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Topline Lengthening

When you see a horse that has a truly good extended trot it embodies everything that we strive for in dressage: engagement, strength, power, freedom.  If you are fortunate enough to have a horse with good extensions then for a brief moment, you know what it is like to fly.

trot at libertyWe start our journey to extensions with lengthenings.  Lenthenings at the trot and canter start at First level.  Once you make the jump to Second level you are required to do medium trot and canter, which means that your lengthenings must have now developed more up-hill balance, thrust, self-carriage, and therefore, suspension.  Moving to Third level we have extensions which adding to mediums, requires an extension (or lengthening) of the horses frame, thus displaying even more power and true self-carriage. 

First, we must start at Training level.  Having properly followed the training scale our horses have solidified rhythm, suppleness, and contact, and now moving to First level we add to these steps on the scale more power and thrust, therefore developing a stronger connection.  We often introduce lengthenings at the canter because that is normally the gait that is more naturally balanced.  However, if your horse has an exceptional trot you can introduce lengthenings at the trot.  However, you must be very careful not to over face or ask for to much to soon because your horses lack of strength at this point will cause him or her to become wide behind--a fault that is difficult to fix.  In the beginning exercises over cavellettis are a great way to correctly train your horse to lengthen their entire frame and stride without quickening their tempo and maintaining a level to slight uphill balance.  As well as lengthening on the long side using the wall to help maintain balance, or on a 20 meter circle for a more advanced lengthening to encourage more engagement.  If you have a horse that will not lengthen and simply speeds up, then sometimes it is helpful to ‘push’ them forward eventually ‘through’ to a true lengthening.  But, some horses are not physically capable of doing a good lengthening and only time and strength will help them.

After you have established a rhythmical, balanced lengthening with good thrust, you must start to develop medium paces.  This requires our horse to be honestly connected and ‘on the bit’ and, in following our training scale, a higher degree of impulsion and therefore collection.  In the medium trot and canter we mold and shape our lengthening into mediums by increasing the amount of engagement and maintaining a rounder frame.  An exercise that helps increase engagement in the medium paces is transitions from lengthening trot on the long-side or diagonal to the walk or as that develops a medium trot to a halt with the addition of a rein-back.  As this progresses and your horse’s degree of engagement and self-carriage increase to the higher degree required at Third level, then to develop the extensions you can change this exercise to medium canter to walk, then directly to halt and eventually rein-back.  This requires such a light response to the rider’s aids, as well as strength. 

Once these exercises are done with ease then you can do a true extension allowing your horse’s entire frame to slowly expand as they sit, raise their forehand, and push with grace and power across the diagonal.

Rebecca Rigdon - Polos and Hats