When you read the comment, “Needs more activity” on your dressage sheet, what does that mean? Why is an active hind leg important in dressage, and how can you achieve that?
In this guide, we tell you everything you need to know about activating your horse’s hind legs!
Activity versus speed
First of all, it’s essential that you understand the difference between activity and speed.
Activity refers to energy, not speed. When the judge says that more activity is required, that means a more energetic hind leg is required, not a quicker tempo.
An active hind leg will flex at the joints and propel the horse forward through his back to the rider’s hand. When the rider uses a half-halt, the horse’s hind legs will come more underneath him, taking more weight and making the balance more uphill.
In a nutshell, an active hind leg helps to develop the horse’s engagement and, ultimately, collection.
If the rider asks the horse for activity without using the half-halt, seat, and rein aids to capture that energy, the horse simply goes faster, often losing his balance and falling onto his forehand as he does so.
Related Read: How to Ride Your Horse on the Bit
Before you can ask for more activity, the horse must be working in the correct rhythm.
Without rhythm, the horse will be unable to work forward through his back, so make sure that the rhythm of the pace is correct before you begin asking the horse to be more active.
Related Read: How to Get a Good Rhythm
Activity and engagement
Developing engagement is essential when training a dressage horse.
Engagement is all about the horse learning to carry more weight on his hindquarters, lifting his forehand, and improving his balance.
If the horse is not working actively from behind, he will not be using his hindquarters correctly. When that happens, the hind legs trail out behind the horse, rather than stepping underneath him and taking more of his weight and that of his rider.
When the horse is engaged, his hindquarters are connected through his back to the rest of his body, and that can’t happen if the hind legs are not activated.
Related Read: How Your Horse Should Use His Hindquarters
Working actively forward from the hind legs requires muscular strength on the horse’s part, which takes time and systematic schooling to develop.
It’s impossible for the horse to develop active hind legs if he is not working forward. So, you need to make the horse responsive and sharp to your forward aids.
One very effective way to do that is by using transitions.
- Ride lots of upward transitions and downward transitions from one gait to another and within the paces.
- Aim to ride one transition on each short side of the arena and at least two transitions on each long side.
- Once you have the horse listening to your aids, ride transitions around a 20-meter circle to encourage the horse to “sit” on his inside hind leg, and step more underneath his body.
Related Read: How to Get Your Horse In Front of the Leg
Activity and straightness
Straightness is crucial when working on activating your horse’s hind legs. If the horse is crooked, the energy that you create cannot flow through his body.
So, when working on a circle, remember to use your outside leg and rein to prevent the horse from falling out through his shoulder or pushing his quarters out.
When you’re working on straight lines, ride the horse in a slight shoulder-fore position to keep control of the quarters and make the horse straight.
Also, make sure that you are sitting straight too. If you’re twisting your shoulders or leaning to one side, the horse may throw a shoulder out or bring his quarters to the inside to compensate.
Let your horse use his back
Many riders accidentally block the precious activity that they’re trying so hard to create by not allowing the horse to use his back properly.
Ride in rising trot, sit lightly in the saddle, and be careful not to grip the horse with your thighs; all those things can block the activity.
Also, be very careful that you don’t lean forward over the horse’s withers or shoulders, as that will unbalance the horse and destroy any activity that you’ve succeeded in creating.
Related Read: How to Follow Your Horse’s Movement
How to ask for more activity
To ask your horse for more activity in the hind legs, you need to use a simple leg aid. Tap your horse quickly with your heel, spur, or ankle while keeping the rest of your leg relaxed and still.
Once you get a reaction from the horse, stop the aid, and sit still. Resist the urge to constantly squeeze your horse with your legs or kick him repeatedly, or he will quickly become dead to the aids.
To discover the most effective tapping aid takes practice, as each horse responds slightly differently. For example, you may find that a light tap with your schooling whip to back up your leg aids works well.
However, without exception, it’s the correct timing of the aids that are most important, rather than the strength. As you use the activating leg aids, you must also use a half-halt or “waiting” rein aid so that the horse doesn’t speed up.
As soon as you’ve used the activating aid, ease your rein to allow the energy to come through the horse’s back from behind and the hind legs to step further underneath the horse.
Rhythm and straightness are essential before you can begin to activate your horse’s hind legs.
Until the horse has an active hind leg, you will not be able to encourage him to work forward through his back to an uphill balance and onward to true collection.
Transitions are the key to developing more activity when used with a light, tapping leg aid, and well-timed half-halt as described above. Did that technique work for you? Let us know in the comments section below.