Loose rein or constant contact for the spooky horse?
Just wonder how you'd ride (english) horse on trail if it's spooky? I know lots of people go with the loose rein, but then if the horse spooks on things and bolt you can't react right away because you have to pick the reins etc.
I ride my spookies with a loose rein. My reasoning on this is a tight rein can convey tension to a horse. If you tense up, they think there is something to be scared of. I would ride whichever way made the horse feel less tense.
Hmm, it's a fine line. In my personal opinion, I think the best would be to have a soft contact. Not tense, just "there" like a little bit of reassurance. Then, if you feel your horse eyeing something like he thinks it will attack him, you can just give a few little squeezes to say "I'm still here with you, pay attention to me and you'll be fine"
I think it really depends on the horse. I sometimes ride a pony that if you give him a loose rein, he will jump out of his skin as much as possible, while Lacey will do the same if she's ridden with very much contact. So I ride the pony with a lot of contact and I ride Lacey with as little contact as possible.
Hmmm It's a problem for me too. My Arab mare is really spooked out by the trails in our back woods. I've been working with with her on and off for months just to get her so she's not jumping all over the place on the trails. It's hard because you want to pull back to get some control but not be pulling on thier mouth all the time.
BTW, if anyone has ideas about getting her less afraid on the trails they would be appreciated.
Fine line... Agreed.
Most of the time I would ride with contact. You kind of have to read the horse you're riding and feel if that's the appropriate way to ride it.
However, if I'm on a horse that likes to throw it's head or hold it too high, I ride it on a loose rein.
I like the word you used.... "Reassurance". Most horses need that when they're unsure of a situation. Most horses are looking for a leader and guidance when they are nervous. That's why I use contact on most green/ green broke horses I ride. Probably a bad analogy, but kind of like squeezing a pressure point to get your mind off of pain.
I think its all about the feel you get from your horse. The more you have your horse on the trail, the better you will come to understand him and then you will be able to read his body language better. I personally will give my horse his head as long as he is body language is relaxed and quiet. When his head is up and he is acting a bit nervous and just looking for something to spook at, I like to have contact (this is also a good time to put your horse to work and get his mind back on you). When I am riding through a high risk area (a public place or place with lots of activity), I like to keep contact as well. If it were me, I would keep a little tighter rein and longer arms until you figure it all out. When you realize that your horse is nice and relaxed, give him his head. Trail riding should be fun for both of you. Let him relax when he will.
This is a serious and provocative question, worthy of discussion.
It would be interesting to have a poll of English style riders as to whether they trail ride (hack) :
on the buckle - what I take to be the long and low look of Western riders
or collected - that is in contact with the bit and mouth following the horse's head movement
or fully 'on the bit' with the horse in a rounded outline.
My wife has traditionally ridden out hacking with an 'on the buckle' stance but recently following lessons with a new instructor, she is now riding 'collected' in constant contact and she is steadily shortening the reins with a view to going 'on the bit' for most of the ride. When out hacking, she is now working the mare constantly so that it's brain is occupied and therefore it does not look about too much and become distracted. When 'bored' the horse 'plays at spooking'.
Our mare DiDi has two faults which we should like to eradicate - she spooks (although she is rarely frightened) and she 'rushes'. Eventually it is hoped that we can eradicate both the faults on the trail and in the arena.
The theory is that with an intelligent responsive horse trained to go 'on the bit' - we control her every move and the speed and length of her paces. She is presently ridden on a very mild curved bar Myler bit. An attempt to control the rushing with a harsher bit has been discontinued - all the mare did was to resist the bit and harden her mouth. She is not allowed to speed up until she has been specifically given the 'body & leg' aids to do so. The hack becomes a training session.
My old Cob Joe was a different scenario. He had never been taught to come down onto the bit and he had a tendency to ride with his nose up. What's perhaps more important is that the rider did not tell a surefooted, countrywise Joe where to put his feet. The rider allowed him to look about. I always rode him in contact and I followed his head with my hands, even though at times I would ride with both reins in one hand. If you shortened the reins too much he would lean and then resist until finally he would snatch the reins out of the rider's hands. He accepted contact so long as the hands followed the head/neck action but would not tolerate still hands and shortened reins. But Joe's bit was a Waterford - a much harsher bit than a Myler. The risk with Joe was that if you allowed him too much rein and freedom to move his neck then sooner or later at a junction he would whirl round and try to go home. Also if you allowed Joe to trot on tarmac on the buckle inevitably he would trip as he became heavy on the forehand. At the canter over rough ground he balanced himself off your hands. But Joe had a mouth of iron when he needed it. He was also cussed. To him arena training was a waste of his time - he saw his working environment as being out on the hillside.
So we here we have two riders, the same environment but two complete different horses in schooling, experience, conformation and temperament. With hindsight it is obvious they have to be ridden differently.
Didi is a ID/Connemara Cross broad backed, heavy chested but with a longish neck,
whose power comes from her foal bearing rump. She is a different horse altogether
Joe was a broad backed, wide chested, heavy set, big boned, driving horse who did pull as well as push. The top of Joe's croup was slightly higher than his wither.
This question is interesting because it raises the matter of whether one should attempt to ride the horse both in the arena and out on the trail in the same style.
DiDi responds differently when she goes into the arena for schooling - for some reason she sees the arena as work but going out for an hour and a half of hacking along the lanes and up to the forest she takes more casually - as though such a ride is merely a walk in the park.
I think the answer to the original question must be that you ride the horse according to the horse's training, the horse's conformation and the circumstances. There are times when you want it to be on its toes and then there are times when it can relax. With a fit powerful intelligent sports horse the rider also has to watch out for the horse's mood on the day. If the horse is agitated, then keep it on a tight rein. When coming home, let the horse relax, allow the horse its head and let it take a stretch.
Your comments please.
Loose, if the horse is spooky to begin with all you're doing is giving him more reason to be scared. If you had an indoor I would work him in there until you can get 100% comfortable with him, and can keep his attention on you.
And if he's really spooky make your trail ride a very, very short one; my first "trail ride" is just walking the horse out of the indoor about 5ft, then we walk back in. Not until your horse is so relaxed going those few feet would I go any further. If I were you I would practice on how to get your horse back down again. It makes for a better horse and rider knowing that if and when your horse spooks at something and perhaps shys or rears, or whatever, you know you can get him back down again. Instead of riding him back to the barn all worked up and jumpy at everything.
You can pick up your reins fast enough. You can have a hold on the reins without having contact with his mouth.
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