On the Bit or On the Buckle?
When you meet up with friends at the weekend are you the first to hold your hands up and say “Let’s not talk about work?” It’s fair enough. Whether you’re at school or work the last thing you want to do when you’re away from it is talk about it. Why do you think your horse is any different?
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you must take some interest in schooling. At least you spend time in the school and you’re trying to iron out any problems you may have. Therefore when you go for a ride it should your horse’s time off. He doesn’t want to talk about work while he’s doing it so talk about something else!
If you want your horse to concentrate in the school good for you but when he’s out on a ride give him a break. You don’t want him wandering all over the place, galloping off at his leisure but does he really need his nose strapped to his chest?
Consistency is a word which crops up time and time again with horses. You have to be consistent to help your horse understand what you expect from him. Strangely most riders are fairly consistent when they go in a school but put them out on a ride in the countryside and they don’t know whether they’re on the bit or the buckle!
It’s unfair to expect your horse to spend an entire ride on the bit. Hacking should be fun, it can be disciplined but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard work. Putting your horse on the bit when you feel like it and then throwing the reins at him because you’re having a breather is hardly consistent or reasonable.
Why not leave him alone? When you’re hacking concentrate on other things. Make sure he walks forward without having to be pushed every stride. Tap him up with the whip until he walks with purpose. It’s not a lot to ask.
Work on moving him sideways from one leg to another. Push him over for a stride and then ride straight again. It’s all good practice.
Practice stopping and starting using your knee and thigh (See The Other Way of Stopping). It’s great to play with this aid whilst you’re walking along a bridleway. Make sure your horse is walking on before you attempt to stop him. Anticipating the halt by slowing him down with your hand defeats the whole object.
All horses are left or right handed. They’ll prefer to canter on a particular lead. Use the other one some of the time. It’s a good exercise to see if you can tell which lead you’re on. In trot make sure you use both diagonals. The majority of horses have a comfortable diagonal and an uncomfortable one. Use the bad one. The more you use it the more even your horse becomes. He’ll even out in the school too.
If you sense trouble ahead what’s the first thing you do? Make a grab for your reins? Pull your horse’s head down? His reaction to a pull in the mouth is always to tighten his back. So the first sign of trouble he gets comes straight from your hands! Learn to resist the urge to snatch up your reins. Put your legs on first. Then take up your contact. You can learn to do this quickly without pulling at his mouth. Push on and don’t pull back. You’ll give him confidence not a reason to spook.
Situations arise on a ride when you need to use some of your schooling. That’s why you do it after all but make sure you draw a line over which you will not cross. When you take your horse out for a ride. Do just that go out and ride him. Don’t school him!
If you spend more time schooling on your own than under instruction and quickly run out of things to do check out the Teach Yourself series of 99p schooling guides. Each one tackles a specific problem and gives you 5 progressive exercises you can use to tackle it.