely into your contact before you can expect him to work in a stretched outline. Your horse’s ability to go long and low will depend on his age, level of training and conformation, but to get you started you need to understand how to achieve ‘thoroughness’.
What is thoroughness?
Thoroughness is used to describe when your horse shows an active and 'relative' ground-covering step pushing from behind. He has suppleness in a lightly raised back, and a neck that comes out from his shoulder but extends through a light arch from tail to ear. His nose is just in front of the vertical whilst still remaining lightly connected to the rein in a lower longer length than the working pace with his forehand lifted.
Know your horse’s limits
It’s important to remember that for your horse to feel the benefit of stretching, he needs to stay in balance while you’re riding him in this longer and lower frame. How well he can do this will depend on his age and level of training. A young, less balanced horse, who’s just learnt to step through to the rein in a working trot frame will find it hard to form a long and low stretch and stay in balance. A more experienced horse who’s working in self carriage will have the balance and ability to lengthen his frame without tipping onto the forehand.
Teaching your horse to stretch
It’s easier to teach a long and low frame when you’re bending a horse, so this circling exercise is ideal.
1. Start by riding a 15m circle if you're trotting or 10m circle if you're in walk. Riding on a smaller circle helps you create suppleness through your horse’s body as you encourage him to bend through his ribcage. Use your inside hand to ask for flexion to the inside and your inside leg is on the girth creating the bend. Your outside leg is behind the girth and you keep a contact with the outside rein to create an outside boundary to the circle.
2. Now start to push your horse out onto a bigger circle with your inside leg, controlling his body with your outside aids.
3. As you reach the track of your bigger circle allow your reins to become a little longer and see if your horse follows the bit. Be careful not to lose connection and suppleness and pay attention to how your horse is responding to the leg and rein aids.
4. Make sure you still use your leg aids to keep your horse connected, and that you maintain your position. You need to use your inside hand to ask for flexion to the inside. Your inside leg creates the bend to the inside and your outside leg and hand help keep your horse on the line of your circle. Don't expect too much - half a circle in this longer and lower frame is all you should expect to start with.
What it should look and feel like?
A horse that stretches correctly will remain fluid in his body when you allow him to stretch. It’ll feel like he has lots of power and they’ll be a real spring to his step, in a soft, relaxed way. His poll shouldn’t just drop but instead travel forward with a shallow arch in his neck. Often you can see a wider muscle definition as his muscles stretch. He shouldn't become tense and hurried or slow and non-responsive like he has finished work. Both his body and mind should stay elastic and calmly responsive.
When you view your horse from the side he should look balanced and open in his back. Imagine his vertebrae like the top of an open fan with the same distance between each joint.
A straight flat neck will make him feel resistant and less elastic when you recollect him.
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