So I have a little confession to make – last week I wrote an article that referenced The Parade a lot, and I could have sworn up and down that I had already written about this particular technique. I would have been wrong. So, I’m very sorry about that, and here’s an article to clear up any confusion. Note – The Parade is the name that Andrew has given to this particular technique, but it has existed in classical horsemanship for centuries.
It’s important to understand that the Parade is not a rein technique; it is a half halt that uses a particular rein position. The rein is actually the icing on the cake – as with all half halts that are done well, the seat and leg are the first to act. The rider uses a vertical pressure with the seat, which raises the horse’s back by lowering the haunches, then the inside leg activates the hind legs. The hand then lifts the bit into the corner of the horse’s mouth, away from the action on the bars. This causes a flexion in the poll and relaxation in the jaw. To be clear, this isn’t about a backwards motion of the hand at all, but a vertical rising which allows the horse to connect in a different way. When the horse releases to the half halt the hand returns to its normal position with a forward and round action to bring the bit softly back into place.
Traditionally the rider raises the inside hand, because the outside rein is needed to stabilise, but there are some instances when raising both hands is appropriate, for instance, when riding in a straight line. Where the rider is aiding laterally, then the raised inside hand is the most correct. I can’t stress enough that this technique is about helping the horse to take more weight on its hind legs than it is about the position of the horse’s neck, which is merely a symptom of everything else being correct. It is a way of changing the horse’s balance and ensuring that the horse stays supple through the poll.
This weekend has been all about The Parade at Andrew Murphy Dressage. It’s an amazingly useful technique as it addresses many of the things that make riding complicated – balance, straightness and throughness. It helps the horse to take more weight behind, which allows the back to come up, instantly creating paces which are more sittable; it straightens the horse, develops the rider’s coordination, and is a fantastic aid to throughness. Also, because it’s a very mild aid, you can do it as often as you need or want to, and your horse will love you for it. Although it can look a little bit dramatic, when done correctly it is a very mild and unobtrusive aid – I find that horses respond to it very well, and even become almost psychically attuned to it, so that eventually the tiniest movement from the rider will produce the desired effect. Andrew has given an explanation of the sequence above, but I’ll do so again from my considerably less finessed perspective.
- Sit sit sit. The seat has to press down vertically. This can be with or without a lean back, depending on what the horse needs. I found that I always used it with a lean back until this weekend, as I found it easier to use my seat effectively in this position. If you use the half halt with a lean back then make sure to sit up again afterwards so that the lean back doesn’t become your new normal. Please note that the lean back is not used to pull back against the horse, but for the rider to learn how to use the seat vertically.
- The engagement. It’s no good raising the back if you don’t send the movement through the horse – the hind leg has to engage, otherwise you’ll get a horse which ends up buried and behind the vertical. This doesn’t mean rushing around; you can still go slowly and have enough engagement.
- Raise the inside hand. DO NOT PULL THE HAND BACK. It is literally a lift upwards vertically. You can do this with a bent or a straight arm. I like to use a bent arm most of the time, although I’m probably a bit too conservative as a rider, but the straight arm is great if the horse is really disconnected. Once the horse connects then you can either release the hand by moving it in a) an outwards and down fashion (The Clock Face Parade) or b) in a forwards and down motion. The point is to keep the connection and not drop the horse, and to return the bit position to normal without jolting or disturbing him.
I’ve been using The Parade for a while now, but even so this weekend contained a lot of lessons for me, and ended up being a lot about my position as well. From previous articles and pictures you will observe that my lower leg is far too far forward, my lower back is too hollow, my shoulders are too rounded (and the right one is a bit of a maverick) and my elbows sit too far back. Not much to fix then. This is one of the great things about The Parade – it does amazing things for the rider too, because of the coordination that it requires.
For the first lesson we used Rois, a fairly new Equinerd. Rois is 18, completely gorgeous and reliable, with a shy and retiring character and a dislike of turning right. His dislike of turning right is of course down to balance and straightness (or the lack thereof) and so he’s an ideal candidate for The Parade. We started off by addressing my position; Andrew had me adopt light seat while he held a whip along my back (not as kinky as it sounds) in order to give me a reference point for how straight my lower back should be. I then had to sit down while keeping my pelvis tucked underneath, which took a couple of tries. I could really feel a different once I was in the correct line-up, and this helped me to use my seat vertically without having to lean back.
Rois is quite long with a straight hind leg, so he needs a bit of help to step under. In order to help him to use himself we didn’t let him carry his neck too low initially. Stretching is great, don’t get me wrong, but actually sometimes the result is that the horse drops the head and disconnects the hind end, which is better than a lot of the alternatives, but still not exactly the point. With Rois we used a high Parade in conjunction with a shoulder in position on the circle. This allowed him to connect on the inside without losing his balance. As soon as I released the Parade I started another one, so he was in a constant cycle of balance and reward. This resulted in a very consistent and relaxed position – he didn’t struggle to maintain himself on the circle and after about 5 minutes he was 100% through. We then changed direction onto the dreaded right rein, which was easier than normal, but we still got the continental drift to the outside and over exaggerated neck bend. Now here’s something interesting; Andrew told me to Parade again immediately, and I got all snidey, because how would that work when the horse was bending too much to the inside? The man was clearly demented. Andrew explained that if I kept a low outside hand and Paraded as usual with my inside hand, then this would straighten the horse as well. And it did. The combination of supportive outside aiding and the inside Parade straightened Rois’ neck within one circle, and all of a sudden he could circle without pinning his ears back or disengaging. He became a brand new horse. Andrew was kind to me and wasn’t smug at all. The man is clearly a genius.
We did another Reverse Turn with a Parade as I resolved the bend to the inside, and then another amazing thing happened – the horse began to be able to stretch without disengaging, because I was able to keep him through and on his hocks. The great thing about the Parade is that because it’s a half halt, things get better as soon as you do one. And I mess things up a lot, so frankly it’s been a God send. Rois’ trot began to take on a more passage-y feel, even with the neck relatively low, and I watched his top line muscle inflate before my eyes. Once thing that is really useful is to combine the Reverse Turn and the Parade; you keep the Parade going with what was the old inside hand, until you are ready to change the bend, at which point you swap the Parade over to the new inside hand. I find that this helps me to keep everything really consistent. The result of the lesson was a horse that was balanced, through, and could turn right anytime, anywhere. Hurrah.
Day Two – Return of the Fjord
I’ve got a bit of a pash going on for this horse – I’m sure you can see why. As I mentioned last time, Echo is small in a huge way (you’ve got to see the shoulders to truly appreciate them) and I was excited to work with him again. We left out the laterals this time, and started the same way as with Rois, with a whip up my back (still not kinky) making sure that I could go from the lean back to sitting upright without letting my lower back hollow, which took a few goes. My hips don’t scream anymore by my abs still do.
Once again I was told off for my elbows go too far back – because I’ve got a little body I have to carry my elbows a little further forward so that they can actually nestle into my side. Just to recap – Echo tends to barrel towards the outside track and can ‘nap’ (I don’t like this word because it implies that napping is a behavioural defect whereas actually it’s about a lack of balance) so the Parade is really helpful in helping him to balance and straighten. We started off in the walk with a straight arm parade. This required a lot of concentration for me because for some reason when my arm is straight I’m more likely to want to pull back, which is an absolute no no. Echo told me off for this by shaking his head, making Andrew laugh and saving him a job, so I soon learned not to do it.
Unlike Rois, Echo immediately lowered his head a lot in response to the Parade, which in his case is absolutely brilliant, as he needs the neck to come out of the wither more. I then wasn’t quick enough to repeat the half halt, so I got a huge lurch to the outside and a sudden and unwelcome increase in speed. Andrew told me to treat the Parade as a preventative rather than a cure, and to do it before anything had gone wrong. We fell into a cycle of Parade, yield, repeat (follow with Reverse Turn for best results 😉 ) with me varying my seat from a lean back position to being more upright. During this session I found it easier to use my seat vertically without the lean back, and in some pictures my lower leg is in the correct position, which is cause for celebration in itself. Echo could then maintain a completely consistent rhythm, with all suggestions of rushing being a distant memory. His back was soft and supple, hind legs engaged.
Echo is still at a stage when he tends to push into the trot rather than lift – for this I found it beneficial to Parade with both hands whilst asking for trot. Once he was in trot I brought him back to walk and asked again, until he got the idea of stepping underneath rather than propelling forwards. Then I was able to stretch him forwards without any loss of balance or quality, and we had the makings of self carriage.
- The lean back is a great tool but don’t let it become Business As Usual, you have to sit up again
- Parade pre-emptively rather than reactively
- Take time to correct your position, it’s a great investment
- The Parade is a vertical lift, don’t allow yourself to pull back
- Use the correct frame for the occasion – the horse doesn’t have to start low and end high. Do what is best for the situation you’re in