Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Importance of Footfalls

It's about time I better understood footfalls.

I've been reading Wendy Murdoch's Simplify Your Riding and I just finished watching Eitan Beth-Halachmy's Poetry In Motion: Understanding Your Horse from the Inside Out.  I also have Mark Rashid's Understanding Foot-Fall and Influencing Movement but have yet to watch it.

I know the basic sequence for each gait and I know the phases of movement for each leg.  I know which diagonal I should be posting and I know that the canter is initiated from the hind.  I know lots of stuff about footfalls but I don't truly understand them.

It's high time that changed.

To understand footfall is to know, at any given moment, where the feet are - both in sequence and in phase.  It means feeling the movement of the horse and timing a request at the moment the horse is able to make a commitment about where the foot will next land.

Simplify Your Riding, a fabulous book that is no longer in print, has wonderful photos and information about timing requests to the footfall to effect the movement you want.  So timing your trot request at the right moment in the walk sequence allows you to rise on the correct diagonal on the first beat of the trot.  Timing a downward transition at the right moment allows you to ease into the lower gait.  Pretty cool?!

I wish this had been impressed upon me earlier.  Not that I could have done much about it.  Until the last year or two, most of my time on Cricket's back has been about survival.  I started getting a good feel for footfall about 2 years ago when I was up at Carol's in the deeper sand of her indoor arena.  I played with it and got pretty good about feeling the landing phase of each foot at the walk and getting a feel for the trot diagonals.  Then everything kind of went by the wayside when I started working on canter and freestyle riding.

In the last month or two, I've started gaining a better appreciation for the connection between how Cricket moves and how she feels.  When I can influence her body to be correct and balanced, her mind is much more relaxed and obedient.  I've not completely given up on my freestyle riding or finishing my L3 but I am exploring ways to improve Cricket's physical response and in turn I'm seeing her offer more.  Hmm, how interesting!


Susan said...

The thing is that there is theory and there is actuality. I bet that in all actuality you have a better sense for those gaits than you give yourself credit. Of course, I'm on an anti-input kick right now. In other words, I feel like I've been on information overload since I adopted Pie and then, subsequently Sioux.
Eventually, I had to put the books aside and just be with my horses. Still trying to remember the lessons from the book. . . don't get me wrong. . . but as an intuitive process. What I don't remember from the books, well, so I don't remember.
Like you said, you've given up on freestyle riding and finishing your L3, but seeing Cricket offer more.
Sounds good. Go with it!
By the way, the only reason for knowing diagonals at the track was as a diagnostic for seeing if they were lame behind. If the ass end didn't throw me out of the saddle as well on one side vs. the other. Time to think twice.
: )

Tina said...

Hmmm, something more to add to my NESI list. I wonder if this would help my apparent inability to nicely ride a canter-tort transition? One fun thing I know some folks do is strap different sounding bells to each (or just one or two) foot. Keep us updated!

Lisa said...

Susan - in gymnasticizing a horse, rising on the correct diagonal allows them to place the inside hind deeper under the belly, powering better from the HQ. It can also set you up for correct canter departs, etc. I can feel it but it takes me a minute to get in harmony with it. Changing diagonals can also help build better symmetry in the horse.

You're right - I probably know more than I think but I need to get to a point where I don't have to think. I need to feel it and just know it in my bones, so to speak.

Tina - I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my recent canter-gasm was a direct result of timing my request with the correct footfall and having the correct bend. By skill or luck, it was the most perfect canter EVER (well, for at least three strides, anyway). I want more of that and I'm just going to see where the road leads.

luna_star said...

Hey Lisa, Leitha here, I've watched Mark Rashid's 'Understanding Footfall' DVD and it helped me (thanks Betty :) - IMHO it's better watched with friends and chocolate - that way you stand a fighting chance of staying awake through the whole thing ;-) I find MR a little monotonic...