Lesson in Lightness Articles

Work in Hand
By Mark Russell

Article appearing in PRE Magazine Winter 2011
All horses, whether green or mature, benefit from time spent in hand. It is easier for the horse to learn relaxation, stretching, and flexion without the weight of the rider and in-hand work provides the foundation for learning under saddle. It is worth noting that how a horse responds in-hand is normally a good indication of what his understanding is of what’s being asked of him, and his response will likely be similar under saddle.
How you present a request to the horse, or maybe more accurately stated – “who you are being”, as you present the in-hand work has a profound effect on how the horse feels about you as well as how he interprets your requests.
The Bridle
By Mark Russell

Article appearing in PRE Magazine Fall 2011
Building from the premise that the release builds trust; educating the horse to the bridle springs from our early work with the horse in the halter. If we have been successful in teaching our horse to respond to the slightest pressure in any direction from the halter we can more easily begin to teach him about the bridle.A crucial element in the horse’s education to the bridle is teaching him to relax his jaw: a relaxed jaw indicates a relaxed horse, which is the foundation of lightness. Educating the horse about the bridle is an important component of the training process which is often misunderstood or overlooked altogether; however the bridle can be a very sophisticated way to access the musculature and skeleton of the horse to allow him to achieve a higher potential.
Louisa carries the bit worry-free

The Pursuit of Artful Riding
By Mark Russell

Article Appearing in PRE Magazine Spring 2011
Diego is attentive to Mark's requests without tension
Artistry and lightness in riding is often an elusive goal for riders although paving the path to its development is really very simple. The integration of a few basic principles and adherence to them throughout the training process will create a scenario in which responsiveness and lightness will flourish.
These principles include a blending of Artistic Dressage with Natural Horsemanship techniques with a mindfulness of self and by asking only for what the horse can provide both physically and emotionally at a particular point in time. These principles create trust and relaxation, and their continuation through the training process will advance both horse and rider to their goals of lightness.
Both Natural Horsemanship and Artistic Dressage training principles often mirror each other but there are significant departures especially in the gymnasticizing process with the alignment of the spine, impulsion, engagement and balance found in Artistic Dressage. However, Natural Horsemanship methods, increase accessibility to lightness and provides an excellent foundation to further training.
The Reality We Present to the Horse is the Reality That He Lives In

Relaxation, Flexion, Strength
By Mark Russell

Article appearing in PRE Magazine Summer 2011
Bandit in a relaxed trot
One of the reasons for teaching the horse to be light to the aids is to support the healthy flow of energy through the horse’s whole body. In the education of the horse, relaxation, flexion, and strength are taught concurrently. The development of relaxation and trust is the key that first opens the door.
RELAXATION
Psychological relaxation precedes physical relaxation. In the early stage of the horse’s education he is taught to let go of stress and tension in his mind, and hence, his body. This is a step by step process where he is taught to relax and release inner tension at the exact point where resistance exists. The horse comes to learn that the aids have a positive effect.The jaw is the key that unlocks the body and opens the mind to accept relaxation. Loosening the jaw encourages the horse to lift and savor the bit in his mouth. With the bit in his mouth, this motion of the jaw not only shows that he is relaxed, it shows that he is comfortable with the bit and is not afraid of the bridle, nor of the rider’s contact.Once his jaw is released, his poll relaxes and his tendency is to stretch his head and neck downward. We encourage this movement while bending him to the inside. His softness will travel down the whole length of his body; through his neck, shoulders, spine, hind end to his feet. The rider, with the horse in hand, stays calm, soft, and waits for the horse to respond. When we can be successful in relaxing the horse in length bend at a standstill, movement is introduced. Likewise, he is taught in hand before these exercises are done under saddle.