What is suppleness? Suppleness is flexibility.
The aim is that the horse’s muscles have tone, are free from resistance and do not tighten against the rider’s aids.
The test of whether a horse is supple and working ‘through’ the back is that when the rein contact is eased the horse wants to stretch forward and down and not to try to hollow his/her back.
Some horses are naturally more supple than others. When your horse is supple, he is able to bend easily, and he’ll work through his back and move fluidly without tension. If your horse is lacking suppleness, the first thing is to make sure he is balanced, engaged, carrying himself and bends around your leg.
If your horse is not supple, he will:
- become tense and resistant while working in the school
- find somethings easy on one rein, but difficult on the other rein
- fall in or out through his shoulders when riding lateral movements or turns
If he does any of these things or just generally feels reluctant to soften and bend, then it’s likely he needs some work on his suppleness.
One of the best things for creating suppleness in your horse is lateral work, and the most useful movements are shoulder-in, leg-yield and travers.
If your horse is finding a movement difficult, keep the angle of the movement shallow and give it time for him to find his own balance – this makes it easier for your horse. It is good to use the three-quarter line instead of the track as your horse cannot rely on the side of the school and will listen to your aids more.
Another way to improve suppleness is using pole work – this helps with suppleness through the back and tail to poll as the horse reaches for each step. The rider must allow the horse to engage through his core and lift his back and relax.
Remember – a happy horse is a well trained horse and rider!