Monday, December 12, 2016

Understanding and Adjusting the Dressage Frame

3rd Level | PVDA Fall | 2016
Photo by Redline Photography
Dressage riders talk a lot about a horses "frame". What does that even mean? And how does our understanding of the shape our horses work in develop?

When I started riding dressage, my understanding of a horse's frame was simplistic. If my horse wasn't ducking above or below the contact, I considered him "in a frame". That there was more than one frame to ride him in didn’t really occur to me until much later.
Todd Bryan clinic: the start of my real dressage instruction.
Cincinnati, Ohio | 2010
Around Training/1st level, I understood that there was the stretchy frame and the working gait frame. While the frame of the dressage horse is typically described as the shape of the topline and the body, my understanding of frame at this stage was mainly tied to where my horse's head was positioned. I understood enough to know that as I went up the levels, the horse's head needed to be carried slightly higher. I knew the logic, but the practical application was lacking.
Head not in the air? Must be okay.
IDS Schooling Show | 2012
At 2nd level, I started to realize there were as many different levels of frame as there are speeds of gaits (read: infinite). I began to experiment with raising and lowering the neck, discovering how it changed my horse's balance behind or loosened up his back. My control over the frame was inconsistent. I wasn't able to hold a lower or deeper frame for long, and a higher frame would often get away from me and result in a horse escaping the contact.
Head too high, topline not engaged.
Heartland Schooling Show | 2014
At 3rd level, my mastery of adjusting the frame started to develop. I was finally becoming able to adjust the frame by fractions at will. I was beginning to understand the relationships between the frame and the hind end at a more intuitive level. I still made frequent mistakes, and often misjudged when to use a certain frame to achieve the results I desired.
For example: lower and longer when relaxing the back...
PVDA Fall | 2016
Every day, my abilities and understanding continue to evolve further. I think back to the days when I was unable to get my horse to lower his head in a shoulder-in, and I can't believe I was able to get good work out of him. I marvel at my ability to ask my horse to carry himself in a higher frame and collect to a greater degree.
Clinic snippet: Lifting a horse's frame when asking for more engagement.
Mistakes still happen daily. I often misjudge how much strength my horse has to hold a challenging frame, and push too far. I will ask for collection with the frame too long or too low. Still, the ability to actually realize and adjust the frame at will is such a marvelous tool. Maybe one of the best the rider of a hot horse can have.
Raising the frame to get the shoulders up and develop more collection.
Stephen Clinic | 2015
What is your understanding of a horse's frame? Are you still a beginner, trying to sort out what a frame really is? Are you at that intermediate stage where you are beginning to realize you can effect the way your horse carries his balance through his head and neck? Or do you have the basic understanding down, and working on perfecting your mastery of the tool (a process I am assured continues throughout your whole riding career)? What does your journey look like?
PVDA Fall | 2016
Photo by Redline Photography

21 comments:

  1. I'm at an in between stage. I am aware that the frame can be changed and there are multiple and it isn't just related to the head. But I'm still figuring out how to consistently access my horse's top line. His favorite mode is a disengaged giraffe.

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    1. Lol I'm definitely in the same boat haha.

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    2. I've definitely been there. Funnier thing is, I think that stage just follows you around as you go up the levels. Hahaha...

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  2. with the new guy, my entire purpose in thinking about "frame" right now is really about balance. His lateral balance first bc a lot of what he does with his head and neck is compensating for being uneven from side to side. And then longitudinal balance as I ask him to step further under himself. His actual outline or head and neck position is pretty much secondary to the purpose of him learning about these different balance points. For now at least. Once he knows where to go to find balance I imagine we will start to think about some of the more nuanced positions that you write about here.

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    1. Oh! Such good points! I didn't even touch on the lateral balance part, but you're so right. That definitely has a big part to play. Hell, with Pig his frame has to change slightly within each stride to compensate for the funny hind end. It's a thing to understand in it's own right!

      Love that you're letting Sir Charles figure out his balance on his own. I know I made some errors with Pig's training by holding his balance for him too much in more advanced work. Don't follow my lead! Let the horse learn to be responsible for his own balance. (Thanks for pointing that out, Stephen. Lol.)

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  3. I think we're at the intermediate state. I know Grif has different frames, I very much know how differently he moves in them, but I don't quite have the tools in the toolbox to modify at will yet. I get lucky some days, most days we've got some semblance of okayness, and other days are a total crapshoot. I definitely see marked progress though, and I think that is the most important thing right now. We'll both hammer out the details and fine tune with time.

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    1. It's really awesome that you're able to pay attention to those different frames even at an early stage in training. That awareness is going to pay off big time.

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  4. these are really great pictures, hes gorgeous. i'd love to see y'all compete eventually pure dressage is like a sorcerous mystery to me still.

    i'd like to think I have a pretty good grasp on the frame but runkle's still so green yet I haven't had to exercise that knowledge in awhile. before his injury we were really doing a lot better at controlling the hind end on it's own and being able to lengthen the stride pretty much just from his seat. ... nowwww he's bracing on the bridle and weak as hell again but oh well at least its winter???

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    1. Oh thank you! I drool over him every day, for sure. :) Come see us! We're usually competing close by DC, either Morven, Loch Moy, or PG Equestrian Center. You're always invited, and I might even have a place to stay.

      It's hard with a green horse. To some degree, you've gotta let them figure things out in the same way the rider does, it seems. The point you bring up on weakness and bracing is a really good one. That's a thing I notice with a lot of horses who are comfortable in contact/the bridle. They lean when they're not working behind (either from a strength or forward issue). Pig does much the same when he's tired or sore. Often it's an indicator to me that we need to change our frame slightly to either take pressure off or put pressure on the hind end. It's all so situational.

      You guys will pull it together! Last winter I was basically in the same boat. Literally. With a horse coming off a broken splint bone and trying to put back on conditioning after a long rest period. Bleh. It's awful, but I kind of thought of it as rebuilding the horse in the shape I wanted him. Rather than getting depressed about all the building I needed to do. It's sort of a second chance, eh?

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  5. I feel that my academic understanding of the horse's frame and how changing it affects the way they are able to move the body is MUCH more developed than my actual, technical ability to affect the frame! I'm OK at influencing variations of the working frame and stretchy frame, (though let's face it, still working on that, too!) but beyond that my practical education (and access to horses that understand more than that) runs dry. An interesting topic to chew on, for sure!

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    1. So interesting! And yeah, the more advanced the horse the more options you have when it comes to dialing in the right frame for the job at hand. I wonder how much a green rider and a green horse (I'm talking green with more advanced dressage training, not green as in don't know how to ride) struggle just because neither one really knows which frame to use when or how the changes in balance effect the abilities of the horse. I know that's something I've struggled with when learning with Pig. He is so hot and emotional, it can be a contentious issue for us. With good reason!

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  6. I would say that I have a fairly good understanding. I used to think I had a better one but it was based on the horse that I road (TB cross). Now that I'm training an Andalusian who's natural carriage is very uphill I'm learning to lower rather than raise her neck/head so that she can free up her back. Riding is hard. sigh.

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    1. Oooh! Good point! Pig is definitely along the lines of the Andalusian mindset. He'd prefer to carry his head and neck in my lap, thank you very much. Haha. Learning to go lower was really hard for him, and took a lot of time to make sure he was comfortable there.

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  7. I would say I'm more in the intermediate stage, where I understand a few different frames, and can pretty reliably get those, but anything else is... kind of not there? It's interesting how for me, I find the long and low to be easiest (probably because it's most useful for my style of riding), but the higher frame for collection is not something I'm good at.

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    1. We're all more comfortable doing what we're more familiar with, that's for sure! The hunter world is a whole different discussion on frame, I think. There's a lot of crossover, but the difference in self-carriage requirements and balance over fences adds something very different. I'd be interested in finding out how frame is discussed in your discipline.

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  8. I still have no earthly clue what I am doing. That is all. :)

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    1. Haha yessssss. I was just going to say "this post has a lot of words".

      I'm definitely thinking about this stuff. I'm working hard to get C consistent in the two frames stage (actually used to be going ok back when I could ride). I day dream about the adjustability you have, but we're definitely not there yet.

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    2. Bahaha! I'll be honest, Karen. Me either. Me. Either.

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  9. I'd say 'frame' is one of those concepts that's constantly getting shattered and rebuilt. Right now I'm aware that there are multiple frames and we're working on being able to change between them reliably. I mean, we change between frames any time I ask for something he doesn't want, but that doesn't really count. It's only been in the past two months that we've hit the point that trainer can say 'drop the frame down' and we can at least take a shot at the adjustment. Frame comes up to get him off his shoulders and onto his butt, frame goes down to get him to swing and stretch and not kill me.

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    1. THAT is a huge breakthrough moment! Seize the frame! (Er, the day...)

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  10. I'm in the intermediate stage. Still trying to get my techniques down to change the frame exactly how I want. Mostly I have trouble encouraging a lifting back unless in a low frame. One day I will master this

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