Recently we asked people to Facebook or email us some topics or questions they would be interested in having me write about. Thanks to everyone for the many thought-provoking ideas that were sent in.
One of the questions was: “What is or how do you achieve roundness and/or suppleness?”
I can only speak from my own experience and views on any of these topics. The biggest thing we can do for ourselves towards this goal is to truly understand the concept of what it is, and the ingredients involved.
There are a 101 exercises for this but they are only as good as our understanding of the needs of the horse and the order of the exercises given.
Here’s my definition of “roundness” — the way the horse carries himself and the muscling that has been developed through continual and proper systematic development.
“Suppleness” is also developed through continual and proper systematic development. Suppleness comes before roundness. I believe most people look at both of these things as something physical that you can see, and it is.
But to get suppleness and then roundness, a horse first needs to be mentally and emotionally prepared in that order. And then the suppleness and roundness is achievable.
All too often there is no thought to the horse’s level of mental or emotional fitness, only the physical look that is trying to be achieved. It is much easier to see the physical look than the mental or emotional state, although it’s quite easy to see the mental and emotional state if you are looking for it.
One of the harder things to do with a horse for us is to a) first learn the skills we require ourselves, then b) take the time to prepare our horse mentally and emotionally for the physical things we want our horses to do, such as being supple and round.
If a horse mentally understands what is being asked, then emotionally it is much easier for them to deliver. I think of supple as soft and easily bent, moved and manoeuvred. If a horse is soft, easily bent, moved, and manoeuvred, then it stands to reason that we can ask them to do exercises and carry themselves in way that will develop muscle in the proper areas to achieve roundness.
A horse that is not mental and or emotionally prepared gets tight and bracey, the opposite of supple. If you ask a horse like this to get round, you will get muscle development in all the wrong areas.
One of my horses that I ride now, Az do Vouga (Az) might be one of the most athletic horse I’ve ever ridden. However my biggest and most challenging job with this particular horse is to get him emotionally prepared for what he is more than physically capable of doing.
It is fairly easy to pick up the reins and hold him into a physical frame but he is not thinking about holding himself as his own responsibility, it’s all up to me. If I ignore the fact that I need to help him more mentally and emotionally, and just work on the physical, I will never be able to access and enjoy all the unbelievable talent and athleticism he has to offer.
Even if we understand the three areas (mental, emotional, and physical) that we need to develop, but only spend time on one area, then we are truly only getting a third at most of what the horse has to offer.
A person may be thinking that roundness and suppleness is something we have to wait for… and it is, and it isn’t. Keep the order of things in mind. Mental, Emotional, and then Physical. Supple before Round.
Maybe another way to say it is that suppleness comes from a mental and emotional good place. Roundness comes from a physical good place but you can’t get there without the mental and emotional good place first.
Everything we do with our horses from day one should be continually and systematically working towards the end goal. We can have little things that our horse is soft, bendable or supple at on the ground before even getting on. As we get these things going, then we can ask for them to carry themselves in certain ways developing the muscle and roundness that we are looking for.
Finally, when all areas on the ground and in the saddle are developed mentally, emotionally and physically, supple and round, we might call that collection.
I believe the closer I follow these guidelines and way of thinking, the more success I have.