Thursday, January 22, 2009

Frame versus Function

Before beginning with long lining the beginner horse, it's important to talk about frame and function. How the relationship between these two things is handled can make a big difference in how successful this process is.
To make sure there is no confusion, I will begin by defining each of these things.

For the sake of this discussion, function quite simply means proper impulsion. It doesn't matter what discipline a horse will be trained in, without a horse driving forward, deep under itself it will be unable to perform at peak function.

Frame, on the other hand, is the end result of proper function. The horse drives from behind, deep underneath itself, lifts its back and shoulder, then rolls over into the bridle in a collected manner. Depending on the discipline that frame will vary.

Western horses are expected to be vertical in the bridle. Hunter horses can be vertical or a hair nosed out of the bridle (although in today's Arabian show ring many hunters can be seen past vertical even though that is supposed to be penalized according to the rules). English pleasure horses are allowed to be "as bridled" as they are capable. It takes a pretty special english horse to be hinged well enough to bridle vertically.

Richard and I, both, believe function is more important than frame. We want the horse to be moving forward correctly. That is the number one objective right from the start. We want to teach the horse to go "forward" when asked. "Forward" means the horse is driving from behind squarely, reaching well underneath itself, lifting its back and shoulder at all gaits.

We have absolutely NO requirements for frame in early long lining sessions. As a matter of fact, we don't have that expectation for quite a while in this process. That frame, or collection, will come as the horse

builds muscle and learns to move correctly. It is a natural evolution of the process of good function.

The reason for this emphasis on function is based upon how the horse naturally moves. Since the horse begins movement from the back end and it travels on up through the nose, it makes sense to teach the horse in the manner they instinctually go in the first place.

Another natural response of the horse is when it reaches a barrier it will stop. Since the purpose of a bit is to be a barrier for the horse, it also makes sense if you want to push the horse up to that barrier and have it keep moving, you need to have installed a button so the horse can understand the request. That's why we work on function first.

Teaching the horse to go forward isn't about just getting the horse to move any old way. It is a very specific request to which we want a very specific response. We want to be sure the horse understands it is to go forward to it's peak function. It doesn't matter whether it's a long line or a rider's leg making the request. What's important is that the horse understand it means to drive forward, stepping well underneath itself, lifting its back and shoulders while travelling squarely.

There have been many young horses ruined right from the start by expecting frame before the horse ever understood how to properly perform to peak function. Expecting a horse to be "light" on the bit when it hasn't even learned to go forward properly can only cause confusion for the horse.

A horse with a great natural lope can be turned into what feels like a pile driver because the horse is confused and frightened of the bit and doesn't understand to go forward. Such a horse will shorten its stride in an up and down fashion in response to a request to go forward instead of reaching forward underneath itself. The end result is a rough riding unbalanced gait.

And that's just one example of how a horse can be ruined by teaching frame before function. There are many other issues found in problem horses that trace back to the horse not understanding how to go forward in the first place. Ask any successful trainer what's the most difficult issue to fix. They will tell you teaching a horse how to go forward that has been intimidated into a frame.

Cues with the Lines

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  1. Ha, that about explains one of the many problems that I have with my 9-going-on10-yr-old OTTB gelding.

    Firstly, he's been treated for and currently being rehabed from EPM -- probably had it for years.

    Secondly, he was ridden in a "frame" for so long that when I finally got my hands on him, he was undertracking behind by 6", a consequence of the EPM and the "frame," I suspect.

    He's just about tracking up, but I still have to figure out how to get him to stretch OUT into the bit.

    I've gotten it ONCE, just a few days ago.

    Glad you touched on the subject, it helped clarify some of my thoughts.

  2. interesting post and hits on a great topic. The obsession with "frame" is one that drives me nuts. My horses all have miles to go when it comes to frame and I know it; but dang it they know how to move and use hind ends.

  3. exactly! great post :-) 'frame' follows function, not the other way around - it's a byproduct of correct engagement, not the source of it. if only the dressage world would hear that...