Engagement as it applies to riding has nothing to do with giving somebody a ring, but the deeper meaning applies:
Engagement as in working together or connecting. Following this, then disengagement would mean loosening or disconnecting!
You have probably heard trainers refer to “disengaging the hindquarters” or maybe you use this technique yourself. Basically what you are doing is taking the power away from the haunches, the engine of the horse.
For Cowboy Dressage we want to do the opposite, we want to engage our horses hind legs for better balance and increased power behind. Engagement refers to the weight bearing or stance phase. Carrying power not pushing power. In order for this to happen we have to shift the horse’s center of gravity towards his back end. Remember in nature horses carry about 60% of their weight in the front. The heavier the horse is on the front, the more disengaged the hind legs are. When the horse is taught to carry himself and his rider in a biomechanically correct way, there is less stress on his bones and therefore less soundness issues. Imagine you have to lift a 50 pound bags of grain by just bending at the waist. Chances are you will feel this in your back and if you do it repeatedly your back will suffer. Now if you lift the bags correctly by bending your legs, not only is it not putting strain on your back but your muscles will build up and after a while, lifting 50lbs will feel like 10. The same thing happens to your horse when you ride him correctly and pretty soon exercises that seemled difficult or even impossible, will begin to feel fluid and effortless. Your horse has to build the muscles for this through correct work and that doesn’t happen over night. Well timed transitions within and between the gaits and correctly ridden movements like smaller circles and shoulder-in (see my blog on lateral movements) will all help rebalance your horse and shift his weight to the back. This will cause him to engage his hind legs, carry more weight behind and lighten the front. The effect is like a coiling of a spring or the crouching of a tiger. Power ready to be unleashed!
Picture above is of a movement called the Levade. The movement of highest engagement!