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Icelandic Horse Connection

Lightness

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From Cheval Haute Ecole:

"Lightness, or lightness in a horse (a light horse): The horse is in perfect balance, relaxed, supple, energetic, and cadenced in his gait, carrying himself by himself (in self carriage) and wasting no enegy in his motion (efficient in his movement).

Lightness, or riding in lightness (a rider doing so): He is light, carrying his own weight in balance, and using tact, finesse, and careful use of the aids, allowing the horse to evolve freely into whatever carriage is desired, using the least amount of aides."

Maurice Druon of the Academie Franšaise says:

"I maintain that a horse can want to present himself in a lovely frame, take pleasure in hacking out... But this collaboration, this understanding, this cooperation-so satisfying-is obtained neither through fear nor constraint. The essential word for training is lightness.

The horse's mouth is delicate and sensitive flesh. Held with a rough hand it will become hardened, while with a light hand it will respond to the softest direction. The quality of a rider is not measured by the length of his spurs but by the silent dialog established between the man's leg and his horse's side. And the horse himself will become light.

Lightness has never meant weakness or slackness.

Lightness requires intelligence, vigilance, elegance.

Lightness is the centuries-old hallmark of the French School and is what lies behind its achievements and its glory. Lightness is not only important in dressage competition and the superb performances of the Cadre Noir. It is important at all levels of riding, and as riding increases in popularity, it is important for training the instructors for the growing number of riding academies."


We all hope to have "lightness" with our horses. Can "lightness" be seen? Described?

In a discussion on the GaitedHorse list, which includes the top gaited horse breeders, judges, clinicians, and trainers, the following was submitted:

From Jean-Claude Racinet, Another Horsemanship:

"Lightness is the absence of weight or strength to the actions of the hands, and the absence of resistances of inertia to the actions of the legs. [...] It is evident that once these resistances disappear, the horse answers the slightest indications of the aids. He then becomes framed between 'the weight of the reins and the stroke of the boots.' It is to be noticed that the more a horse becomes light to the hand, the more he becomes light to the legs, since he benefits from a better balance [and vice versa]. [...] To some extent, lightness depends on the rider as well as on the horse, for the best of horses, if ill ridden, will momentarily lose its lightness. [...] Lightness is obtained by observing the principles of release, separation and moderation of aids, and by the practice of relaxation of the lower jaw [while still maintaining the poll as the highest point]" (p.35)

And:

"People often confuse being "hot" off the aids with lightness. You can have a horse that flexes to the slightest touch of the rein, or leaps away from your heel, and still not have lightness. "Light', but not lightness. For example, the TWH flexes beautifully from me merely closing my hand, but as his balance is still on the forehand he cannot be ridden in lightness.

Lightness and collection are two sides of the same coin. To me, the ultimate in true lightness is piaffe or passage performed on a draped rein. This is another good quote, from Paul Belasik's 'Riding Towards the Light' where he is discussing the differences between the Germanic and Potugese ideas of riding with lightness:

"A very serious mistake of observation can be to assume that because the reins are semi-slack the horse is not up into the bridle. [...] One has to pay attention to the horse's back and the illusive quality of roundness. True exponents of the Portuguese style, riding with 'lightness', are always checking their young horses to see that they come energetically forward from the rider's legs, and that they are not leaning on the bridle but will hold themselves in balance."

It seems to me, (and please forgive me if I am wildly off base, as gaited horses are a new experience for me) that you would be unable to ride with lightness in the 'hollow' gaits, and it would be iffy in the others, since you cannot have a large degree of collection. Any case where the rider feels they need to hold heavy contact, or 'hold the horse up' is most certainly one with no lightness. A draped rein along is also no guarantee. The horse must be able to display self-carriage, not merely wander along on a loose rein. Most people are probably really after a horse that is 'light', and reacts immediately to the aids. Which realistically, is just fine for the majority of riders. Not everyone needs, wants or cares about having a 'school horse'."

To the comment of "Lightness and collection are two sides of the same coin" is the following response:

This reminds me of something Harry Whitney said at the clinic here. He asked if we knew the difference between lightness and softness. IME, lightness is being quick to respond to aids, without resistence, softness is going without resistence and with self carriage or perhaps some collection.

"There are two types of lightness -- one to do with responsiveness to the rider's aids (takes no pressure on the reins to get the horse to do thing, takes no real work from the seat or legs to get him to do other things) the other to do with the carriage of the horse. (the classically collected, light horse, that maintains himself in self carriage, raised back, lowered pelvis, arched neck, legs under body, weight shifted to the rear, with NO tension on the legs or reins).

A gaited horse can certainly get to the first ... even a horse that racks or paces can do that. And, IMHO should indeed get there. In most gaits, they can't get to the second. I have played with Fox Trotters enough to get what might count as "first stage" lightness of carriage with them, but not achieved it with a running walk or a rack of any ilk. For horses in those gaits you can easily get a "sucking back" feel, that mimics lightness but is really a sort of constriction, not a raising of the back (bascule) lowered pelvis, leg under the horse sort of thing. I think this feel confuses people, and not knowing exactly what real collection/lightness is composed of, they assume that is what they have, because the horse isn't hauling on their arms and he seems to be lifting his front legs higher.

Again, any horse in any gait can be light to the aids -- hands, legs. Most of the easy gaits do not lend themselves to lightness of carriage, however."

Lightness includes: "the acceptance of the bridle throughout and without any tenseness or resistance".

How do you tell if your horse accepts the bridle? Here are some signs of non-acceptance:

  • Grinding teeth.
  • Clamped jaw.
  • Tension in the poll (visible)
  • Crookedness through the body (head not held straight, neck cocked, hind legs not tracking the front when riding a straight line)
  • Nosing out or pulling on the reins or ducking behind the bit when making a change of direction or a transition from one gait to another.
  • Clamped ears!
  • wringing tail!
  • Nervousness (shying at all sorts of stuff) vs alertness. (keeping attention on his job but aware of his surroundings)
This is similar to the list of signs of non-acceptance of the bit:

  • buccal ulcers,
  • wolf tooth sensitivity,
  • pain during eruption of cheek teeth,
  • star fractures of the mandible,
  • lacerations of the lip, tongue and gingiva,
  • open mouth, tongue movement, tongue behind the bit,
  • tongue over the bit,
  • 'swallowing the tongue',
  • 'flipping the palate',
  • headshaking,
  • fighting the bit,
  • chewing on the bit,
  • 'bit between the teeth',
  • veering, boring and pulling
  • grabbing the bit and bolting
Nosebands and cavessons are used, at times, to stop or cover up some of these behaviors, rather than getting to the root of the problem. The horse cannot work "through" if this is the case. See the Noseband page.
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