Last month we talked about the similarity in human/horse instincts and how fear can be one of our biggest obstacles to succeeding with our horses, because of the reactions fear causes. Our ability to apply reason marks the difference between humans’ and horses’ fear reactions. Add improved horsemanship knowledge to the mix and you’ve got a much better chance at successful results with your horse.
The instinctive reaction I’d like to talk about in this article is in regard to pressure, and how the horse and human reaction is the same. If you go up to your horse and push on their shoulder with your hand, with solid pressure, chances are that your horse will brace against that pressure. They may brace to the point that when you take your hand away, your horse will actually move toward you. Do that same thing with a friend. The instant you start applying solid pressure, your friend will brace against that pressure to avoid moving. If you suddenly release the pressure, your friend will move toward you.
The same instincts apply when you are riding. Put solid pressure on the reins and your horse will lay on the bridle rein in your hand. The more you pull, the more you horse will brace or even pull back. People will have a similar reaction. Take a friend’s hand. Start to pull and you will feel them stiffen and brace against your pulling. Your horse does the same thing when you pull on the reins. With continually pulling on your horses’ mouth, your horse braces to your pull, they stiffen their neck, shoulder and possibly ribcage, taking away any ability for lateral flexion. Without lateral flexion, you cannot have collection. In addition, a horse which stiffens their neck and shoulder can also bolt, rear and buck. Get the picture?
The same theory can be applied to leg pressure. Squeeze with your legs and instead of yielding to the pressure, you may get stiffening. Also, when you squeeze with your legs, you stiffen your legs and lock your hips (I call is locking down your ‘seat bone’). With this type of rider body position, your horse can’t pick up their back to push off and move forward.
When riders don’t get what they want from their horse, they apply more pressure. Horse doesn’t slow down when you pull on the reins, you pull harder. Am I right? The solution is a give and take approach with a ‘less is more’ philosophy. Instead of solid rein pressure, bounce the rein with your fingers. Take out the slack until you feel resistance, then bounce your rein by wiggling your fingers. That is not a jerk, but a gentle bump. When you feel a change, let go and reward your horse. Same applies to your legs.
One of the most time consuming training issues I deal with are horses who have been jerked on so much, that they have absolutely no lateral (side to side) bend or flexibility. Yes, the horse may be moving with their head down and neck level, but they have been pulled on so much, that they are stiff, to the point of rigid, from their throat latch all the way through their ribs, and very forehand heavy in their movements. Think about it, if I punch you in the mouth enough, not only will you hate me, but you stiffen your jaw, neck and back. By the way, just because a horse moves with their head low, does not mean they are collected, as addressed in previous articles.
Bottom line…bump and wiggle fingers instead of pull on the reins and bump with your legs instead of squeeze. As soon as you get a change, no matter how small, release the pressure. And as I always say, “Don’t Pull!”
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Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.