How A Simple 1, 2, 1, 2 Can Improve Your Ride

By Kathy Farrokhzad It’s such a simple thing

that you might not think about it in the first place. However,

if you’re a

hunter/jumper, you might be ab- solutely familiar with it because you simply can’t navigate through the jumps without doing it. What is it?

Counting strides. The difference between

dressage counting and the jumping kind is that there is no jump to count up to. So it’s easy to forget about it and just go along however things work out. But there’s so much to be gained from the count! All you have to do is

count. 1,2,1,2,1,2... and so on, with each step of the front feet. You can count in all the gaits, in their own rhythm. But the 1,2... must stay consistent in each gait.

Of course, the tricky part

is to get your horse to keep that same 1,2... in the gait. If you take some time to watch riders

from the ringside, you might notice the tempo speed up and then slow down and then speed up again. The horse scram- bles in speed, then quits through the turns or cir- cles, then speeds up again when a leg aid is applied. Usually, the horse just goes along and the rider changes tempo to meet the horse’s changes. But the idea is to let

the counting help you maintain tempo. Consis- tency is key for so many reasons! How can counting

the strides help? Here are five things that might im- prove for yourself and your horse.

Rhythm First off, keeping a

steady tempo will quite certainly help you main- tain your horse’s rhythm in each gait. Change of leg speed almost always throws the horse’s weight to the forehand, and can cause variations in the

footfalls. If you focus on tempo, your horse will have a better chance of maintaining “pure” gaits - that is, keeping a walk to an even 4-beat, keeping the trot

to a consistent diagonal pair 2- beat, and the canter to a 3-beat with the moment of suspension. So, the first focus of your

count should be to ensure that the horse has an even and con- sistent rhythm at each gait. Feel for the strides and listen to the footfalls to gauge the quality of the rhythm.

Balance Lack of tempo often

causes balance changes in the movement. Have you ever felt like you were going just great at the trot and then suddenly there’s a small whiplash dive to the forehand, then a sudden blocking of the energy? Your upper body falls first forward and then backward. The tossing around you feel is connected to balance changes as the horse also falls to the forehand or loses engagement. Balance is the second nat-

ural result of the 1,2... count. When you stabilize the leg movement, the horse will have

April 2018

plenty of time for each leg to come through. This al- lows for a stronger and more consistent weight bearing from the hind end, which will allow the horse to keep better balance. You won’t be flung around as much, and soon enough, you will both float along as if “one.”

Looseness As the horse relaxes in the

gait, he will likely find more opportunity for “free movement.” You might no- tice more bounce in his stride, more reach through the shoulders, and more swing through the back. To me, it feels like a trampo- line. Beware! If you cannot become loose yourself and ride that motion, you will likely block your horse from continuing in this manner. So you have to feel for the looseness, recognize

it and ride it!

Posture Once you have a steady

rhythm, consistent balance, and looseness, the horse’s posture will just fall into place seem- ingly on its own. The back will rise and fall, the body will round and the horse will begin to tilt a little more in the hind end. Your horse’s neck will as- sume a height that is natural to his conformation. No more high heads, no more diving down necks.

Connection The next step is an im-

proved sense of connectedness between the horse and rider. The horse may reach more for the bit. The rider might be able to keep her own balance better and therefore stay better with the horse’s movement. There will now be an opportunity for the aids to become more subtle. The communication will be

much more pronounced and clear than it ever can be when the horse is inconsistent. This means less rein aids are needed even while the contact is im- proved.

Athleticism Finally, you might notice

an amazing increase in athletic ability, both from the horse and the rider. All it takes is a small change of aid for anything - downward transition, sharp turn, change of bend, lengthen. Any movement becomes easier because the basic balance is al- ready in place. The horse is stronger, looser, maybe slower than before - these will all con- tribute to better comfort in movement for both the horse and rider. One last note: use the half-

halt! Initially, keeping that ab- solutely consistent gait will likely be difficult. If you aren’t used to counting strides, you will have to work hard to iden- tify when the tempo speeds up and slows down. Then you will have to figure out how influ- ence the horse to not let him rush but also not slow into dis- engagement. The half-halt is definitely an integral part of the puzzle. Wow! All this with a simple

1,2,1,2... count? Try it and see what hap-

pens for you and your horse.

Bio: Kathy Farrokhzad is an EC coach and author of the Horse Listening book collection. New! Five Years of Horse Lis- tening, an anniversary compila- tion book of the top 20 articles from the blog. If you liked what you read here, check out her blog

at for many more articles about horses, riding and life in gen- eral.

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