Throughness (Durchlässigkeit): the flow of energy through the horse from front to back and back to front. The musculature of the horse is connected, supple, elastic, and unblocked, and the rider’s aids go freely through the horse.
Relaxation (Losgelassenheit): the second level of the pyramid is relaxation (looseness). Signs of looseness in the horse may be seen by an even stride that is swinging through the back and causing the tail to swing like a pendulum, looseness at the poll, a soft chewing of the bit, and a relaxed blowing through the nose. The horse makes smooth transitions, is easy to position from side to side, and willingly reaches down into the contact as the reins are lengthened.
Willow is pretty big, especially for a mare. I think she's very close to 17 hh. Additionally, she has a long back and a long neck. Her favorite thing to do when I first started her was this:
Long and low, baby! We are going to get tens on our stretchy circle! (And fours on everything else.)
Obviously, it took some work to get Willow up in front. And then once I got her to understand "up in front," it took even more work to get her to let me shorten the reins. (Her response? "You can have shorter reins. Or you can have me go forward. You can't have both.")
So, in the past year, we've made a lot of progress. She's more up in front. She allows me to shorten the reins without losing the forward. She's no longer a mullet. But something was missing; something that I've always been able to get in every other horse I've worked with. Relaxation. Throughness. Letting go through the jaw, poll, and ribcage. I was having luck getting her to be softer and less heavy, but it still wasn't the right feeling. She wasn't through.
One afternoon about three weeks ago, I spent about 25 minutes warming Willow up in walk. I did lots of circles and serpentines. Suddenly, she just let go, and I felt it. Throughness. I took her up to trot and the feeling remained. I couldn't believe it. I have no idea what I did to cause it, but the light bulb went off for her. She started responding the way I've wanted her to respond for three years. She was balanced. She was bendy. She was light and soft, but still connected. She halted from my seat. She moved away from my leg. Hey, Willow, you're a dressage horse!
OK, I'll admit we still don't have this feeling in canter. But we have it, reliably, in walk and trot! Canter will come. I'm just so relieved to know she can do it, because I was starting to doubt I was ever going to get that feeling with her. I was saying to myself, well, she's just so big and long -- maybe through for Willow won't feel like through did for the other horses you've ridden. Now I know better. I can't wait to see what happens next!