Hacks n Hills
If your horse has two speeds – fast and faster – it can be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to going downhill. That feeling of all four legs tripping over themselves as you crash through the undergrowth or wade through the mud does nothing to instill you with confidence. BUT that’s exactly what you need to do.
When it comes to going downhill most riders sit back, take the weight on their stirrups and keep hold of their contact to keep their horse sat back on his hocks and to stop him running on too quickly. There is some theory in there – and sometimes you’ll get away with it – but if your horse is more sensitive than most it can be the start of a vicious downhill circle that you’d rather jump off than go with!
Imagine yourself riding in the school in that position. Your legs would shift forward (and come off) and your seat would slide to the back of the saddle – putting a small point of pressure directly on your horse’s back. Add an extra tight contact into the mix and you’ll end up with a hollow horse that’s tight in its back and not using its hocks to stay balanced. Which is exactly what you were trying to avoid!
The first thing you need to do is learn to use your knee and thigh to slow your horse down (HERE). Your contact then becomes a form of hand-holding rather than a way to stop. Holding a contact and allowing your horse to move forward is something to work on too – more on it HERE. It’s actually one of the hardest things to learn but once you have it you’ll find every horse you ever ride will thank you for it.
So what should you do? Most important of all is believe that this will work! It works with every horse – even yours.
- Keep a contact that moves with your horse not against him so he doesn’t feel restricted and tighten his back against you.
- Keep your heels under your hips so your legs keep pushing him forward and driving his hocks under his body.
- Use your knees pushed into the saddle to encourage him to slow down.
- Lighten your seat to allow him to round it and relax – lift your weight up so you’re just off the saddle.
This is a problem that won’t go away overnight. But it will improve every time you practise. Your horse has to learn that you’re not going to pull back and sit on his back every time you set off downhill. Once he does he’ll relax and slow himself down – as you do when you walk or run downhill. Why wouldn’t you?
Remember your horse only reacts to things you do. That’s not a negative – it’s a really big positive! It means there’s something you can do about it. Next time you see a hill coming relax your seat, focus on letting your hands and your contact follow his mouth and hairy hills will be a thing of the past!
If you’ve got a problem with your horse don’t be shy! Get in touch on Facebook or Twitter (@pollson). Your problem could be the topic for my next post.