The concept of the horse’s ability to carry is not difficult to understand, however, it is not so easy to perceive. When your horse is balanced and has good activity in his gaits, it may feel like that is enough and I know that is what I often settled for in my work sessions, however, it is not enough. One of the methods to test whether or not your horse is carrying is to do one of the more difficult transitions at the upper levels like the transition from medium trot across the diagonal to collected trot steps at X. Or to go back and forth from collected trot to a few steps of passage. If your horse loses activity and gets tense through the back, as my horse was apt to do, your horse is not carrying. If you use rein first and carry tension, you will inhibit your horse’s ability to carry.
Yesterday, my trainer worked on transitions between collected trot and ½ steps. Today, I rode my horse and actually felt him load his hind end. There was no mistaking it when it happened. Whatever I had felt before was only an illusion of what my horse actually felt like when he began to carry himself. As a test, to make sure that I was not delusional, I asked for very collected trot steps from the collected trot I already had, making sure that I maintained my breathing as I lifted up through my core and moved my lower legs slightly further back. I actually felt my horse sit and lift. I felt him load and carry. In my jubilation, I almost started cheering and patting him exuberantly on the side of his neck, but with my instructor’s voice in my head, I finished the exercise, and then celebrated with lots of horse pats, verbal praise, and some lovely stretchy trot.