One major riding tool your trainer is trying to teach you
I have seen riders so brainwashed to avoid using their inside rein that their literally riding around the arena in constant counter flexion. A riders inside leg absolutely creates bend but if your not at all touching your inside rein… ever… Then how the hell can we expect the horse to be truly flexed around a circle/pirouette/half-pass the list goes on. The inside rein is an ingredient that you NEED, direct the neck to correct flexion, and let your inside leg be a boundary like he’s walking around a lamp post, use the inside rein in conjunction with your inside leg and outside half halt. It’s a balancing act of the three aids. Of course don’t abuse the inside rein but certainly don’t avoid it altogether.
There is SO much to cover on contact, I could have you here all day but one last thing. Giving and taking of the reins, the whole concept of a release of a particular rein or both is a reward. I see people giving and taking every milli second. Do you give your dog a treat if he’s dragging you around the park? Do you give your dog a treat if he’s jumping up at you if your asking him to sit? Are you feeding your dog a treat every second as he’s sitting down or do you let him sit and wait there are few moments till he’s earned the reward. You see where I’m going with this?
You are your horses teacher, the ‘give’ is when your horse has yielded to the contact and is chewing and suckling the bit. Not when he’s ripping your shoulders out their sockets. That’s not to say Im asking my riders to stay on the end of the rein like a brick house, of course not, you have to be productive. I want my riders massaging and manipulating the corners/bars of the horses mouth through a consistent contact, until the horse decides to unlock and let go of his jaw/poll/neck while moving forwards and sideways from his riders leg aids. That is then your window to reward, he’s going to love the feeling of being relaxed and loose in his poll, throat lash area and neck, thousands of endorphins are being released while doing so, and in return you push forward your hands from his wither for a moment. That’s the real idea of a give. That’s how he will learn to want to soften to your hands, he’ll eventually understand that your hand is guiding him to a better place, now your hand has become a friend, and it’s being productive to your horses mindset. He will no doubt begin to follow your lead. Unfortunately horses don’t read a book at night on ‘how to become more supple’ they have NO idea unless we show them the way, and one way in conjunction with other aspects is through your HANDS. So don’t be afraid of the contact, it’s a beautiful thing once being used correctly.
Written by Stephen Hayes
Photo credits Amanda Diefenbach
Stephen Hayes riding Alfonso owned by Caroline McConnel