A Balancing Act
Does your horse like to hang on one side of the bit? Have you ever wondered why? When he does what do you do? A lot of riders do one of two things – either they drop the rein (‘give it away’) to get their horse off it or they bend their horse’s head in the opposite direction to soften him up. Both these methods have varying degrees of success in the short term but they don’t tackle the underlying cause.
Many horses get the blame for getting hold of the bit or being reluctant to carry themselves but before you blame your horse take a different look at why he might be doing it. Put yourself in his position.
If you feel unbalanced what do you do? The chances are you stick out a hand to steady yourself and your whole body weight falls onto it. Imagine if that hand was suddenly pulled out from under you?! Of course you’d do your best to stay upright but how long would it be before you put out your hand to rebalance yourself again?
You control your horse’s shoulders with your contact and your hands. If your hands stay together then his shoulders stay together. This keeps him on the line you want him to follow and stops him falling in (cutting the corners) or out (going too wide on a turn). If your contact is even in both reins he’ll feel secure and be able to relax. If he’s relaxed you’ll be able to push his quarters up behind his shoulders and his back will have to round.
It’s important to hold your reins so your contact stays consistent but don’t pull back. Do that and your horse will tighten his lower jaw and his back muscles and you’ll find it impossible to get him working correctly. If his hocks aren’t underneath him his weight falls forward onto his shoulders.
An even contact acts as a dam that you can push your horse’s body towards. Use both legs to drive his hocks under his body. As they reach further under his hips will drop down, stretching his back muscles and rounding his back. As his hips lower his weight will fall back off his shoulders and he’ll find it easier to balance.
You may think your contact is even but sometimes stiffness in your shoulders or elbows can give your horse a very different feeling! Each of your hands controls a front leg and a shoulder. Tighten one and you’ll unbalance your horse to that side. Next time he takes hold try one of these methods that will stop you setting your body against him –
- Turn your hands so your thumbs point to the outside and your fingernails all face upwards. OK you can’t ride like it forever but it’s an excellent way to highlight tension or stiffness in your shoulders or arms. If your horse instantly relaxes you know it’s something you need to work on.
- Carry your whip in the hand you feel your horse is grabbing on to. Have your hand slightly open to allow it to point straight down towards the floor. If the problem lies with you you’ll find as you get moving the whip changes position and points up towards his hip.
- Put your reins through your hands the wrong way round – so the buckle end comes out between your 3rd and little finger. You’ll find it impossible to fix against him this way round – although you can’t ride like it all the time it does make you wonder why you can’t!
It’s rare to be told to go large when you’re schooling but that’s exactly what you need to do! You need to get your horse straight to make it easier for him to get his weight back on his hocks and spread evenly on either side of his body. When you go large the long sides help to get him straight, balanced and relaxed. The corners give you a chance to concentrate on maintaining the pressure on both sides of the bit – without tightening up in your shoulders or arms. And don’t forget to use your legs!
Each of your legs pushes one of your horse’s hind legs – use them both equally and he’ll stay balanced on his hocks and from side to side. Use one leg harder than other and he’ll take longer steps with that hind leg – that hip will then be further forward and he’ll be crooked.
There are hundreds of aids you can use to straighten your horse up or stop him leaning on the bit but it’s far easier to avoid than correct. Constant corrections are frustrating for you and demoralising for him. Keep things simple – and even! And remember – if he’s doing something specific on one side the chances are you are too.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
If you need some help with your horse get in touch via The Forum, Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org or why not dare to be different with a 121 video lesson? For £10 I’ll send you a document full of advice and training exercises you can use to improve yourself and your horse. I may not be there in person but I have the added bonus of a rewind button – and you get to print out and keep everything I say. It’s the lesson that keeps on giving 🙂