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.
Last edited by xxBarry Godden; 06-06-2010 at 08:05 AM.