This month Senara discusses a topic that often gets riders confused: engagement.

What does it mean when your instructor says or a dressage judge writes “the horse needs to be more engaged”?

The engagement of the hindquarters is quite literally the advancement of the horse’s hind legs underneath himself.

The hindquarters are the engine and the starting point of all movement.

If you observe a horse galloping loose without a rider you will see the hind legs stepping well underneath his body.

With the rider on board often this natural movement can be either encouraged or blocked in some way.

So when you hear or read the comment ”horse needs more engagement“ it means that during the riders effort to get the horse into the required shape, somehow some of the horses natural movement has been lost.

When riding it is easy to become obsessed with what we can see – the horses head and neck position.

The fact that the horse’s power originates from the hind quarters makes it so important to turn the rider’s awareness to the hindquarters.

Here are some exercises you can do to improve your awareness of engagement in your horse:

Unmounted exercise

Observe riders and horses. This can be done by watching different riders at different levels at competitions or even on DVDs. Focus on the hind legs for a while and watch for the correlation between the action of the hind legs and the overall harmony of the picture.

Mounted exercise

Walk on a long rein with your eyes closed. Feel the movement of the horse’s hind legs through your seat.

You will feel a dip in your seat bone as the hind leg of that side come underneath the horse. Do this for a while to have a good feel for the back legs coming under.

When you open your eyes and pick up the reins the hind legs should maintain the same rhythm.

Spend some time improving your feel and analyzing the movement of your horse’s hind quarters. It will improve the overall way your horse goes.

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