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Friday, 14 October 2011

Your Whole Horse in Your Hands?

Do you sometimes feel as if you’ve got the whole weight of your horse in your hands? Does his head get lower and lower the further you go? The chances are he’s carrying himself on his forehand – or shoulders. He’s not the only horse to do it. It’s a common problem but it’s one that can be easily avoided.  If you know where to look.

When a horse is on the forehand he’s carrying about ¾ of his weight on his shoulders. There are many reasons he might be doing it but only one true cause - he’s not using his hocks correctly.

In walk it’s less obvious. On a road you might hear it when your horse’s front feet hit the ground with more force than his hind feet. He might trip in front more than behind. Because you’re not travelling at speed it probably goes unnoticed. The faster you go the more unbalanced he’ll become.

In trot things feel more obvious. Imagine running down a steep hill. You’d want to put out a hand to stop yourself falling over - right? Your horse will feel the same only he doesn’t have hands. Instead he has a bit in his mouth and attached to it he has your hands! That’s one of the first things you’ll notice about a horse on the forehand – the dead weight in your hands – and no matter how hard you try you won’t be able to get him off them.

In canter your horse will not only be uncomfortable to ride he’ll also be less responsive. The speed of the canter means more of his weight will be falling forwards onto your hands making it difficult for you to turn or vary his speed.

You wouldn’t be the first to think the best way to deal with it is to plug away in trot or canter until your horse sits back on his hocks but before you do just think about this -

When your horse unbalances onto his forehand there’s a strong chance he did it before you started the pace you feel it in. He may well have been trotting around quite nicely before you found yourself cantering the wall of death round the arena. So what happened in between the two? Try looking at your transition.

If your horse is prone to going on his forehand you’ll have heard the phrase ‘ride him uphill’. The theory is sound – you do want to think of his body sitting down at the back and lifting in front. BUT think how you ride when you ride uphill. You lean forward and give your horse his head. Try thinking of riding down a steep hill. Then you’d be sitting right back, pushing his hocks underneath him and holding the contact.

Whether you’re asking for walk to canter or trot to canter your body should remain the same. Your horse will copy exactly what you do. If you tip forward he’ll do the same. Lean further back than you feel comfortable doing. Exaggerate it. This will put all your weight over his hocks and encourage him to sit.

If you keep your hands up in front of you and your contact consistent in both hands then your horse will stay off his shoulders. Your contact contains energy allowing you to drive his hocks under his body.

When you’re asking for canter don’t make the mistake of throwing your hands forward in the hope your horse will go into canter quicker. Actually all you’re doing is throwing him straight onto his shoulders and making his life more difficult. Nag at yourself to keep your fingers closed around the reins as you ask. Then as you put your inside leg on for the strike off keep the contact between your thumb and first finger and relax the other three to allow him to canter.

If this is a regular problem ask your horse for canter going into a corner not on it. The fact you’re not on a bend will mean you’re less inclined to lean to the inside and unbalance him. Riding towards a fence will stop him running into canter and unbalancing himself too.

Before you go remember not to canter for too long! When you’re trying to solve a problem use canter in short bursts so you can concentrate on the quality of the transition and the first few strides. It’s the cause of the problem you need to look at not the end result.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


  1. Great advice! Sitting back is the key to so many things when riding. A phrase from one of your other posts has really stayed with me: sit back till you think you are straight and then lean back some more! With my trainer's persistence and words like these I think I'm finally mastering it :)
    Thanks as always
    Eleni (@elvonee)

  2. This is so nice to hear, Eleni. Thanks for posting :) It's nice to hear the good as well as the bad. Hope it keeps improving for you. :) Lorraine