"Lightness, or lightness in a horse (a light horse): The horse is in
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."
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 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
We all hope to have "lightness" with our horses. Can "lightness" be seen?
In a discussion on the GaitedHorse list, which
includes the top gaited horse breeders, judges, clinicians, and trainers,
the following was submitted:
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
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
still maintaining the poll as the highest point]" (p.35)
"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.
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.
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
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
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
to respond to aids, without resistence, softness is going without resistence
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,
Lightness includes: "the acceptance of the bridle throughout and without
any tenseness or
How do you tell if your horse accepts the bridle? Here are some signs of
Tension in the poll (visible)
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.
Nervousness (shying at all sorts of stuff) vs alertness. (keeping
on his job but aware of his surroundings)
This is similar to the list of signs of non-acceptance of the bit:
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',
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.