When riding, it is important for our horses to be soft and supple in order to perform to their potential. Horses reflect back to us what we send to them through our body language. We must ride with softness and suppleness in our bodies, if we wish to obtain the same from our horses. It is good practice while riding, to do a quick body scan on ourselves to detect any points of tension and work on softening ourselves. Your horse will thank you.
Let’s say you are riding a horse in rising trot and the horse’s body is in right bend. You must post or rise out of the saddle when the left foreleg is moving forward and sit when the left foreleg is stepping on the ground. This is posting with the horse’s correct diagonal movement to keep in balance. Now let’s say your horse is still in right bend, but you are travelling left around the arena or ring. In other words, your horse is in counter bend. Most instructors I know will tell you to sit a bounce and post on the left diagonal which matches the direction of the arena. But this will not make your horse a happy camper. It will create discomfort and imbalance in the horse. Please ride with awareness of bend. Ride the horse, not the arena.
When riding, are you consistently aware of which bend your horse is in? How do you determine which way the horse is bending in his body? Do not be fooled by the direction his head is turning. Some horses can have their body in right bend, but have their head or nose tilting to the left. True bend is established through the horse’s barrel and continues forward through the spine up the neck. Glance at the horse’s neck just in front of the withers where it extends out from the back. This will give you a true reading of which bend your horse’s body is projecting.
To ask the horse to back up is to ask him to go forward. Sounds like a paradox does it not? Remembering that the bridle is a tool that blocks unwanted direction, ask the horse to move forward into hands that do not pull back, but block from going forward, left or right. Have your legs ready to block any sideways movement. The only “open door” available is to go backward. Be patient when first teaching your horse to back up. Only ask for a step or two and then give lots of praise.
The bridle is a tool which sets boundaries telling a horse where not to go. It is used for blocking unwanted direction. The right rein should not be pulled to steer the horse to the right. This will throw the horse off balance. Instead it blocks the horse from going to the left. The left rein does not pull to steer the horse to the left. It simply blocks the horse from going right. Pulling creates stress in the horse and does not elicit a sense of trust. Is your horse in good hands?
Consistent contact that does not pull is the key to establishing respectful boundaries which tell the horse where not to go. When leading a horse in hand, gather up the slack in the lead rope or reins and push the horse forward into your contact. The lead rope or reins should not go “loopy” or loose while leading in hand.
When leading a horse in hand, stay at the shoulder of the horse. If you cannot see the front toes of the horse out of your peripheral vision while leading him, then you are too far forward of the horse’s shoulder. Staying at the shoulder allows you to activate the horse’s “go” button easily.
Horses function completely in the moment as do all animals. They do not waste energy worrying about things that have happened or that may happen. When you are with a horse, stay present and give him your complete attention.
When lungeing a horse, keep your core (belly button) directed toward the horse’s shoulder or girth area and the lunge whip directed toward the flank area, which is the “go” button on the horse. Your core at the shoulder sends a pushing message asking the horse to stay out on the circle and the whip at the flank sends a pushing message to the horse to move forward. Do not allow your core to drift in front of the horse’s shoulder toward his head. This will cause stress in the horse and his body will become tense and “bent out of shape”.
The timing of aids is crucial to the horse. In order for a horse to perform a specific movement accurately, the aid must be given at the appropriate moment. Therefore, awareness of the horse’s diagonal balance and bend is a priority.