Stay Calm – and stay on!
Do you worry about falling off? Why wouldn’t you? It can really hurt! But sometimes the more you worry about something the more chance there is of it happening.
You are your horse’s biggest influence. He’ll only make an issue out of something if you do. He may well have spooked/bucked or shot across the school last week but if you’re the one that tightened up this week it’s you that’s creating the problem.
The Crash Position!
There are two varieties of this popular position.
- The foetal crash – the rider curls forward and down towards their horse’s withers, drops the reins and scrunches their legs up towards their seat. Most commonly seen before a canter transition or if a buck or spin is anticipated.
Whilst it feels safe and secure what it actually does is leave your horse to his own devices. By dropping your contact you’ve basically told him he’s on his own. He has to make his own decisions. As a flight animal he runs from danger – so that’s exactly what he does.
By gripping up with your lower leg you give yourself less surface area to hold yourself on. You also push your seat up and out of the saddle. Add to that the fact your body is curled forward towards your horse’s head and you should see you’re making yourself into the perfect human missile!
- The rigid crash – often adopted coming into a fence or ditch – although also ‘useful’ if your horse steps on icy ground – you’ll freeze and lean back, take your leg off and set your back against the almost inevitable fall that’s coming.
If your body tightens up and leans away from your horse’s head you’ll take your arms – and your contact – with you. Every time you pull back on your horse’s mouth he’ll tighten his back. As his back tenses it shortens and his head comes up.
Take your leg off and your horse will stop using his hocks – his back will flatten. Add that to the fact his back is now rigid from the tightness in your arm and is it really any wonder that he stops?!
It’s easy to say “Sit up – kick on!” but so much harder to do when you’re nervous – unless you understand why you need to do it. Your contact and your legs work together to keep your horse on the line you want him to take. Your body needs to stay balanced to help him keep his weight off his shoulders and back on his hocks.
Your contact is one of the most important aids you have. It gives your horse confidence in you. Imagine each rein is a child’s hand. Close your fingers around it and that child will walk happily along side you. Grab it or drop it and they’ll look up to see what the problem is. Which is exactly what your horse does.
Many riders grab a handful of mane when they’re nervous and whilst that’s completely understandable it can also drop your contact. It’s OK to opt for this safety measure – just shorten up your reins as you do it so you keep the contact.
Without forward movement your contact is useless. It has the opposite effect by giving your horse a backwards pressure in his mouth that he’ll tighten against. Think of that child’s hand again. If you’re always hanging back on it what do they do? Stop, tug or try to pull you in the direction they want to go. Not so dissimilar to your horse. If they’re moving forward they’re thinking and focusing on you and what’s coming – rather than letting their mind wander elsewhere.
Although there are a few equine gymnasts the majority of horses put their heads down to buck. Again your contact is essential – not to pull their head up after the event but to stop them getting it down in the first place! Keep your reins short and clamp your thumb down so they don’t slide through your finger and get longer. Push on to keep your horse’s weight back on his hocks too. If his hocks are under his body they can’t be up in the air out behind him!
Rearing is one of the most frightening habits and to be avoided at all costs. Your horse can’t rear if he’s moving forward. Hold that thought! No matter what happens you need to push him forward into a good contact. It’s easy to end up with your reins halfway up his neck and no contact but you’re giving him complete control of the situation.
If you feel your horse start to slow up because he’s going to plant his feet or threaten to rear then turn him. Either turn a tight circle or make a turn across the school, track or field – do anything you can to stop him from stopping. Forward movement comes from using both legs into a good contact – without both it just won’t work.
How many times have you been told to look up? It’s the best advice! There is no better way of getting somewhere than by looking at it. Turn your head and look straight ahead to where you want to go. Get your legs, on hold both reins and you’ll get there every time. Try it. If it doesn’t work you forgot to do something …
Your horse is a herd animal – he wants a leader and (despite what you may think!) he wants it to be you. It’s rare for a horse to go out of its way to put its rider on the floor. They’re kind, generous animals but sometimes they just need a bit of direction!
Good luck and try to enjoy your schooling.
Still stuck for things to do? Check out my 99p schooling guides in the shop – never let it be said I don’t try to help you school your horse!