drift out
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Each year, I try to pinpoint one essential rider problem that is prevalent with most riders. Two years ago, we discussed the outside rein, last year it was the leg aid and so this year, let's discuss something we all do or have probably done at one point in our riding career.

Admit it! You've probably tried it yourself.

Pull.  

Any direction will do, really. Up, down, open rein, closed rein, back to the thigh... we can get creative about it. The main goal is to get that horse to finally give, usually through the jaw, poll and maybe neck area, so that there can be less tension, or pull, or tightness through the head, neck and back. The horse also might level out into a frame that is desirable in your riding discipline.

Most horses do "let go" at some point and emulate softness. The only problem is that while the front end can contort enough to find the release from you, the middle and hind end cannot lie. The back drops or sags, the hind legs shorten stride, the hind end even "camps out" - essentially, the horse travels with a longer back than he might otherwise, precisely because through the act of pulling, we have blocked the energy that is travelling to the front of the horse.

But we do it anyway. (Trust me - I have the T-shirt.)

****

"Framing" a horse is one of those essential things we tend to obsess over once we can keep our balance well enough to be able to work on other things. By then, we can "feel" well enough to know that the horse is moving stiffly and with uneven steps. We can feel the tension radiate through the horse from the jaw to the back and into our very core.

Once in a while, the horse loosens up and we discover this tension-free, bouncy-floaty feeling that we know is right, but then, as soon as we turn to look the other way, the horse falls out of that riding heaven. We are left forever after wanting to emulate that feeling in every ride.

So we pull.

But there is another way. 

In order to truly "round" a horse - versus "frame" a horse - you want the energy to come over the top line. You want to feel the forward thrust of the hind legs that seems to bolster movement rather than stifle it. You want to let that energy come "through" rather than stop it.

But you can't exactly let it all go either.

Aye, there's the eternal rub.

Regardless of your rein length, and your riding discipline, you can't "drop the connection" if you want to contain energy. Well, unless both you and your horse are at a level of self-carriage that allows you to control your balance with nothing but seat, leg and weight aids.

Let's assume most of us are not at that level.

1. Half-Halt

Start with a half-halt. Use it to prepare your horse for the upcoming "go" aid. 

After you half-halt, give just a little. The idea isn't to pull. It's just a chance for you to create a better connection before you send energy forward. Create the space but don't completely drop the horse.

2. Then Go

This is the critical part.

Instead of pulling back and reducing energy, you need to build up controlled energy. You need to bolster, encourage, engage.

Then, you need to ask your horse to do the same.

You might use just a seat aid. Or you might combine both the seat and the leg. Whatever you decide to do, the result should be that your horse steps deeper with the hind legs and responds with a surge of energy that might even give you a small whip-lash effect. Be ready for it and go with the horse.

3. How to Round

If you just let everything go, and the horse did in fact energize, then he will either just run faster-faster in the gait, or fall to the forehand or both. Think of a tube of toothpaste as the toothpaste squirts out of the front end.

So to control that energy, and to transfer it over the topline of the horse and encourage the horse to round, you have to do something that will "catch" that energy and recycle it to stay within the horse. This is where a second effective half-halt becomes critical.

At the right moment, you have to say "no" to the go. But it must occur after the initial give and go part.

If your timing is right, you might feel your horse grow underneath you. You might feel him lift up like you imagine an airplane lifts - front end high, hind end low.

You will certainly feel the energy surge and a power you might not be used to.

If you're lucky, you might get a snort from your horse. Then you know you are on the right track for sure!

Finally, you might be surprised to discover that your horse naturally rounds when all the requirements are brought together. Suddenly, and apparently from nowhere, he might soften the jaw, thicken through the neck, round his back (and you will feel like you're floating along on a trampoline-like movement) and step deeper underneath with his hind legs. 

And this will happen all at once!

4. Maintain

This last part is something we don't often think about. Once we get "it", we assume that the horse will just stay that way because he loves us so much! 😉

But alas, we discover quickly that if we can't maintain the status quo, the horse's level of ability will quickly diminish to the base level of our riding skills.

To keep the roundness, you have to keep riding forward - with the half-halt, the go and then the no - in a cycle, round and round, over and over.

Then, and only then, will you have true "roundness" and a horse that moves happily, with strength, in a way that will help to keep him sound for years and years.

If you liked this article, and would like to download a free pdf eBook of all the #1 Rider Problem series (a total of 5 articles), click here for more information.

Next time you go to the barn, give these four steps a try and see what your horse has to say about it. Then, let us know how it went in the comments below.

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If you enjoyed the article above, here are more:

Frame, Round or Collection? Do you know the difference, and in a pinch, would you be able to identify it in a moving horse?

In Praise of the (Horse Riding) Hand: How to develop hands that sing poetry in your horse’s mind!

What Being On The Forehand Means to the Horse: The idea here isn’t to cause guilt and doom and gloom; instead, we should learn all we can and take steps to avoid known problems.

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End: Many riders think that kicking the horse along and making the legs move faster is the ticket to engagement – but there is nothing further than the truth!

Breaking the Cycle: It Might Not Be What You DID Do…: … but rather what you DIDN’T do!

23 Comments

  1. Excellent piece! No matter what discipline one rides or trains, what is physically, mentally, and emotionally true about a horse remains constant. There is a time to let go completely, a time to restrict wisely and softly, and a time to support. Those 3 circumstance may repeat in a cycle every minute! Balance. Boldness. Beauty.
    One final question, “Where can I get the t-shirt?” 🙂

  2. Have to agree with Judy. Especially after seeing a video of Anky in a demo ride where she made sure to say that we lesser beings should never try rollkur at home…it’s reserved for the “experts”. My point of view is, why try it at all? My trainer has me do a routine similar to what you described above, and it does work beautifully. So often horses are held back by constant pulling, and it takes a lot of effort and care to show them that they are welcome to move forward. She has me take up contact just enough to shift the balance back a little bit (a very slight “collection”) and encourage the horse to chew. As soon as he chews, I follow his mouth forward–it’s sort of a release but I never lose the contact, just allow him to reach…and give a tiny push with my pelvis. As I do this, he’s figured out that he can then push forward with energy from behind and we go there together. Repeat as needed…which is quite often! The more I do it, the easier it gets for him, until finally he gets around the ring a few times carrying himself correctly with very little interference on my part.

  3. I too was an auditor at Anky’s clinic and your explanation of her ‘give and go’ has completely captured the nuance of her instruction; thank you. A new year’s goal that will be at the top of my list.

  4. Great article! To give an example in simple terms, I love the way Mary Wanless’, author of Ride with Your Mind, gives us the analogy of pushing a baby buggy – or a shopping cart for those of us without children. Think of the feeling you have in your hands and your core as you push a cart/buggy forward, albeit with your thumbs up ; )
    You never let go of the cart/buggy, if it’s rolling along nicely, you just have a soft feel, with closed hands on the handle (or reins). If the cart gets going too fast you contract your core and slow the buggy without throwing your hands out in front of you, or pulling, you just create a resistance that travels from your body through your arms, to your hands. Try it the next time your at the grocery store or pushing your baby buggy and think about how those feelings translate to ‘on- horse’. Of course, a necessary piece is having your horse moving forward off the leg in the ‘on-horse version’. It takes a lot of courage to try the suggestion in this well-written article and not pull. It can become a bit of a safety net to a not-so-secure seat!!

  5. Excellent article and I agree totally. I like how you put everything into simple words that we can understand. A great re-fresher since I will be working on a young one again very soon! No doubt I will print this out and hang it up somewhere to refer to 🙂

  6. HILLS. For those of us who are bored with arena work, or for advanced horses that have had time off and do not need elementary building work (it fries them! They LEARN to pull!). Trotting evenly up AND down hills will tell you exactly how strong your horse is without having to pull on them at all 🙂

  7. Another great article and guilty as charged. I definitly used to to try to pull horses together until I realized that is not true collection or balance. Everything needs to come from that hind end. Also, once you feel true connection and softness, you realize what a lie it is to just focus on that head and neck.

  8. I really liked this article. Recently I was told by a small group of people that I was uneducated in believing horses could go into frame without the rider continuously pulling hard on the reins to “keep them there”. It was a little surreal, so I decided to look up some articles just to make sure what I had learned about “being in frame” and “collection” coming from the rise of the back and then when they’re strong enough the horse can hold it’s head/neck up on its own – not pulling the horse’s chin to their chest – was correct. Although, I am a little disturbed to read in the comments that Anky van Grunsven support the use of Rolkur, I think that’s a different comment for a different subject.

  9. love your explanation! but how do you deal with trainers that tell you to “set your hands” and “don’t give” nor do they encourage pushing the horse forward with the riders leg???

  10. Excellent article! I’m thankful that I left my original trainer and found an eventing trainer who has always taught me to ask the horse to move correctly – and then the “frame” eventually appears. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who throw their horses in draw reins as a quick way to find that desired frame, but it doesn’t end up benefiting anyone in the long run. (Not bashing on draw reins, just the people who use them incorrectly!)

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