If you have a problem with your horse what do you do? Ask your instructor? A friend? Or turn to a book? It’s the right thing to do. A problem shared is a problem halved but unfortunately it’s always after the event. Wouldn’t it be great if you could solve it while you were still in the saddle?
There’s only one cause of any problem with your horse. You! That’s a fact not an insult. Whatever you do with your body affects him. Divide your horse – and the aids that affect him – into three sections. 1 - Your hands and his shoulders/neck/mouth. 2 – His body and yours. 3 – His hindquarters and your legs.
If something’s not right in one of those sections it will have a negative effect on the others. So although your horse is lifting his head up it might not be your hands that started it – it might be that you’re sitting too heavily on his back. If he’s tight in his back he’ll stop using his hocks and up comes his head. What started in one section quickly affects the other two. However hard you try to keep your hands still and ride forward if you’re making his back uncomfortable you won’t cure your problem.
If you have a problem while you’re riding think through the following lists and be honest! Ask yourself “Am I doing that?” If the answer is “Yes” to any one of the following points then you’ve found your cause.
Common problems with Section 1 –
- If your hands are uneven your horse’s shoulders will match them. If one shoulder (hand) is higher than the other he’ll fall towards the lower side. If one hand is further back than the other his shoulders will be crooked.
- Drop your hands and your horse will drop both shoulders and carry his weight on his forehand. Lift them too high and he’ll stiffen in his neck as his shoulders struggle to rise any higher.
- Hold your contact too tight and your horse will tighten his jaw against the pressure. That sends tension down the rest of his spine. BUT if your reins are too long you won’t contain the energy you create, he won’t use his hocks and he’ll fall onto his shoulders. Hold but don’t pull back.
- If your rein contact is stronger on one side that’s the way your horse’s shoulders are heading. If you’re trying to circle, corner or turn you need his shoulders on the line you’re taking not going off to one side. (falling out/in)
Problems with Section 2 –
- Your horse will be crooked if you are. Your shoulders and hips should be turned in the direction you’re moving or face the front on a straight line. If you’re left or right sided and turn naturally to one side you’ll find he does the same. That’s great on the good side but you’ll find he’s crooked and tight on the stiff side.
- He’ll fall in or out if your weight slips to one side in the saddle. (He’ll move away from the heavier side) OR you collapse to the inside. The distance between your bottom rib and the top of your hip should be the same on both sides. Drop your hip or your shoulder and he’ll do exactly the same.
- He’ll fall onto his forehand if you tip forward. If you lean too far back your leg will swing forward and come off his sides. That means you’ll stop riding him forward and that leads you nicely onto -
Problems with Section 3 –
- If your legs aren’t pushing him forward then your horse won’t bring his hocks underneath him. He won’t be able to balance on his hindquarters and he’ll fall onto his forehand.
- If one leg is further back than the other you’re telling your horse to move his quarters over. A classic example of this is failing to move your outside leg forward once you’re in canter. He’ll move his quarters in and be crooked until you tell him otherwise.
- Are you kicking too hard? This lifts you up out of the saddle in sitting trot and canter. In rising trot it sends you far too high on the rise. Both are uncomfortable to your horse and get you out of balance with the rhythm of the pace. Tap him up with the whip if he’s lazy. It’s for his own good.
- If you use one leg harder than the other you’re giving your horse clear aids to step sideways. Always use your legs together and with the same amount of pressure unless you’re doing lateral work.
So there are the most obvious problems. It gives you somewhere to start when things go wrong. It’s only what your instructor does when he/she assesses you and your horse in the warm up. They’ll look at these three sections, see what’s going wrong and that’s what they base your lesson on. This way you can teach yourself for a while.
Next time your horse feels lazy in a downward transition think about what you might be doing to cause it. Are your reins too long? Are you leaning forward or just not using enough leg? That’s three different reasons for a downward transition that’s on the forehand – one from each section.
Is your canter crooked? Are your hands level and at the same height? Are you sitting square in the saddle and have you remembered to move your outside leg forward after the transition? Again three causes. Three sections.
Do you struggle to get your horse out into the corners? Is your contact even in both hands? Are you keeping your weight equal on both sides of the saddle? Are you pushing him forward from both legs?
Whatever your problem remember who started it! Your horse can only do what you’re telling him to do. It’s true that a problem shared is a problem halved but a problem divided into three might just get solved before you leave the school next time.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.