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Lessons In Lightness

The Art of Educating the Horse

Lessons in Lightness
The Art of Educating the Horse
by Mark Russell with Andrea W. Steele 
The Lyons Press, 2007"

Lightness is not an alternative approach," writes horse trainer Mark Russell in the opening chapter of Lessons in Lightness. "Nor is it a 'style' or a clinician's way to deliver fast results. This book describes methods that have stood the test of time, albeit different from what is considered mainstream by today's competition-based performance trainers."

Russell traces his horse training lineage to the late riding master Nuno Oliveira, who in turn was a student of the 18th century theories of Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere and Francois Baucher in the 19th century. 

They share a common belief in the importance of relaxation and suppleness in training to achieve lightness as opposed to the more precision-based style common to most competitive riding.

Based in Connecticut, Russell has developed a modern training system based on the classical riding gymnastic routines of his predecessors. This book describes his system step-by-step, showing riders how to educate their horses as well as learn from them.

Russell's system is divided into three phases, beginning with teaching the horse to relax and stretch with relative freedom from the rein. The second stage concentrates on riding the horse through the bit, followed by advanced schooling in transitions and exercises like the counter-canter and flying changes.

"I wrote this book about my methods and my program because riding in lightness works for both the horse and the rider," Russell explains. "Learning lightness opens the door to the art of riding."

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Lessons in Lightness
Lessons in Lightness

Circle Training

Start on a twenty-meter circle. A circle of this size will create definite length ben without overburdening the novice horse. As a rule the size of the circle on which the horse can effectively begin correct length bend depends on the horse's size and athletic ability. A green fifteen-hand horse will handle a small circle more easily than a green seventeen-hand horse, although this advantage diminishes with training.

Using the correct aids for the circle is essential. The rider's inside rein directs the horse to follow his nose, while her inside leg at the girth creates bend through the ribs and spine. By maintaining light support with the outside rein and resting her outside leg behind the girth, the rider supports forward movement with bend. Additionally, by aligning her shoulders to the horse's shoulders and her hips to the horse's hips, the rider begins to teach the horse to align his body to hers. (The ability to follow the rider's body takes time to develop.)

It is the horse's response to the aids that creates lightness. While the horse needs time to develop the skill to interpret the movement of the rider's body, the rein aids can be well defined from the beginning. There are four kinds of connection through the rein: a giving rein, a soft rein, a fixed rein, and a free rein.

Copyright © 2007 by Michael Hofferber. All rights reserved.

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