Going Down …
Posted by Lorraine in about horses, behind the bit, behind the vertical, Blog, canter exercise, consistent, contact, dropping the contact, hand position, hands, horse's hocks engaging, keeping your horse busy, knees, overbent horse, rider's rein contact, riding forward into your hand, riding into your hand, ridingstraight, schooling, slowing down, the other way of stopping on Apr 28, 2012
It’s more common for a horse to lift his head above the bit to avoid your hand but what do you do if your horse drops his head down and gets behind it? You may lift your hands and kick on – you want him to lift his head up after all. Or perhaps you drop the contact and kick on to prove to anyone watching you’re not holding his head down. The trouble is neither method actually works.
Horses overbend for two reasons – to avoid a contact or because there isn’t one. When you’re trying to get your horse on the bit you should push him forward into your contact. If the contact isn’t there he’ll fall onto his shoulders and lose balance. Some horses poke their noses or lift their heads when they’re unbalanced but others try to lean on the bit and when they don’t find it they just keep going!
Some riders adopt a side rein position to get their horse’s nose down. Opening your hands to the side and fixing them one either side of the neck will fix a horse’s head down but it won’t do anything else.
Your horse’s shoulders aren’t attached to his spine by bone so his shoulders can move wherever they want. If your hands are too far apart his shoulders will move away from each other allowing his withers to drop and his head carriage to get lower.
If you fix your hands your horse will quickly become uncomfortable. Some horses will just lean back but others have learnt how to avoid that pressure. They tuck their nose into their chest and overbend or get ‘behind the vertical’.
When your horse is in the correct position you should be able to draw a line down the front of his face and it should drop straight to the ground. When he’s behind the vertical his nose (and that imaginary line) points back towards his front legs. When he tips his head at that angle the bit drops away from his tongue and the corners of his mouth which is why he’ll feel lighter than usual and harder to steer.
It can be easy to confuse ‘lightness’ with overbending but look at the line that should run from your elbow through your wrist, down the rein to the bit. If your horse is working forward into your hand that line will be straight. If he’s overbent it will break at your hand and drop down. Whenever that line is broken the energy you create by using your legs is lost which is why horses that overbend often feel as if they’re going nowhere. (Lightness in your hand means he’s quick to react to your aids. It doesn’t mean there’s no weight at the end of your reins)
To get your horse back up onto the bit he needs to sit back on his hocks and go into your contact. Forget about his head and worry about getting him moving. Keeping him on his hocks requires leg work – yours and his. You need to drive his hind legs under his body with both legs so he stays balanced. Only then can you put him into your contact and keep him there.
When your horse is working forward correctly you’ll feel some pressure on your reins but it’s a relaxed pressure – similar to a child pulling your hand NOT swinging from the bottom of your arm! Equally if that child drops your hand you have no control over where they go. Ride large in all three paces before introducing three loop serpentines and figures of eight to keep him thinking. Concentrate on keeping the same pressure in both reins. It’s this pressure he has been trying to avoid. If he drops off it you need to push his hocks under his body NOT pull his head back.
Never lift your hands up to get your horse’s head up. You need push his nose away from his chest not pull it up. Focus on keeping your hands above his withers and pushing him to it. Pull back and he’ll draw his head back and curl up. If you feel him get light on the contact put both legs on firmly and push your hands forward an inch to encourage him to stretch his neck not shorten it. Never throw your reins at him – you’re aim is to get him in your contact not out of it!
Your horse must be straight to round his back correctly. Work on the ¼ and ¾ lines in any pace to make sure you ride between both legs and into both reins. When his quarters stay directly behind his shoulders he can drive himself forward. Pay particular attention to your turns at each end. Turn your body, keep your hands level and out in front of you and push on! Slow down, pull back or drop your hands down and you’re inviting him to fall onto his shoulders and overbend.
Practise riding trot-walk-trot transitions on the centre line. Concentrate on riding forward and staying straight. Drive your horse to your hand don’t pull him back into it. Use your knee and thigh pushed into the saddle to slow down not your hand and you’ll find he’s happier to accept your contact.
‘On the bit’ isn’t art. You can’t pull your horse into shape you have to push him there. It’s a natural way of going for a horse that is working correctly. And when he’s working correctly from behind he’ll always work correctly in front.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
For a more detailed look at slowing your horse down with your knee and thigh check out Book 1 in the Teach Yourself series – http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/shop/syh-books/school-your-horse-book-1-responsiveness/
If you have a problem with your horse or pony tweet me! @pollson