On the forehand? OFF his hocks!

Posted by in about horses, back, balance, balance in a transition, balance of the rider and horse, Blog, body, canter, canter execises, dropping the contact, energy, engage, equestrian, practise what you preach, problem solving, problems, pull up on Aug 18, 2012


Does your horse lean on your hands? If he does he’s carrying most of his weight on his shoulders (his forehand). When his weight is over his front legs it’s hard for him to bend his knees, pick his feet up and move forward. He’ll lose energy, take shorter strides and his paces will be flat and heavy. When he’s like that you’ll find he’s less responsive and a lot harder to ride.


Your horse should carry his weight over his quarters. His hind legs are designed for it. They fold under pressure (unlike his front legs that straighten). As they unfold they send his body up and forward. Control this forward movement with a steady contact and he’ll stay balanced and relaxed.


Ride your horse into a steady contact and it acts like a wall. His shoulders and hips get pushed closer together and his back has to round. As it does his hocks move further under his body and his hips drop which sends his body weight back off his shoulders and onto his quarters.  


You can’t pull your horse off his forehand. Try it and he’ll just pull back. Don’t try the ‘pull and let go’ either! He’ll tighten his back as you pull and fall back onto your reins as you let go. He’ll actually get lower. Any backward pressure on his mouth will make him tighten his back. A tight back can’t round so his hips won’t drop and take his weight.


Your horse can only lean if you give him something to lean on. Move your fingers on the reins – as if you were typing – and he can’t. He’s used to sitting on your hands to stay balanced. Take that away and he’ll need to rebalance himself. You can’t just say “Don’t do that.” You need to say “Try this instead.”


Before you do anything look at your position. If your horse is leaning forward there’s a strong chance you are too. Look straight ahead, pull up through your body and carry your hands a couple of inches above his withers.


You are an upright version of your horse. If your shoulders are forward his shoulders will drop down. Pull up and lean back so your stomach muscles pull and he’ll lift his shoulders up, pull his stomach up and, more importantly, lower his hips.


The lower your horse’s shoulders are the more weight they’ll have to carry. Drop your hands and you’ll drop his shoulders. If you straighten your arms at the same time you’ll give him the perfect bar to lean on. Bend your elbows and your arm is less likely to brace against him.


If your horse is on his forehand there is little point trotting or cantering endless circles trying to get his weight back on his hocks. Balance is lost in transitions. Go right back to walk and get him rebalanced before you even think about trot or canter. Go large and ride halt transitions at every marker.


For all transitions between any pace remember this ‘1, 2, 3’. You need to be consistent. If your horse knows you’ll stop trying he’ll just wait until you do.

  1. Your contact. Hold the contact between your thumb and 1st finger. Point your thumb down towards the bit. Concentrate on keeping your fingers moving on the reins at all times.
  2. Your legs. You must ride forward to push his hocks under his body, his quarters towards his shoulders and get his hips to drop down and take his weight off his shoulders.
  3. Your body. Look up and sit up. Before every transition (up or down) pull up through your body and lean back until you feel your stomach muscles pull.


Move on into trot. Go large and practise trot to walk or halt transitions at markers. Move on to three loop serpentines – the constant change of direction will keep your horse thinking and he’ll have to use his hocks to get round the turns.


Some horses are harder than others. You may find you need to increase the pressure on the reins to have any effect. Do this by ‘typing’ harder against your palms. The harder you ‘type’ the stronger the pressure – but never pull your hands back.


If your horse has more trouble in canter you need to work on your transition. Most balance is lost in the upward transition because the rider loses the contact. Suddenly lightening the contact at the moment you ask for canter won’t encourage him but it will drop him straight on his shoulders!


Practise on a 20m circle at E/B. Stay in sitting trot. Ask for canter by holding your outside leg back against his side for three strides so he knows it’s coming. Tell him to canter with one sharp nudge with your inside heel. If he doesn’t respond stay calm. Settle the trot and next time you ask tap him with your whip directly behind your leg. (Your whip is there to make your leg aids stronger/ clearer not just to tell him off.)


Once in canter ride ¼ of a circle and trot. Your horse will find his balance if you take your time. Remember the 1, 2, 3. Add a few strides at a time and before long you’ll have forgotten it was ever a problem.


Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


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