Here’s the thing – You simply cannot pull your horse up off the forehand, so if you have a horse that pulls down on your hands, barely uses his hind legs let alone pushes from them, is heavy, hard to manoeuvre and thoroughly unpleasant to ride; if you feel like your horse would fall on his face if you were to release the contact … then you have a horse that is on the forehand.
The above is extreme, although not unknown but like with all things in dressage think with a little more subtlety.
- Do you have a horse that pulls down slightly?
- Is your horse slightly trailing out behind?
- Does your horse feel a little heavy in the hand?
If so, you too have a horse that is on the forehand. It’s not all about feeling the weight of your horse in your hands though. If your horse is carrying more weight on his shoulders than the hind quarters then he is on the forehand.
So, do you push or do you pull? The answer is, of course, push. You are never going to pull the horse up bit like our unfortunate rider in the image above by Dianne Breeze, again a little extreme, but really oh, so funny!
What to do? Have a go at these suggestions:
- Push your horse forward on a longer rein than usual and ask him to take bigger steps with his hind legs.
- Once the horse is striding out, pick up the contact and with half-halts and lots of transitions, you will begin to achieve lightness at the front of the horse.
- Lateral Work will help your horse to carry more weight on his hind legs.
- Direct transitions, like walk to canter and halt to trot can build strength and aid the weight shift.
- For those of you doing more advanced work in need of a little encouragement to carry more weight behind, working pirouettes are an excellent exercise.
- Variations within gaits is another good one, so use working trot to medium trot and back again; medium walk to collected walk and back again; working canter to medium canter and back again.
Any change in your usual routine should be done slowly at first, but as ever, the more you do the more you will train your horse to carry himself on his haunches. You must concentrate on the hind legs in your work, we are trying to get the front up, but we must concentrate on the haunches. See Back to Front Problem post.
The goal? A lighter, more pleasant horse to ride, easy to manoeuvre and flexible and generally much happier as an athlete. You must be patient. The horse carries himself naturally on the forehand, to retrain him to carry weight onto his hind legs whilst carrying a rider, may take a few months. Your horse needs to built strength and discipline to avoid leaning on your hands consistently.
Please be patient. It is so worth it.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster