This study guide is provided for the ANRC Junior Horsemanship Challenge Competitions and the ANRC Junior Horsemanship Challenge National Championship for the riding theory portion of the written test. The USHJA Study Guide is the resource for all stable management questions taken from the following chapters:
- Anatomy and Physiology, pgs. 13-31
- First Aid
- Grooming and Blanketing
- Horse Handling
- Horse Health
- Horse Identification
- Stable Management
- Safety, Tacking, Mounting, Dismounting,
Untacking, pages 128-130
ANRC STUDY GUIDE: The American System of Forward Riding
The American system of forward riding is a modern system of training for hunters, jumpers, and cross-country horses to develop a natural equine athlete. Schooling seeks to develop the horse’s natural balance under the weight of the rider to produce forward “connected” movement in long, low, ground covering strides, with a result known as forward balance. The forward riding system consists of three major parts:
Position Control Schooling
The rider’s position is one of the three foundation parts of the forward riding system. An educated position is essential to the efficient use of soft, precise aids or controls, and a requirement for effective schooling. A good position on the flat helps produce a quality position over jumps. The advantages of having a good working position are important not only for the beginner, the intermediate level rider, and the general recreational rider, but also for the more experienced rider. (Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse by Paul D. Cronin Chapter 1)
The Rider’s Position
Four Fundamentals of a Good Working Position
- Unity of the horse and rider while standing or in motion
- Non-abuse to the horse by the rider’s weight and the aids
- Security of the rider in the saddle
- Use of the aids efficiently and effectively to control the horse quickly and softly
The forward riding system utilizes a position that allows the rider to be united with the ground-covering stride of the ideal hunter, jumper, or sport horse. The position must be non-abusive to the horse on the flat, during transitions, on uneven terrain, and especially when in motion at the trot, gallop, and jump. A poor position is abusive in that the unstable hands can jerk the mouth, and a swinging leg can irritate the horse and cause the rider’s weight to pound the back. This unintentional abuse, related to faults in the design of position is abusive nonetheless. (Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse by Paul D. Cronin pg. 25)
Physical Qualities Needed to Achieve the Fundamentals of a Good Position
(1) Correct Design of Position
Profile – Rider is close to the pommel, legs bent at knee, heels pulled down, stirrup leathers straight to the ground, rider upright or inclined slightly forward (depending on the gait), rider’s back straight, shoulders open, head up, rider’s arms bent at elbow and close to the sides so that the forearm and the rein form a straight line from elbow to bit.
Front – Weight evenly distributed in each stirrup, ball of the foot resting near the outer branch of the stirrup, ankles flexed and rotated toward the horse sufficiently to allow the upper calves to be in contact, rider looking between the horse’s ears, hands about 6 inches apart, slightly above and in front of the withers.
(2) Correct Distribution of Weight
The rider’s center of gravity should coincide with that of the horse, influenced by the gait and speed.
(3) Balance in Motion
Balance in motion is the stability of the rider in the saddle without excessive grip. Balance depends on relaxation and is achieved by unconscious compensating movements of the body, especially the torso.
The ability of the rider to absorb the shocks of locomotion by maintaining three important angles: the hip, knee, and ankle, and by the instinctive, timely opening and closing of these angles—for instance, posting from the stirrups, rather than the knees.
Rhythm consists of instinctive movements of the rider’s torso and arms which adjust to the balancing efforts of the horse.
(6) Physical and Mental Relaxation
By developing metal confidence and physical skill, the body can become alert and ready to follow the movements of the horse without being sloppy or stiff.
Frictional grip is always present and allows the lower inner thigh, the inner knee and the upper inner calf to be in contact with the saddle and the horse’s sides. Muscular grip is used only when necessary to maintain unity with the horse’s efforts and reactions.
The length of the stirrup is essential to create the necessary angles in the rider’s position (ankle, knee, and hip) and equal distribution of the rider’s weight. The stirrups form the rider’s base of support. The rider’s ankle acts as a hinge or spring that absorbs the weight transferred down the rider’s leg. The knee and hip joints also act as shock absorbers that adjust to the actions of the horse.
To find the appropriate length stirrup, the rider should remove the leg from the stirrup and relax it down. The stirrup should fall at or slightly below the middle of the ankle. Most riding can be performed with a medium length stirrup. The more advanced rider may use a slightly shorter stirrup for jumping or cross-country riding, or a slightly longer stirrup for riding on the flat.
Levels of Schooling and Control
Schooling is the physical and mental education of the horse. The basic aim of schooling is to maintain and restore the natural balance of the “free” horse under the weight and influence of the rider. Schooling develops the horse physically and mentally to the point where the horse performs efficiently and is pleasant to ride. In short, schooling improves the horse’s athletic development, and teaches the horse signals, obedience and cooperation, thereby enhancing performance.
Stabilization is a key concept in schooling. The goal of stabilization is to teach the horse to maintain even speeds in each gait using elementary control techniques, whether being ridden in the ring or over uneven terrain, on the flat or jumping. The horse remains mentally and physically calm while being ridden alone or in the company of other horses. Stabilization provides the foundation for both horse and rider to facilitate further training.
Captain Vladimir Littauer, author of “Commonsense Horsemanship” set up three classifications of control to describe stages of training for the horse as well as the rider.
- Elementary Level
The elementary level is used by beginning riders while developing their positions and by intermediate and advanced riders when schooling or re-training horses.
The elementary level means authority over the horse through quick and definite control. Emphasis is placed on teaching the horse obedience. The rider’s goal is to ride on loose or semi-loose reins, teaching the horse to respond to the elementary control techniques described below. This schooling process promotes the elements of “stabilization”, encouraging the horse to be responsive and move forward freely with even speeds of gait, while remaining mentally and physically relaxed. Elementary control techniques are characterized by using the four natural aids which are leg, hand, weight, and voice:
- Hands – loose or semi-loose reins used in a check-release fashion for control and turning
- Legs – tapping or kicking
- Voice – used liberally
- Gaits – in schooling, the horse should be working toward stabilization. For beginning riders in the process of learning, the horse should already be stabilized.
An example of aids for a transition at the elementary level from the trot to the walk would include in this order: (1) use of the rider’s weight (stop posting and sit) (2) voice “walk” (3) hands using a check-release (4) urging leg, alternately tapping to walk forward.
When jumping, the rider approaches on a loose rein in a two-point position, and may grab the horse’s mane.
- Intermediate Level
The intermediate level encompasses a large part of the horse and rider’s education. Intermediate control implies the horse and the rider are both mentally and physically ready to advance with training, having worked through the “stabilization” process. Strong emphasis is placed on cooperation between horse and rider.
An intermediate rider learns how to establish contact and “connect” the horse’s movement to perform soft, precise transitions in cooperation with the horse’s efforts and reactions. The horse’s performance is enhanced by the rider’s ability to create impulse, resulting in forward movement, with long, low, efficient, and ground covering strides. With the rider’s refined use of aids, the horse should respond without resistance, accept contact softly, and move forward freely. The horse develops straightness, as well as lateral and longitudinal flexibility. Intermediate control techniques are characterized by the four natural aids which are legs, hand, weight, and voice:
- Hands – use of rein contact with following hands, give and take; use of reins in cooperation with the horse’s movement.
- Legs – squeezing leg aids in timing with the horse’s efforts
- Voice – used as a schooling aid
- Gaits – the horse should be stabilized on contact, move forward with impulse and connection, work with cooperation and efficiency.
The aids for a transition at the intermediate level from trot to walk would include in the following order: (1) weight, stop posting and sit (2) hands give and take (3) legs squeeze and release to encourage the walk forward (4) hands continue to follow the head and neck gestures of the horse.
Intermediate jumping is characterized by soft, subtle rating of strides between jumps on contact, while allowing the horse to use balancing gestures over the jump. The rider places the hands on the horse’s crest in flight to insure security and non-abuse of the horse.
- Advanced Level
The primary emphasis of riding at this level is to achieve the highest quality performance on the flat and over fences. The advanced rider’s goal is to assess the horse’s mental and physical capabilities and to develop appropriate schooling techniques that will strengthen performance. At this stage of schooling, the rider allows the horse to become confident in his work, athletic, and willing to perform to the best of its ability. Advanced level control techniques are characterized by:
- Hands – use of the five rein aids with excellent timing and feel; knowledge and use of aids at all schooling levels.
- Legs – use of the three leg aids with excellent timing; knowledge and use of aids at all schooling levels.
- Voice – used as a schooling aid
- Gaits – the horse should demonstrate quality of movement, connection with occasional flexion and semi collection, and athletic jumping.
Five Rein Aids
- Two reins of direct opposition – two hands straight back to slow down, stop, turn or back the horse. There should be a direct line from the bit to the rider’s elbow.
- One rein of direct opposition – one hand straight back to turn the horse and position the head slightly in the direction of the turn.
- Leading or opening rein – one hand to the side and slightly forward to lead the horse’s head in the direction of the turn.
- Indirect rein of opposition in front of withers – a corrective rein that acts toward the opposite shoulder to shift the horse’s weight to the opposite shoulder.
- Indirect rein of opposition behind the withers – a corrective rein that acts toward the opposite haunch to shift the horses weight to the opposite haunch.
Three Leg Aids
- Urging leg – the rider’s legs act at or just behind the girth to move horse forward, increase speed or create reserve energy.
- Holding leg – the rider’s leg acts just behind the girth to hold the horse’s body on the line particularly when turning.
- Displacing leg – the rider’s leg acts 4-6 inches behind the girth to displace the haunches, hold the haunches in place, or move the horse’s body laterally.
All disciplines have a specialized language which allows for more efficient communication of important ideas and concepts.
Advanced Control – aims at achieving the highest quality of a horse’s performance in schooling, hunting, or showing that the horse is able to produce. Training at this level requires a horse that is mentally and physically relaxed yet alert, and responsive to the rider’s aids with an acceptable degree of athletic ability.
Aids – what the rider uses to communicate with the horse.
- Natural Aids : hands, weight/seat, voice, legs
- Artificial Aids: crop, spurs, martingales, etc.
Abuse – abuse is the unintentional mistreatment of the horse due to uneducated riding, such as the rider inadvertently pulling on the reins due to loss of the rider’s balance or unsteady hands while posting.
Balancing Gesture – the horse uses his head and neck to help him keep his balance when in motion. At the trot there is almost no gesture because a diagonal pair of legs is always on the ground lending the gait stability. At the walk, canter, gallop and jump the balancing gesture is significantly more pronounced.
Behind the Motion – riders who sit too upright are behind the horse’s forward balance. Their upper body may be behind the vertical at the canter and could cause the rider to get left at the jumps. The rider may pump with the upper body or shove with the seat which can agitate the horse or cause it to invert.
Contact – the feeling of the horse’s reserve energy in the rider’s hands through the reins thus establishing connection. The urging leg creates this energy or impulse and the rider captures the energy with an elastic feel of the horse’s mouth. The horse’s head and neck should be extended. Through the use of contact, the rider can achieve softer and more precise transitions than is possible on the elementary level. A rider is ready to learn contact when he/she has mastered the elementary level of control and has a strong enough working position that his/her hands can function independently of his/her body.
Cavaletti – an exercise consisting of a series of poles that the horse crosses at a walk, trot or canter to help in his physical development. They may be on the ground or slightly raised.
Connection – unity between the horse’s front end and hind end resulting from the horse’s energetic movement captured by the rider’s elastic feel of the horse’s mouth.
Crest Release – the release used at the intermediate level. The rider presses his hands on either side of the horse’s crest. This release may be short, medium or long, depending on the rider and/or the horse’s level.
Disengagement – the thrusting of the horse’s hind foot off the ground and the swinging of the leg back preparing to re-engage. Optimally, the degree of engagement and disengagement should be equal.
Driving Rein – the rein is held as if driving horses in a cart. The rein goes from the bit down through the hand from the thumb to the little finger rather than up through from the little finger to the thumb.
Dynamic Balance – the horse’s balance while in motion. It is the constant losing and regaining of his equilibrium.
Elementary Level Control – controls used by the rider to establish authority over the horse with the rider’s use of quick and definite control. This level is initially used for a beginning rider but is also useful for the advanced, educated rider when starting a young horse in the early stages of training.
Engagement – the swing of the hind leg under the horse’s body and the placing of the foot on the ground.
Equitation – in the show ring, an equitation class is judged on the rider’s position and his/her ability to produce a good performance of the horse against whatever standard is being used.
Following Arms – the rider follows the horse’s head and neck gesture in the air over the jump or in the gaits, maintaining a constant soft contact with the horse’s mouth, and keeping a direct line from the horse’s mouth to the rider’s elbow.
Four Phases of the Jump – approach, take-off, flight, and landing.
Good Hunter Movement – the horse moves with long, low, efficient, ground-covering strides, traveling on the line.
Impulsion – the horse’s reserve energy that is there when asked for. When a horse has impulse, it moves forward energetically. Impulse can happen naturally when the horse feels energetic, but most often, the energy is created by the rider’s urging legs.
Intermediate Control – the rider establishes soft, precise, and definite control with the horse on contact to produce connected forward movement.
- Elementary level rider uses an early release and holds the mane.
- Intermediate level rider uses the crest release (short, medium or long).
- Advanced level rider uses following arms in the air.
Lateral Agility – the horse’s ability to bend and turn with suppleness. This may be improved by practicing circles, half circles, serpentines, etc.
Longitudinal Agility – the horse’s ability to lengthen or shorten its stride within a gait. Exercises to develop this ability might include: 1) ordinary trot, slow trot, ordinary trot, 2) lengthening and shortening the stride at trot or canter (3) trotting or cantering up and down hills, and 3) jumping gymnastics.
On the Line – the horse’s hind feet track in the path of the fore feet whether the horse is traveling on a straight or curved line. The horse’s head and neck are bent slightly in the direction of travel.
Passive Contact – this is the beginning level of contact. The rider shortens the reins sufficiently so that he or she has a soft, consistent connection or feel of the horse’s mouth. There should be a straight line from the rider’s elbow to the horse’s bit. The horse accepts this feeling without resistance keeping his mouth closed and head and neck extended.
Perched – riders who are consistently ahead of the horse’s motion because their upper body is too far forward are considered “perched.” It may result from over-practicing two-point position.
Pinches at the Knee – this describes a rider who tightens through the thigh and knee and does not allow his or her weight to fall into the heel. This rider is often insecure and perched. The lower leg may pivot or swing from the knee down.
Punishment – the intentional use of a strong aid to correct or discourage inappropriate behaviors. Example: using the crop behind the rider’s leg to move the horse forward if he balks.
Stabilization – the horse’s ability and willingness to maintain by himself a steady, even pace set by the rider on loose reins, in all gaits and transitions, alone or in company, on the flat or over fences, in a ring or outside.
Static Balance – the horse when standing still carries approximately 60% of his weight on his forelegs and about 40% on his hind legs; he is exhibiting static balance.
Two Point Position or Jump Position – the rider rises slightly out of the saddle, closing the hip angle and balancing over his or her lower leg. At the elementary level, the rider should hold the mane to help maintain balance.
Transitions – A change from gait to gait or within a gait.
- Sequence for a downward transition: rider’s weight, voice, hand, supporting leg
- Sequence for upward transition: weight, voice, urging leg, follow-up with stick or spur if the response is not achieved.
When riding a course of jumps, riders should be aware of their major responsibilities. They are responsible for choosing the pace relative to the height of the fences and the terrain. They are responsible for keeping the horse on the line, to facilitate good turns and approaches. As the rider’s skill develops, he or she learns to regulate the length of the horse’s stride in relation to the jump.
The rider should be able to set the most common distances for cavaletti and simple gymnastics.
Cavaletti One Stride Combinations Bounce
Walk – 3′- 4’ Trot in – 18′ to 2nd element Trot in – 9′-10′
Trot – 4’6″ 21′ to 22′ to 3rd element Canter in – 12′
Canter – 12′ Canter in – 24′ to 2nd element
The average length of the horse’s stride at the canter is 12′. When setting a course of jumps at 3′ or higher, there should normally be 60′ between two fences to have four cantering strides between them. This distance allows 6′ for the horse to land inside the line from the first fence, then four 12′ cantering strides, and then 6′ for take-off before the next obstacle.
The Horse’s Gaits
WALK TROT CANTER BACK GALLOP
2 4 1 2 3 2 2 1 4 3
1 3 2 1 2 1 1 2 2 1
4 beats 2 beats 3 beats 2 beats 4 beats
Lateral Diagonal Left lead Diagonal
The Speeds of the Gaits (All speeds given are approximate)
The ordinary walk 4 miles per hour
The ordinary trot 8 miles per hour
The ordinary canter 10 miles per hour
The slow or semi-collected walk 2 1/2 miles per hour
The slow or semi-collected trot 5 miles per hour
The slow or semi-collected canter 6 miles per hour
The hunting pace 18 miles per hour
Reasons for lunging:
- Training – to teach the horse voice commands, cooperation and stabilization
- Retraining – to stabilize an upset or nervous horse
- Allow a horse to expend excess energy before the rider mounts
- Work with a mounted rider on position
How to lunge:
(1) Use a lunge line, whip and lunging cavesson or leather halter. If a horse is ridden in boots, it should also be lunged in the boots. If lunging in a bridle, put the halter over the bridle or put the lunge line through side of the bit on the inside, over the horse’s poll and attach it to the other side of the bit. This prevents the bit from being pulled through the horse’s mouth. It is safest to wear gloves when lunging to prevent rope burns on your hands should the horse pull.
(2) Lunge in an enclosed area if possible. If one is not available, use a corner of the ring and set up standards or some kind of portable barricade to define your lunging area.
(3) In the “lunging triangle” the lunger is the top point of the triangle, the whip and the lunge line are two sides and the horse is the bottom. The lunge line should be neatly organized with the excess in the whip hand. It should be folded rather than wrapped to prevent it from getting wrapped around the lunger’s hand. The person lunging should stand opposite the horse’s shoulder or slightly behind the shoulder with the whip pointing toward the horse’s hip. If the horse is afraid of the whip it can be held behind the lunger’s body by turning it around in the hand.
(4) When starting to lunge, the lunger may be close to the horse walking a large circle with the horse. The tone of the voice is extremely important, as this is what will carry over to the riding. As the horse begins to walk well on the circle the line may be let out. To increase the pace, step slightly behind the horse’s shoulder and increase the tone of the voice. To decrease the pace, step in front of the shoulder and use a softer slower voice. Use short checks on the line to reinforce the voice command if necessary. These short checks are carried over to the riding. To keep the horse from coming to the center when stopping, step toward the horse rather than pulling the horse’s head in to the middle. Be alert that a frisky horse can sometimes kick out. Keep the horse’s head on the line of the circle so that the hind legs stay away from the lunger, being careful not to reel the horse in to the middle. Be sure to lunge in both directions.
The American Forward System of Riding – A Brief History
In the early 1900’s, an Italian cavalry officer named Federico Caprilli observed horses in their natural state and believed that it was important for the rider to be in balance with the horse’s natural movement. Contrary to earlier beliefs of riding more seated in a “classical style”, Caprilli felt that horses could be taught to think for themselves when faced with obstacles, and the rider should interfere as little as possible when the horse was jumping, especially while negotiating uneven terrain. Caprilli shortened his stirrups and moved his center of gravity forward in the saddle to be in line with the horse’s forward balance. The horse was allowed to approach the jump on loose reins and find its own take off distance. As the horse jumped, the rider maintained the forward position and limited any contact with the horse’s mouth in the air. This allowed the horse to use its natural bascule over the jump and land freely on its front legs as it would without a rider. Caprilli’s system was intended for cavalry training with emphasis on a simple, yet extremely effective system of military equitation designed to teach a large number of riders in a short period of time.
Vladimir S. Littauer, a Russian Cavalry officer, based his early riding experience on that of James Fillis and French dressage training. While at the summer Olympics in 1912, he noticed riders using Caprilli’s new forward system over fences and realized the benefits of the seat for training in field riding. He moved to New York City in 1921, where he founded the “Boots and Saddles” riding school. There he began to experiment with Caprilli’s methods and learned that these methods were also practical for teaching students in a large riding school. Littauer is the author of many books on riding and training, and made significant contributions to the concept of “Forward Riding”. His system included:
- Recognizing the relationship between Position, Control, and Schooling
- Defining three levels of control: (1) Elementary (2) Intermediate (3) Advanced
- Stressing the use of the voice at the Elementary level
- Developing the loose rein method and technique of the Elementary level
- Defining the concept of “stabilization” of the horse
- Furthering the concept of connection rather than collection
- Devising a non-abusive method of teaching, using horses that were stabilized
During the same time period, General Harry Dwight Chamberlin, who learned to ride at West Point, served in active duty for the United States cavalry during World War prior to being sent to Europe to train with the French and the Italian cavalry schools. While in Europe, he observed the new style of forward riding and brought it back to the United States for show jumping riders to learn at Fort Riley, the American cavalry training site. Chamberlin’s promotion of the forward system for show jumping developed rapidly and became what we know today as “Hunter Seat”.
Several noted instructors continued to refine the new American System of Forward Riding as it became the hallmark style of American riders. Gordon Wright, author of “Learning to Ride, Hunt, and Show”, also influenced many important horsemen, including George Morris and Bill Steinkraus as a teacher, trainer, and clinician over four decades. He emphasized that the rider must be consistent at all times. He believed the horse is trained through reward and punishment, and that most forms of disobedience come from the rider’s inability to convey their desires to his horse.
Bill Steinkraus, a renowned master of technique who made five Olympic appearances for the United States, emphasized fluidity between the rider’s position, hands, and use of aids to develop excellence in flatwork. He believed jumping should not take place without first establishing refinement in the rider’s control and the horse’s response to the aids.
In 1955, on the advice of William Steinkraus and Arthur McCashin, Bertelan de Némethy was asked by the United States Equestrian Team to become the coach for the United States Show Jumping Team. De Némethy accepted the position in 1955, holding it until 1980. During this time he trained famous competitors in the sport, including George H. Morris, Joe Fargis, Frank Chapot, Kathy Kusner, Leslie Burr, Conrad Homfeld, Michael Matz, Melanie Smith, Neal Shapiro, and William Steinkraus. De Nemethy demonstrated to Americans the value of a system that demands you ride forward and straight at all times. He placed emphasis on the horse’s liveliness and impulsion, both components of forward obedience.
Link: ANRC Educational Videos
Educational Resources available on the ANRC Website:
- Schooling and Riding the Sport Horse: A Modern American Hunter/Jumper System by Paul Cronin, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville VA, 2004
- American System of Forward Riding: Volumes 1, 2, and 3 by Scot Evans and Shelby French
- The American Hunter/Jumper Forward Riding System (complete series presented by Bernie Traurig): Developing Perfect Position; The Controls of the Horse; Fundamentals of Flatwork)
Other Recommended Reading:
- Commonsense Horsemanship, by Vladimir Littauer, Arco Publishing Co, New York, NY, 1974
- Schooling Your Horse, by Vladimir Littauer, D. Van Nostrand
- Hunter Seat Equitation, by George Morris, Doubleday, Garden City NY, 1971
- Learning to Ride, Hunt, and Show by Gordon Wright, Doubleday, Garden City NY, 1966
- Lessons with Lendon by Lendon Gray, PRIMEDIA Enthusiast Publications, Gaithersburg, MD, 2003
- Reflections on Riding and Jumping, by William Steinkraus, Doubleday, New York, N.Y., 1991
- School for Young Riders by Jane Dillon, 2nd edition, ARCO Publishing Co., New York, 1973
- Training Hunters, Jumpers and Hacks, by Harry Chamberlin, 2nd edition, Arco Publishing, New York, 1973
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