I ride an Australian style saddle with a western Jr Cowhorse Dogbone bit, so my comments might be as confusing as my riding style, but...
1 - If the horse has an unbalanced GAIT
, then I'll work with her in the arena to get it better. If she (Mia) has a gait where she is way too far forward (canter), then cantering is arena-only until I'm fully confident (not yet) she is cured and will carry herself in a more balanced manner. Mia has gotten so far forward cantering in an arena that I thought we might flip. She's better, but we have more arena work to do before I trust her on the trail at a canter.
2 - If the horse isn't paying attention, or is nervou
s, then I may ride with some contact. Western one-handed style, that means lifting the reins and letting the leverage amplify the change in weight to create an awareness that I'm there. The Jr Cowhorse has a ratio of 1.25 to 1, so a pound on the reins is 1.25 pounds in her mouth. That is small enough I will sometimes ride with 2 hands, most of the slack out, pinkie on the rein and playing with it a little. I wouldn't do that with Trooper, because Trooper is an ex-ranch horse who doesn't want someone in his mouth. Mia likes it sometimes.
I will also start moving her feet - from the left side of the trail to the right, or a quicker walk, followed by a slower one, followed by a light jog - something, ANYTHING to remind her I'm there and paying attention.
3 - Rough terrain/falling
. I give her all the slack I can so she can move her head as needed to keep/regain her balance. That is why I think it is important to work on self-carriage in the arena as well. I have no objection to riding with contact full time, but I also want her to learn to take care of herself (and me).
For situation #3, I think of this 1890 poem from Australia:
He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet, He cleared the fallen timber in his stride, And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat - It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride. Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground, Down the hillside at a racing pace he went; And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound, At the bottom of that terrible descent.
As an interesting historical note, some argue the real-life inspiration for the above poem was a ride made by Charlie Mac (Charlie McKeahnie - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
). If so, his luck ran out 10 years later when he died riding horses...
BTW - in addition to being a confused rider, I'm not an expert in anything. I'm certainly not an expert in riding with contact, on the bit, or anything English!