Per my New Year's resolutions, I have been watching more Dressage Naturally videos. There is a fun key words index on the DN site which links to various videos on any certain topic. I've mostly been sticking to videos that pertain to where we are right now, but decided to branch out to things in the future for educational purposes and found a gem that is very pertinent.
Under the key word Collectibilty was a short 15 minute video about the three questions to ask when working on Engagement. In a nutshell the three questions are:
Can you feel the horse's hind feet?
Can you feel the horse growing taller at the withers?
Can the horse move freely forward and stretch out in balance at any time?
The interesting thing is that these three questions were used to bring a horse from on the forehand to horizontal working gaits, from working gaits to slightly more balanced on the hind end like in First Level, and during harder figures and lateral work when some collection is already present like in Second Level. The emphasis is on feeling that little bounce from the horse's hind feet through your seat, adjusting your seat to make the horse taller through the withers, and checking every once in a while that the horse can, in balance, stretch to a longer frame. No specific directions are given for aids other than body aids, not reins aids and suggestions for outcome. The idea being people can get hung up on using specific aids and that by focusing on outcome the rider is much more likely to meet with success.
Since Jet has speed control from my seat, the reins are just to set the height of his neck and give a connection, and he will stretch down just from my seat per the "Sweet Spot" exercise, I thought this exercise might be worthwhile. We hit my teeny tiny indoor, warmed up getting the relaxation, energy, and balance/alignment of the "Sweet Spot". Then during all three working gaits I played with the three questions. Wow, is all I can say. As soon as I concentrated on feeling that little bounce from the hind legs and getting those withers to lift up a little with my seat, the results were amazing! Just that little bit of collection and energy that makes the First/Second Level stuff much more in balance. When I played with it during simple lateral work, the work had that little bounce on the inside hind AND the nice lifted wither that indicates full gymnastic value.
Funny how I have felt like Jet is going well, much straighter, with speed control and stretching out from the seat, but with something missing in the slightly harder work. I've been putting him through the shape of the figures and gymnastics, but not getting the full value because his hind end needs to be a smidge more engaged and the withers slightly more lifted. The interesting thing is that these questions also work just as well for the Intro Level horse working towards Training Level as the First Level horse working towards Second Level. It is just a matter of improving the balance and engagement one step from wherever you are starting. Good stuff.