Some people hear the term “classical training” & automatically think “dressage”, & then either tune in or tune out! The fact is, classical training is not the exclusive domain of dressage at all, in fact far from it. The principles of classical training are all about developing the horses maneuverability & ensuring its longevity in work, & that applies to every form of horsemanship, be it english or western disciplines.
So why is engagement important, does it really matter if you have no Olympic or world cup aspirations? Well, if you are wanting to ensure the longevity of your beloved horse, then this is something you really ought learn & work towards achieving.
What engagement is about is getting the horse to carry more weight on his hindend, rather than his front. Horses have evolved to naturally carry more weight on their front end, which has served them well for thousands of years & is just fine in their natural state. However the minute we start to ride them, everything changes. Adding a riders weight, often riding on unnatural surfaces (sand arena, compacted roads etc etc) adds additional stress on the horses front end, hence why more often than not, soundness issues are often associated with the front limbs.
In order to achieve engagement, the horse needs to reach further under his body with his hind legs, raise his back, which then allows flexion, & with the energy driving from behind, lightens his front end. There is a wealth of information available on the types of excercises you can do to improve engagment with your horse & they truly are worth doing.
The reality of putting theory into practice can at times be daunting, especially if knowledge & experience is limited. I have found a truly excellent video by Equitopia who have a series on this topic that really illustrates engagement. This one features the wonderful John Lyons. I will be sharing some of the others in the near future.
Engaging Your Horse (by Equitopia)
Training your horse to be correct can at times be truly frustrating, especially if you are trying to do a lot of it on your own, without the guidance of expert trainers & coaches. The thing is, persist! In the interest of your horses wellbeing, persist! It can be a long road, but one well worth taking. The rewards will be a happy, healthy horse that is a pleasure to ride & one that will be with you for a long time.
Cheers & Happy riding!