I went to the Midwest Horse Fair on Saturday, where K, E and I watched a Steffen Peters clinic together. Peters is an Olympic-winning Grand Prix dressage rider. I think clinics are always fun to watch, but for me they can flow by and leave very little practical information behind. Peters worked with two women riding lovely Oldenburgs. Both riders were good, but they were heavy with the aids, particularly the spurs. Peters addressed that issue with subtle language. He said something that I won't forget. It's a truly useful piece of advice that I can bring into every interaction I have with a horse.
Tension has nowhere to go in an un-supple horse. (Or an un-supple human being, for that matter.)
I thought about it during Monday School with Dar. He's a young horse who lacks balance and self-carriage. He also carries some baggage from what little training he received before I got him. Particularly, he gets tense, rushy and aggressively defensive when asked to canter. That's something I think is endemic to joust horses, especially those who aren't cut out for that hard profession.
I think these photos show a nice, simple progression through tension to relaxation. I don't expect suppleness from Dar yet, but I can look for the classic signs of release: tightness and leaning, then a listening ear, then giving way into the long, low, easy profile of a calm, willing horse.