Gianluca Coppetta, talented rider and equestrian artist, invented a simple device to be used in the work from the ground to positively influence the lateral flexion of the horse. A non-coercive medium, which reproduces the action of the rider’s inside leg during the work on the lunge.
First of all, I would like to dispel any possible misunderstanding. I have always thought that in horseback riding there are no shortcuts and that we must always keep in mind Faverot de Kerbrech’s precept: “you must go slowly in order to carry out the training quickly”. For this reason, I have always doubted the usefulness of the various “gadgets” which, with inexhaustible imagination, are continually invented, hoping to simplify and speed up the training of the horse. I am deeply convinced that nothing replaces competence, experience, patience, and application. To help any horse express his potential, a knowledge based on correct principles and the ability to recognize and highlight his qualities, through constant and expertly graded work, are required. The “false” practice of those who resort to tricks and shortcuts ends up in ruining even the best horse, while the “good” art is able to put right the natural defects of even the less gifted specimens.
However, this does not mean rejecting every novelty. I am, on the other hand, open to unique solutions to specific problems when adopted by people I recognize as expert and wise. This is why I was immediately intrigued when Gianluca Coppetta, one of the Italian riders who I admire for his elegance, for his talent as an artist, and for his skills as a trainer, told me that he had created a simple and innovative device to be used in ground work, both with young horses and with specimens already trained. And, all the more, I was interested in learning that an important German equestrian equipment company, Waldhausen, after carefully testing it, acquired its patent to produce and market it all over the world.
The concept that inspires this device is simple and Gianluca explained it to me in a few words, on the occasion of my visit to his equestrian center, just outside Rome: “I wanted to find a way to favor the correct lateral flexion of the horse during the work on the lunge line in order to prevent him from working in counter-flexion, falling on the inner shoulder, when he moves on the opposite hand of his ‘easy side’. I therefore thought that, while working on the lunge, something was needed to perform the same function of the inside leg of the rider.”
All horses are naturally asymmetric. They are born and they grow with a congenital posture that causes them to bring the croup to one side, which facilitates them to bend the neck on the same side. For this reason, the horse naturally has a “concave” and a “convex” side. This means that every horse tends to find his balance more easily on one side (the convex one) than on the other. This asymmetry is particularly evident while working on the lunge. On the concave side, the horse tends to bring the croup inward and the shoulders outward, flexing the neck inward. On the other hand, he tends to flex the neck towards the outside (counterflexion) and to seek his own balance by leaning on the inner shoulder. The work on the lunge line is, therefore, a very useful method in early training to try to correct this asymmetry and to make the horse find his balance on both hands, without the burden of the rider’s weight. It helps him to develop his muscles in a more harmonious way and to correctly direct the impulsion of the hindquarters in the direction of the movement.
“I realized – as Coppetta continued telling me – that, so far, all the devices for the work on the lunge that I could find on the market, from the simplest to the most complicated, were used exclusively for placing the neck and that they operated, in more or less effective and constricting ways, on the top vertical line. None was acting effectively on the lateral flexion, which is, instead, the most important feature to ensure a symmetrical work on both hands. The expedient method of using side reins, keeping the inside one shorter and the outside longer is ineffective, because it acts exclusively on the placement of head and neck. My aim was instead to find an equivalent of the aid of the rider’s leg, to encourage lateral flexion, by acting on the rib cage.”
Starting from this intuition, Coppetta developed a device that can be applied on the sides of the horse, just above the girth. It is attached just above the horse’s girth, through the billets of the saddle, or of the girth straps of the lunging roller. It is a simple mechanism, made of padded leather, consisting of two levers that rotate on a pin. On the first lever, there is a ring, on the second one there is a sphere. When the first lever receives tension, it generates a pressure on the second lever. The pressure generated on the second lever, i.e. the one with the sphere, influences the horse’s side and it is directly proportional to the tension applied to the ring of the first lever, to which the carabiner of the lunge is attached. The lunge is then passed through the inside ring of the snaffle (and works as an opening rein). In this way, the hand on the lunge line can modulate the pressure exerted by the Equibender on the horse’s side, between the 6th and the 8th rib. This is the same place where the inside leg of the rider acts when the horse is ridden. In order to balance the action of the lunge and to prevent an excessive inside flexion of the neck, it can be used in conjunction with a side rein on the outside. After developing the first prototype, Gianluca contacted Waldhausen, a well known German company, that manufactures riding equipment.
“How did you convince them?”, I asked him.
“It wasn’t easy. When I presented the project to them, they were immediately interested. But it is an important company, with a name that has 175 years of history, so they wanted to see if it worked. I went to Cologne and, after explaining the theory, they asked me to give a practical demonstration. The first horse they brought me was a beautiful specimen, already tamed and well trained. The presentation went very well, and the horse trotted in good balance on both hands. In the end, I was very satisfied, and I breathed a good sigh of relief. But it wasn’t yet finished! They said: Ok, the first went well. Let’s see how you deal with another horse. Then they brought me a mare who looked very crooked and unbalanced. I confess that while I was preparing her, I was quite worried, because I would not have much time to correct her defects and any bad habits that she may already have. In fact, during the first circles on the lunge, she was quite uneven. So, I tried to put a little more pressure on her and, slowly, she relaxed, giving in gently and finding an acceptable balance. It was done!”
The advantage of the Equibender is that by encouraging lateral flexion it helps the horse to relax the muscles of the “concave” side and makes the “convex” side more elastic, promoting harmonious muscle development. There is the double benefit of improving the horse’s fitness and making him able to carry the rider’s weight more easily on both hands. “I assure you – concludes Coppetta – that since I have used this system with young horses, in the first phase of training, when I then start to ride them, I find them more balanced and responsive. Above all, less uncomfortable in turning on their “difficult” side and, therefore, with less resistance against the rider’s action.”
Although I have known Gianluca for a long time and I have great esteem for him as a rider and trainer, I, too. wanted to move from words to deeds. So, I asked him to give me a little demonstration. And, what else can I say… it works!
(*) I would like to thank Laurent Vilbert, one of the best French equestrian photographers, for allowing me to use his shots of Gianluca Coppetta, Andrea Giovannini and Sabina Domanico’s performance in the Crinières d’Or gala for the 2020 edition of Cheval Passion. You can admire the splendid images of this extraordinary photographer, with a passion for good horsemaship, on his website:
or on his Facebook page: