Category Archives: Contact

Make Contact, BUT Make It Useful

Developing a clear, non-verbal language with your horse means making a connection and this is where your dressage journey begins.  Without a useful  contact, as a dressage rider you will be unable to communicate with your horse; you will be unable to ‘engage in any type of conversation’ or convey any message effectively.  It’s a really widespread problem.

Establishing the contact, maintaining a contact, making a connection, being above the bit, getting behind the bit, head tilting, head wobbling/shaking, strong contact, soft contact; there are a myriad of issues, so for those of you that need help let’s explore a little further.

What Do I Mean by Useful Contact?

Continue reading Make Contact, BUT Make It Useful

Falling In

 How difficult and confusing is ‘ falling in ’ for a rider?

When a horse is falling in, it’s the horse that’s not following the track of the circle or corner, right?  After all, you have set your course, it’s a 20m circle, which somehow becomes smaller with every stride or begins to resemble an egg shape as you feel the horse fall in at certain points and attempt corrections.  Those of us who have experienced our horses falling in usually wait until it happens and then correct it.  Nothing wrong with that you may say, but there is a better way; another Eureka! moment for me in my training which requires a slight change of mindset and a good helping of focus.

Firstly, you should experiment with the give and retake of the rein to establish whether your horse can maintain his balance on a circle without you holding him there with the reins; in this exercise he should remain on the circle.  If not, the issue is from your horse’s inability to balance himself while being ridden on a circle, or indeed a straight line.  We have all experienced the centre line that starts at A and finishes somewhere left or right of C, haven’t we?Falling In

If your automatic reaction to the sensation that your horse is falling in is to push the inside rein against the horse’s neck in an attempt to ‘neck rein’ him out onto the circle or worse, if you’re crossing your hand over his neck to ‘ultra neck rein’ him out to the circle; or even if you have learned to drag the horse out with your outside rein, you have skipped a fundamental lesson in your training and need to go back to basics.

Continue reading Falling In

Consistent Contact

How many of you have had the comment “needs a more consistent contact” from the judges?

The dictionary definition of connect is to join, link or fasten together, to unite or to establish a sympathetic harmonious relationship.  In these days of social media we think of connecting as adding friends, or linking profiles, networking, whichever way you look at it making a connection with someone or something is about you putting in some effort so that you can come together.  When that something is a horse and you are thinking about Dressage riding, developing a clear, non-verbal language with your horse means making a connection and is where your dressage journey begins.

Those of you who subscribe to the blog know that one of the first questions I ask you is “What are you struggling with?”  The most frequent answer to this question is something that is absolutely fundamental to the success of your Dressage journey and that is ‘Contact’.  Without a useful and consistent contact you will be unable to communicate with your horse; you will be unable to ‘engage in any type of conversation’ or convey any message effectively.  It’s a really widespread problem.

consistent contact

Establishing the contact, maintaining the contact, making a connection, being above the bit, getting behind the bit, head tilting, head wobbling/shaking, strong contact, soft contact; there are a myriad of issues, so for those of you that need help let’s explore a little further and see if we can get you on track.

Continue reading Consistent Contact

SEEK A CONTACT

In dressage we want the horse to go ‘on the bit’; to actually seek a contact and accept varying levels of pressure on the bars of the mouth, the tongue and lips, the poll and from this pressure (combined with other pressures and release signals or ‘aids’) we require a specific response in the body of the horse.

  • Dressage Newbie: What?
  • More experienced friend: Well it means you need to have your horse on the bit, seeking a contact and through use of coordinated aids you should get the correct response.
  • Newbie: I’m sorry, in English?
  • Friend: For your horse to be on the bit he needs to accept it and actively seek it forward and if you apply the correct aids, this will happen.
  • Newbie: Errrr, ok but how?
  • Friend: Well, like I said, get him to seek the bit by applying pressure and release of your co-ordinated aids.
  • Newbie: Zzzzzz! Fancy hacking today?

I know this feeling, techie talk, bores me rigid!  This type of talk raises more and more questions which in my experience never get properly answered.  But I do understand that there are occasions when you need to get a little technical to make a point.  Firstly there is the phenomenon that is ‘on the bit’.  What on earth does this actually mean?  Take a quick look at my article ‘6 common on the bit myths’ to help you with that one.

Then there’s ‘seek a contact’

seek a contactAnother dressage phrase that is utilised a great deal and ranks right up there in the ‘rider confuser’ stakes with ‘working through’ and ‘straight on a circle’.  Essentially, misunderstood and the essence of which is rarely explained to riders.  Try to forget the science, you simply cannot and will not be able to understand this until you feel it.  On this basis the very best thing you can do is go and experiment on your horse.  Nevertheless, here I go with my understanding of ‘seeking the contact’ and how to achieve it, in crystal system fashion.

Stretching forward, out and down to seek a contact

There are a number of key elements to ensuring that you are positioning your horse to ‘seek the bit’.  The primary focus needs to be on forwardness, rhythm and relaxation, not forgetting of course a secure and useable contact.  It is through this work that you begin to teach your horse to ‘seek the bit’.

Forwardness

You need to create energy that can be recycled through the contact back to the hind legs so it must be the energy creation that comes first (leg before rein).  Without the forward thrust your horse will arch his neck and make a shape as a result of your hand actions but he won’t be able work in a true outline, he will be offering you a false outline and he will develop a ‘hollow’ way of going.  So, first and foremost check that your horse is happily going forward without constant reminders from your leg.

Rhythm & Relaxation

Rhythm and relaxation go hand-in-hand because it is nearly impossible to have rhythm without relaxation.

Rhythm contributes significantly to work at the upper levels.  No exercise or movement can be considered good if the rhythm falters and to gain relaxation you have to consider your horse’s mental state; calmness, without anxiety or nervousness and his physical state; the absence of muscular tension (other than the contraction needed for optimal posture).  Relaxation of the horse’s emotional and physical state also go hand in hand, you simply can’t have one without the other.

Another essential element in ensuring that your horse remains relaxed is his current level of strength and his range and fluency of movement. Too much too soon will result in muscle and emotional tension.  Your training should be designed to gradually strengthen the horse to be able to do the movements you ask of him because later in the training he will require great physical strength.

Contact

Getting the idea of your horse ‘accepting the bit’ in the dressage sense, starts with the ‘long and low’ work where the young (or horse in re-training) learns the balance and rhythm required with the rider on his back.  It’s all about the level of contact you apply.   To initiate contact with your horse, you must shorten the reins (no pulling).  You should aim to achieve a ‘useful rein length’ that allows a secure feel of the bit in the horse’s mouth.  So, when you pick up the reins you need to give a number of aids to help your horse become round.  He can be relatively long and low, but he should always be round when working.

Long and Low

Begin by adjusting your seat. Place the legs in the correct position, and align your pelvis, shoulders and seat-bones.  Never throw the reins away, instead ask your horse to ‘take’ the reins forward and down gently.

 

Photo Credit : Equestrian How 2 

Clearly, he will not be able to do this if the reins are too long to begin with.  Contact must come first, then the stretch.  When you can see a ‘bulge’ in the middle of both sides of the horse’s neck, with the neck arched on a long rein and the head ideally lower than the wither then you know you’ve produced the correct result.

It is the head and neck that are low.  It is the back that rises up to meet your seat and it is the haunches that are lowered and stepping under the horse’s body.  As your horse’s strength and top line improve, so will his ability to reach down, out and forward.  To ask for the stretch, ride a 20m circle, ask the horse forward and vibrate the outside rein.  Ensure you have a contact with the horse’s mouth, if he softens, as he should, then allow the reins through your fingers, very, very slightly.  This is how you build the stretch, this is how you know that he is reaching out to the contact; this is the ‘seeking of the bit’ that you are looking for.

As indicated earlier in this article the seeking of the bit goes hand in hand with the forwardness.  It is the feeling that everything is moving forward, so no backwards thinking, no stalling, no slowing, no dropping behind the bit.  Once you have achieved this, you can try letting your horse out a little more rein each time.

Throughout this process you need to be able to feel the horse’s mouth in contact with the bit.  If your contact feels ‘light as a feather’ you do not have a contact, or worse you have an ‘on/off’ contact.  It is only in the trained horse that you are able to achieve such lightness.  If you relax your seat and gently give from the elbow (don’t throw the reins away) the horse should follow the rein down and stretch everything out. This will give you the lovely swinging back you are looking for.  The exercise can be done in all 3 paces. So, your horse will learn that his comfort spot is ‘on the bit’, that it is a place of comfort and communication. Consider two people holding hands, no pressure, merely a shared connection.

If the horse does not seek the bit to find the comfort spot or you do not allow the horse to find the comfort spot (which is more often the case) you will find that either

  • the horse will get stuck in front – too much contact
  • he will crash onto the forehand – not enough forward impulsion / contact
  • he will show resistance or worse, disobedience such as rearing or bolting – no comfort offered

Looking for a contactMany riders don’t manage to achieve a good concept of true roundness for a large proportion of their riding careers and it always amuses me how many riders believe that because their reins are long and loopy that they’re being soft and gentle on the mouth.  When I see loopy reins at lower level riding, I generally see a horse with some level of discomfort.  Yes, we see the classical masters working in harmony with their horses with loopy reins, in collection but 90% of you are not at this level, you have not trained the horse for many, many years with patience, understanding and dedication, so you should admire these people for their mastery of the art of dressage, but you should also understand that in the beginning they too had to shorten the reins whilst keeping their hands soft; a far more gentle and sensitive way to progress than loopy reins with an on/off contact.

The horse will only seek contact with the bit when using his hind quarters effectively with a rounded back.  In your horse’s education, now is where you start to take a contact and teach him to round up and encourage him to stretch and work in the longer frame.  This is where he begins to ‘seek’ the bit.

 Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

Great Seat, Terrific Legs & Soft Hands …

seat

You may have a great seat, terrific legs and soft hands but does the one who really matters think so … your horse?

Stop for a minute and think about what you are doing with your hands.  The reins are an extension of your arms, the bit runs through the horse’s MOUTH! From the moment you pick up the reins you become responsible for being kind and consistent with your hands.  Be aware of the power that your hands have over the horse’s mouth, and be conscious to avoid being harsh.  Ensure your hands are closed in a soft but firm fist to avoid unnecessary communications.

The irony is that if you have to think too much about what to do with your hands they can be reactive and behind the motion. Developing non-thinking hands that instinctively do what they need to do will take a lot of effort, but it is really, really worth it.  Almost everyone, will have difficulty with how to use their hands at some point.

Learning to give in a way that is valuable to your riding is a real skill. Done correctly an onlooker would never be able to see you give.  However, they would clearly see the horse’s reaction to the give as he becomes rounder and softer and strides out.

All too often riders think that a give is a ‘throw away’ of the rein contact.  It is not, it is a softening of the hand.  Known as the ‘Descente de main’ in classical riding, the give is essentially to stop actively using the hand.

“Descente de main: the rider opens his fingers and the horse has to maintain the same gait, the same posture, and the same cadence.”  N.Oliveira (1998, 30).

Consider also whether your hands are ‘tuned-in’ to the rest of your body.  You are asking to extend, collect, turn – are your hands working in conjunction with the rest of your body and offering him a truly connected question and response?

Addressing the issues …

  • HandsIt is not just about the hands, it is the action of the arms that allow the hands to be ‘good’.
  • Thumbs should be on top to keep the wrists straight. Notice on the picture how straight wrists means hands that are angled towards each other and give the appearance of being slightly rounded, because the back of the hand is on the same straight line as the arm.
  • As humans we depend greatly on our hands.  Our arms and hands are our first line of defence for balancing ourselves in everyday life.  Instinct can take over and force you to use your hands for balance.
  • Often using your arms and hands to fix a problem or to accomplish your goal is so instinctive that you don’t even realise that this is the very thing that is the cause of the problem.  Instinct is very powerful, as is habit – the combination of instinct and habit will result in the over-use of the hands.  You need to make the habit a good one … INSTALL A NEW HABIT
  • Sometimes it is the overly aggressive use of the reins that is the problem and once a rider understands that they cannot force a horse to do something with excessive rein aids the problem is halfway solved.
  • Hanging onto the reins for balance is not entirely the fault of the hands.  The hands only come into play as other balance mechanisms fail.  The problem is elsewhere. You will not be able to develop good hands if you are still having problems elsewhere.
    • If you are having issues with heels coming up and ankles being tense, you will also be having problems with your hands.
    • If your lower back is stiff and unable to flex the movement has to come out somewhere, usually the hands.
    • If your shoulders are rigid, guess what … problems with hands.

handsAnd just as an aside, good riding gloves allow for a subtler, finer grip on the reins.

Unfortunately, I am unable give you any useful exercises to help you with your hands.  What you need to do is look at the overall picture, find the ‘root cause’ of the problem and address it.  You as a rider will never be able to develop good hands if you are unable to support them with a great seat and terrific legs and be in complete harmony with the horse, which in turns leaves the hands completely independent.

Try not to be frustrated if your hands have a mind of their own!  Quite often it is a mental problem, you may not even realise that you have set your hands and arms, simply making a conscious effort to soften the arms and keep the joints supple and flexible can correct this.

The goal is to maintain a smooth, elastic and quiet communication regardless of what your horse is doing.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

6 COMMON – ON THE BIT – MYTHS

Those of you who have subscribed to this blog know that one of the first questions I ask you is “What are you struggling with?”  The most frequent answer to this question is something that is absolutely fundamental to the success of your Dressage journey and that is ‘Contact’.

So, having already written a number of posts on the subject I thought I would attempt to help you to dispel those myths that are hindering you in your progress towards understanding the real meaning of what it is to have a contact and as such engage in ‘conversation’ with your horse.

myth#1 – I can put my horse on the bit

Unfortunately, on the bit is a much used and abused term.  The phrase is somewhat misunderstood and many riders are confused as to the correct meaning.

On the bit

A better terminology is ‘on the aids’, because what we are describing is a horse that is listening, willingly going forward, using the energy being created from your forward thrusting aid from the hind quarters; submitting to these aids and comfortable in the mouth and as such is accepting of the bit.

The rider does not put the horse on the bit.  The horse is said to be on the bit – a term that so inadequately describes what you are really putting your effort into training towards – when he seeks and accepts the contact with the bit as offered by you, the rider.

myth#2 – My horse should feel light in the hand when he’s ‘on the bit’

Riders often mistakenly look for lightness at the beginning of their training.  Whilst it is, strictly speaking, very true that we are looking for lightness unfortunately, not all lightness is good, there is such a thing as ‘false’ lightness.

At the training levels, what I have described as ‘false’ lightness should actually be described as a ‘lack of connection’. At the beginning of your training you must ensure that you can feel some weight in your hands, you need to be able to feel the connection of the hind legs.  Think about it … You can have total lightness if you ride around with loops in the reins. But there’s no connection from back to front.

Only really when you start collection does true lightness begin. International Dressage Rider from the USA, Jane Savoie said … “Your horse has to be correctly heavy above before he can be correctly light or in other words your horse has to be connected before he can be collected”.

So how do you know if you have made the connection?

  • You will really feel like you and your horse are one unit.
  • He will be ‘in front of the leg’ (so will not need continual reminders from you to keep going).
  • His back will be up and swinging.
  • You will feel the power as the horse takes you forward, carrying weight on his hindquarters.
  • You will feel like you can work your horse through transitions, smoothly and promptly.
  • There will be no resistance in the mouth and the horse’s entire body
  •  will be submissive.
  • The head will be steady without pulling or leaning.
  • The mouth will be moist and frothy.How many of you are allowing the energy your horse is creating to seep out of the ‘front door’ by giving too much with your hand and body?

myth#3 – My hands are the most important aid when it comes to rein contact

No – your legs and seat are the most important aids when it comes to rein contact.

Your horse must be forward, we all know this, yes?  So it follows that if you only use your hands when trying to make a connection you are simply getting the head down and creating an artificial head-set and this is because you are riding from ‘front to back’ – see “a back to front problem”

Your focus should NOT be on the front end of the horse but it should be on ensuring that he is forward thinking and ‘hot off the leg’.

DrivingYou should always use your driving aids before you use your reins, you are looking to capture the energy of the forward thrust and recycle that power back to the hind legs.  If you use your hands before your horse is moving forward you have nothing to work with.  If your horse is slow to react or reacts half-heartedly to your legs, you need to work hard to get him to give you the right reaction to your subtle aids.  A horse can feel a fly on his side so it’s logical that he can feel a light aid.  So it is the connecting leg aids that you need to work on and they need to be light.

The point is to get a clearly forward, clean off the leg answer to your requests.  Your only goal when you start this process is to get some kind of enthusiastic answer that shows your horse is paying attention to you.

Only then can you give the rein aids to begin recycling the created energy.

myth #4 – When we talk of outline we are referring to the shape made by the head and neck of the horse

Circle

Physically, outline is a round silhouette that occurs when you ride your horse from behind, over his back, through his neck, and into your hands.  And at that point the energy can be recycled back to the hind legs.

So a ‘round outline’ is the frame that is seen from hocks to nose.  It is the flexion of the hind limbs that has a direct effect upon the horse’s ability to flex his jaw and lower his nose.  It is the stepping further forward with the hind legs and thus the transference of weight from the forehand to the quarters that ‘lightens’ the forehand.

It is worth noting that the novice or untrained horse (whatever the age) needs time to develop strength and flexibility to execute the desired ‘roundness’.

myth#5 – My hands should be ‘still’

This is what is known as a paradox (a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true!).  Quiet or still hands are something every rider aspires to.  However, it is impossible to attain without a good, independent seat. The problem is that riders often worry that their hands are not steady enough so they stiffen their arms an effort to keep their hands still. For a horse to have complete acceptance of the bit he must have total trust and be relaxed with the rider’s hands (via the reins) in the mouth.

So, what does ‘still hands’ really mean?  Still hands start at the shoulders.  The shoulders should be ‘back and down’.  Elbows should rest against the torso.  Now is the time for you to make a conscious recognition that your horse is moving!  Therefore, if you are in harmony with your horse, you will be moving too.

The horse moves his head forward and back in walk.  In trot the head and neck move up and down and in canter the head moves up and down as well as forward and back.  In all of these paces it is best if the rider ‘allows’ this movement with the hands.  It takes time and practice to synchronise one’s hands to the movement of the horse, but once mastered it is a technique which becomes second nature.

All parts of your body that are in contact with your horse should move. So if your seat and hands are not flexible, supple, and mobile enough to move with your horse, his movement will have to leak out some place.  Usually the movement comes out in your extremities, resulting in unsteady hands or nodding head or rocking body at every stride. Any of that type of motion usually indicates that your lower back is stiff or your hips are not loose and following enough to absorb the movement.  So rather than forcing yourself to keep your hands steady, focus on absorbing the movement through your seat and hips. The more your seat and hips absorb the movement of your horse, the less your extremities will bounce.

The paradox is that for your hands to be still you need to employ a ‘following’ hand, which essentially is a hand that moves.  But it is not the hand that moves it is the elbows, which should open and close in the same rhythm and to the same degree as the hips in order for the rider’s hand to follow the horse’s motion and remain steady. If you use your hands to keep your balance you are essentially tightening your elbow joints.  Tension here makes it impossible for you to follow your horse’s motion correctly.

Your first port of call when trying to correct your hands is your seat!

myth#6 – My horse should be in ‘self carriage’

Just a small point here … Yes, ultimately, the horse should be able to move in self-carriage with minimal touch from the rider’s hands, however, this takes a long time to achieve.  Don’t beat yourself up about it whilst you are on the journey to Dressage success.  Those of us lesser mortals who are training young horses or working at the training levels up to advanced must be practical and give the horse the support he needs.  This means making adjustments when necessary, giving, softening when as well as firmness and sufficient weight in the hand to make a connection.

The only NEVER rule is DO NOT PULL BACKWARDS.

Ok, I hear you cry, myths dispelled, Thanks! … How do I actually get my horse connected?  There are three key ingredients to this particular recipe.

  1. Firstly, your driving aids … seat and legs
  2. Secondly, your bending aids … inside leg on girth, outside leg behind the girth, seat bone weight to the inside.
  3. Third and final ingredient, your outside rein … the rein that controls the speed; the rein that controls the bend; the rein that stops ‘too much’ happening.

Employ these three ingredients and you have the ‘connecting aids’.  Clearly, given that a key ingredient is the bending aids, the best place to begin the connecting aids is on a circle.

Give it all a go, and chill out about all the myths!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

 

I – IS FOR INDEPENDENCE

IStriving for independence?  I’d be interested to know what you are doing for this.  This phrase is misunderstood and confusing with so many different interpretations of what is actually meant by ‘independence’ in riding.

For me a better word is interdependence (although way too big and student unfriendly) because as much as we are taught to have independent hands, seat and legs what we are actually striving for is a fully coordinated effort where interdependency between hands, seat and legs, together with the horses movement is essential. 1

When training a pupil, words matter – it is the way you describe what is being asked that either gives them the light bulb moment … or not!

On a more literal level, the term independence can be rightly assigned to describe a rider’s ability to use each body part independently of the other, so for example, using the lower leg should not result in tightening of the thigh or movement in the hip.  Each body part is flexible enough and strong enough to do its job without any compensation in another part of the body.  You need to feel like you could unscrew your top half from your bottom half also.

Work should start on the ground.  Any rider who has shaky balance or who is physically unfit will not be able to achieve independent body parts once mounted.  A horse reflects our own movements much more than we realise.  Sitting correctly in the saddle and personal fitness plays an important role in the achievement of good quality riding.

In order to achieve independence you will need to work on your breathing, posture, strength, flexibility and balance.

Trainers usually apply the term independent seat when they are trying to correct a rider who has dependence on the rein to maintain their balance whilst in the saddle; or as a way of achieving collection; or to pull a horse’s head into a so-called ‘outline’ to give the appearance of him being ‘on the bit’.  Many riders struggle with letting go of the rein because they simply have no understanding of how the pelvis controls the forward motion of the horse.  Acquiring an independent seat takes a great deal of time and dedication.  Due to the patience and time required a truly independent seat is a rarity in Dressage, when it really should be something for beginners.

2

Here’s what to do … why not test yourself on the lunge with a friend and just see whether you have a reliance on the reins, many of you, even established competition riders will be surprised at how your balance is affected without reins.  This will tell you how much work you have to do.

Another quick test;  In trot, gradually allow your reins to be taken down through your hands until you have a loose rein, continue trotting until you are on the buckle end.  If you begin to feel unbalanced, you have some work to do.

Go on, give it a go!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

H – IS FOR HARMONY

HarmonyHarmony is to fit together, to join, like the relationship between different pitches in a song.  One note on its own is good, two notes with slightly differing pitches together sound better.  (More musical connotations).

In your training you are aiming for a harmonious picture, but what does this actually mean?  Well, think about being equal in thought, attentive, sensitive, listening to each other where every muscle you use, every thought you have results in a reaction, either by the horse or you.

What the judge is looking for and therefore, what you should strive for is HARMONY.

When this is achieved, the communication between you and your horse is barely perceptible; Harmonyyou will appear to move ‘as one’.  The horse should be reading and responding to your body language, his heart rate will rise and fall with yours.  The two minds, that of your horse and your own fully synchronised.

Imaging then that you are frustrated, angry or anxious – this will, without doubt, have an effect on your horse. How important then for your mind to be quietly focussed in the present moment? – The Here and Now.

So, how do you achieve this state of mind?  There have been many studies on the subject of sports psychology and as always the answer is through practice; you cannot stop the feelings of frustration or anxiety so you should notice them and without being judgemental about yourself, control your reactions to them.  It is when in a relaxed state of concentration that the sense of effortlessness comes.  Only then can you become fully immersed in the feeling of the ‘Here and Now’ because you are not reacting to the feelings or thinking of the consequences.  This is called being in a ‘flow’ state.

HarmonyNo matter how you are feeling, learn to say ‘Hi’ to those feelings but pay them no attention.  Park them and continue with your training.  They can sit and watch you ride well!

Here’s what to do … focus wholly on the current exercise, this will serve to optimise cooperation and harmony between you and your horse.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

The Downward Transition

TransitionHappy New Year to you all, lets get on with some training shall we?

The old masters taught that all training occurs in transitions and as I have advocated many times, without doubt, transitions can be used to improve balance, suppleness and obedience.  But correct transitions are not easy.

Today I am looking at downward transitions and here’s the thing, you know that I do like to keep things simple, but I am about to perplex you for which I apologise …

Continue reading The Downward Transition

ON THE BIT

on the bitHello there Dressage enthusiasts …

I have received a message from a ‘Real Life Rider’ who is “struggling with a green horse curling at any contact and getting anxious and rushy when asked to rebalance and slow the tempo”.

My Advice: 

Maintenance of the contact or for your horse to ‘accept the bit’ she must have total trust and be relaxed with your hands (via the reins) in the mouth.  To truly have a horse on the bit or to have your horse accept the bit will take many months of hard and sometimes frustrating work.

Curling, or over-bending is the lesser of the evils associate with bad contact.  You must keep your horse going forward and as you say work on the tempo. However, don’t be tempted to slow too much with a horse that over-bends; much better that you stay forward, even TOO forward initially until the curling is sorted.  Slowing will just settle the horse into a false sense of security and will be more difficult to deal with.

So, send her forward and give forward slightly with the rein from the elbow.  If she leans or pulls – work on transitions.  You should, as soon as possible, take a light but positive contact with the reins.

You should work on short bursts of hard work.  Take up the contact, send her forward, be real steady in your hands, hold her in position, work the arena to keep her thinking and then, back to walk and drop the contact to the buckle end allowing her to stretch.

If she has worked hard enough her nose will hit the floor!  This will start to build the top line and musculature she needs to hold herself in the contact.

If your horse pulls on the reins in an effort to go faster, then you should do many (and I really mean many) downward transitions and repeatedly give and re-take the reins.  This will encourage balance and rhythm on a lighter contact.

Use the exercise of spiralling in and out of a circle laterally. i.e. Making the circle smaller, say 10 meters, with the outside leg, then make the circle bigger, say 20 meters, from the inside leg and a soft or giving inside rein.

on the bit

Change the rein often.

When you feel your horse has stopped pulling on the inside rein, use your inside hand with the inside rein to stroke your horse’s neck. This has two benefits.

  • Firstly it rewards the horse for not pulling on the inside rein.
  • Secondly it will prove to you that you do not need the inside rein to bend or turn your horse.

If you are struggling with contact issues, enter the word ‘contact’ into the search at the top of the page and you will get all my posts relating to this issue.

Here to help!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com