To begin with, you need a horse that is built specifically for your discipline of interest. It’s much the same as a person who is over six-foot tall being suited to basketball, compared to a person who is under five foot and more suited to weightlifting. It is the same for the sporting horse.
The first thought that comes to mind is that the horse should be capable of carrying you with ease. Is the horse well balanced (meaning, is his spine already near to the horizontal)? As we know, the spine is sloping downwards from the back to the front, ending at the last neck vertebrae (number seven), which is approximately the widest part of the base of the neck.
This location of the last neck vertebrae and the first thoracic vertebrae (the vertebrae in the back that the ribs are attached to) we like to be high in relation to the hips. Placing ourselves behind the horse, we would like to see the withers higher than the croup.
The illustrations (1-5) are self-explanatory, however, I would like to emphasise certain aspects. To be really accurate, it is not so much that the forehand rises, it is more that the hindquarters are lowering. A horse that is up in front without lowering behind is hollow backed.
We would like the horse to move forward with calm, regular, long strides — not short, quick strides. Why? Because only with long strides will he flex his joints in the hind legs and lower his croup. In the landing phase, the joints are still slightly flexed so they can develop the spring quality, but more importantly, that’s the only moment for the application of the half-halt in the future.
If the horse goes with short steps, he is avoiding the gymnastics and taking the easy way out (less tiring). Try it yourself by sinking and bending the knees as you move. As the horse is lowering the croup (hindquarters), his spine will become more horizontal and the horse will be less on the forehand. Automatically we get more rising of the forehand due to the lowering of the hindquarters, (relative rising of the forehand).
A prerequisite, of course, is the foundation: forward, loose, straight, and then last but not least, collection.
FROM LONG & LOW TO LEVADE
In diagram one, the hind legs are actually a little too long and out behind; I would love to see a straighter line down to the straight, standing cannon bone of the hind legs. In this picture, the outline of the horse is long and low. The young horse should not be any lower, unless his back or hindquarters are inclined to be weak, but certainly no more flexion at the poll.
As we go through the diagrams, we can see the relationship between the flexion at the poll and the level of the neck go together: the higher the neck the more flexion at the poll; the lower the neck, the less flexion. As we see clearly there is no need for the face of the horse to come behind the vertical (“rollkur”).
However, being behind the vertical could accidentally happen through lack of impulsion, where the rider was for a moment inattentive and forgot to use the seat and leg to create more impulsion to restore the contact (connection). To address this, a conscious driving aid from the seat and the leg to make the horse more forward, together with an almost simultaneous half-halt to keep the rhythm and restore the balance, is needed. Or did the rider deliberately, by manipulating with their hands, put the head behind the vertical!
As you can see in diagram two (which is the most difficult phase) by holding the reins steady and engaging the horse more — through using your triceps, not your biceps — he should slightly flex the poll more and harmoniously raise the neck up, not down.