Riding with contact and forward horses
I recently switched to English riding and I've been working with a very forward gelding. We've been practicing pressure and release, riding with contact and trotting at the post. This particular horse, however, LOVES to throw his head around. Every time he does it, my heart skips because I'm so afraid he's going to buck or rear up.
Last lesson, he tossed his head wildly and I panicked. He BOLTED and I let go, falling off onto my shoulder. Since then, I've been super nervous to get back on him, but I'm planning to do it this week. I just need tips on how to avoid this from happening again.
The instructor said I REALLY need to gather the reins when I begin trotting - that even if they feel tight, they're probably not. But there's a fine line between "riding with contact" and pulling too much. This is where I get confused. Also, does anyone have any tips on what to do when the horse shakes his head around? Thanks!!
Thank you for the tips! I think you're right. The problem is that the horse is pretty "forward," so I think I have a tendency to put too much pressure on the reins and not enough "release." The horse doesn't shake his head for the instructor, but does for less experienced riders. The horse likes to see what he can get away with. I'm going to try again today with your tips and hopefully have a better result :)
There's so much unknown not being able to see what's going on. At this stage, riding with contact just means that you are always "feeling" your horse's mouth with a steady and light pressure and his mouth is going to move your hands. So when his head moves back and forth at the canter, your hands follow his mouth. This is IMO pretty difficult to learn and not something you master right away. A horse I work with has the most sensitive mouth and absolutely HATES if you are all but extremely soft and steady with your hands and he responds by throwing his head around. I wonder if this is happening to you? Your trainer is right, if you are a western rider you probably think you are too tight on the reins when you aren't, but you may not be steady enough with your hands to be able to ride with that short of a rein without hitting your horse in the mouth or pulling on them. It's a hard distinction. You don't want to *hang* on your horse's mouth, you just want to always *feel* it.
a few tips...
1) Before you can have steady hands you MUST have a rock solid position. A "pretty good" position doesn't cut it. You must be balanced and completely secure with a correct leg. Your leg is what keeps you secure in an english saddle, some people refer to it as your "foundation". So without a foundation how can a house stand? it can't. So without a solid leg, how can your body be balanced? it can't. So you will be unsteady and using your hands on your horse's mouth to balance. position position position!
2) You can't be tense. When you are tense your arms can't be soft and following. If you are scared your horse will act up, you can't be soft and following. And your horse can feel it! Tension can also make your body to drive a sensitive horse and make them faster or more nervous.
3) While you can't be stiff, you also can't let your hands jiggle or post with your body either (so common!). Your horse feels your every tiny hand/arm movement in his mouth. This drives certain horses crazy. :) Your hands need to be very steady as they follow.
Again, if this horse is making you nervous and unable to teach you how to ride with contact, this horse is probably not the one for you right now!
Sounds like this horse needs a bit of schooling honestly. Does he do this with other riders? The other thing to do would be to put on a standing martingale so he can't toss his head too crazily or worse, bump you in the head if he throws it up too high!
I would also make sure that you and the horse understand a half halt very well, so that you can work on bringing him down and together without having to pull hard. You want light contact (about 5-10 lbs) and really no more than that aside from the occasional correction.
Also, be sure that tack is fitting properly not pinching or causing pain to cause the horse to want to run out.
And the easiest solution, remember to BREATHE and talk to your horse if he gets nervous. Horses respond so much to just a change in breath. Whenever I ride a nervous horse, it is incredibly how much I catch myself just holding my breath because they are!
most things I ride are classified as "very forward" (I do prefer OTTBs...lol) One thing that has always worked well is keeping the horse guessing....other than your position needing to be solid (soft, giving hands, quiet seat and steady leg), use your eyes, seat and leg, rather than your hand, to ask the horse to change direction constantly. circles, serpentines, bow ties...if the horse wants to step forward, let them. many horses will calm down once they realize you're not going to fight them. unless the horse has a serious bolting and bucking habit, you just need to breathe and try trusting the horse. not easy, but in order for your horse to trust you, you need to trust them first
A good exerci to see if your hands are following as you ride is to hold the saddle or a neck strap as you rise. Helps yor hands to become independent
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