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Part II: Centre of Gravity

 This article has been published previously by Equestrian Life magazine. To see what's in our latest issue, please click here.

The balanced trot maintained for every step throughout the test by Alicia and Dresden

The balanced trot is maintained for every step throughout this test by Alicia and Dresden.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


By Dr Kerry Mack

Last time we talked about how the centre of gravity is a theoretical balancing point of any object, whether it's a ball or a horse or a rider. Objects such as horses and riders do obey the fundamental laws of physics. Dressage training is largely about improving a horse's balance. Of course a horse standing still is balanced. It is his balance when he is moving, his dynamic balance, which we want to improve. When he is more balanced it is easier for him to maintain rhythm. We hope to be able to teach him to change his balance from that of an untrained horse, to move weight from front to back over his hind legs. We want him to move his centre of gravity backwards. If you pay attention to this idea, centre of gravity, I believe you can develop a sense of where it is and what it is doing as the horse moves. As you let the neck out longer, or as you come from trot to walk or halt, do you feel that he tips forward over his shoulder? If you can feel this you are feeling his centre of gravity moving forward. It is your job to train him, gymnasticise him so that he learns to keep better balance in these transitions.


 The in form Prestige VDL and Sheridyn Ashwood in extended trot and such a good balance and hindleg

Prestige VDL and Sheridyn Ashwood demonstrate good uphill balance.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


If he has bad manners and leans on the bit in these down transitions, and as he leans his head goes down, then of course his centre of gravity goes forwards. It's a simple fact of physics that the weight of his head on the end of a long lever, his neck, will influence his centre of gravity.

So you can play with him in a way that helps him to learn not to lean on the bit in the down transitions, and certainly not allow his head to go forwards and down. Try to let the neck out in a way that the wither and shoulder stay up. This will take quite a few trials. Every time you let the neck out and you feel the centre of gravity go forwards just go back to where you were, take him back, rebalance, and try again. Be patient. It isn't easy for him to learn to do this. He is learning to use his body in a new way. Importantly he is learning to allow you to control his body, his balance and his centre of gravity. Of course in order to this you must also be in control of your own centre of gravity. You must be able to remain balanced while he changes pace etc. You must not rely on the reins to balance, nor tip forward as he slows down, or tip back as he speeds up. But let's assume that you are able to be in self-carriage and maintain your centre of gravity.

Try some other transitions trying to feel his balance. Trot to walk, trot to halt, then trot walk and back quickly to trot. Feel if he keeps his balance (and is in self carriage) or does he tip forward. Each time you feel him tip just rebalance him and ask again until he figures out how to do it your way. Start with a small trot to help him learn and gradually ask for the transitions with a bigger trot.

To do many transitions is a cornerstone of training. These many transitions will be more effective if they are done well and balanced. The other qualities you may like to think about are rhythm and straightness, two important levels on the training scale.

Next time we will look at some more exercises. Meanwhile while riding, try to think about the centre of gravity and trying to feel where his centre of gravity is.


Have fun!







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