No Shame – All Gain!

Posted by in Blog, energy, equestrian, fingers, get your horse going, get your horse listening., go forward, hand position, hands, happy new year, help a horse to accept a contact, how to keep a contact, how to sit in the saddle, impulsion, interesting schooling, on the bit, on the forehand, outline, position, riding into your hand, riding your horse into your hand, schooling, softness, softness of the back, softness through the back, tension in legs and seat, tension in the horse's mouth on Jan 5, 2013


How often have you been told that you’ll never stop learning? It’s true – who didn’t watch the Olympics and spot errors even in the top three dressage riders? It would seem all riders have something to learn or improve on. But it’s worth remembering that it’s not always an uphill battle – sometimes you need to go back and look at the basics. Not because you’re stupid but because without them nothing can improve.


No matter what level you’re at there are three things that need to be in place before you can perfect even the simplest of movements –  

  1. Your position
  2. Your contact
  3. Your aids


If you’re unstable in the saddle your horse will struggle to stay balanced. Everything you do with your body affects his. Lean forward or to one side and he’ll do the same. Tighten your back and he’ll do the same. Get yourself in the most secure, relaxed position and he’ll be able to distribute his weight equally between his quarters and his shoulders. It doesn’t matter if you’re asking him for walk to trot or a canter half pass – if he’s balanced he’ll be able to do it quickly and to the best of his ability.


Rein contact is one of the most common causes of trouble. In novice riders it can be too tight because they use their hands to balance themselves. Nervous riders are often frightened to let go. Yet as riders improve and begin to learn about getting a horse into an outline the contact often becomes inconsistent (pulling one rein and then the other) or too loose as they try to encourage their horse to relax or stretch.


Strange as it may seem the novice or nervous rider is often easier for a horse to cope with – at least he knows where his rider is! He may slow down or drop behind the bit to avoid the pressure but at least the contact is consistent.


Your rein contact is there to contain your horse’s energy and give him confidence. If it’s there all the time he can relax. Create a soft contact by moving your fingers on the reins as if you are texting. Keep it consistent and stop it slipping through your fingers by clamping your thumb down on top of it. When you need to be a bit firmer tighten your fingers around each rein so he feels a solid, resistant contact. Relax as soon as he does what you ask.


It doesn’t matter if your horse is a riding school pony or a Grand Prix horse. His job is to do what you ask as quickly as possible. Your job is to make it easy for him to understand. If you’re always shuffling your reins up and down, moving your seat in the saddle or changing your leg position how can he be expected to hear you?!


Leg aids need to be short and clear. One correctly given aid is far more effective than 20 heavy but varied kicks. Use short positive leg aids and don’t be worried about using a quick,sharp tap with a whip – it’s far kinder than a flurry of heels and it will make even the most lethargic of horses sit up and listen. (It’s also worth remembering that a riding school horse will respond far better if you get on with enthusiasm than it will if you get on sighing , huffing and puffing that ‘you hate riding Bill’!)


Highly schooled horses aren’t as easy as they look either! If you’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of riding a Grand Prix horse you’ll know how unnerving it can be to be taken across the school in a stunning half pass when all you asked for was walk to trot! Again your aids need to be well thought out and calmly given. The slightest movement in the saddle can be an aid in itself.


It’s easy to panic when things go wrong and start to over correct whatever your level. Try doing nothing. Sit absolutely still. Keep your contact steady and your legs on your horse’s sides but quiet. See what happens. You could well be surprised to find that not much changes. That he will carry on quite happily without all those extra tweaks and pushes. All riders want to try hard to help their horse. Yet often all they need to do is stop trying. The basics are there for a reason. They’ve been used for years. Once in a while go back and polish yours.


Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

Let 2013 be your best year yet – if you have a problem get in touch via The Forum, Facebook or email me at OR check out one of my schooling guides in The Shop. At 99p they’re affordable and they’ll give you some great, easy to follow exercises you can do with any horse – on the bit or off it! 


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