Regardless of whether you are just beginning to ride, or if you've ridden for years, there is a way to develop your horse's trust and confidence, especially as it relates to his mouth and head.
As we progress in our skill and coordination, we eventually learn that we can ride from our seat and core first, before we use the hands. But the hands are the first thing we tend to want to go to, especially when we find ourselves in a sticky situation.
So this article is about how you can "take contact" in a predictable, consistent manner. Although we are talking about the reins in this article, bear in mind that nothing in riding is done in isolation, including taking up rein pressure. Whenever you use the reins, you should first be riding forward from the seat and legs. However, we will focus on just the reins at this time.
If you can learn to give and take the bit in a calm, sure way, the horse will always benefit. It doesn't matter if you ride in a snaffle bit, a curb bit or riding bitless - the technique works the same way on all reins and on all rein lengths. If you are not already doing this when you develop your contact, give it a try and see what happens.
Try This Without the Horse
Play with the feel of contact and rein pressure with the help of a friend. One of you is the horse while the other is the rider (you can take turns).
1. Take up the pressure to a point that it feels good for the "horse". Not too much but also avoid leaving the reins too loose. Have the "horse" pull on you left and right, and practice moving your hands with the pull in a way that doesn't increase the pressure regardless of what your horse does. In reality, your horse won't be pulling in this manner, but it is a good way to develop steady contact regardless of what is happening.
2. Then give the reins incrementally in a way that the "horse" doesn't feel like she was dropped suddenly with nothing in the mouth. You create space with the reins but you don't just give it all away at once.
3. Now just for fun, try dropping the reins. Take up the pressure and suddenly let go. This will let the "horse" feel what it's like to suddenly have no pressure on the "mouth". Also try jerking - sudden pulls and drops in the rein. This is exactly why you don't want to drop the reins suddenly, or jerk the rein contact on and off.
The give should be so slight that it's almost not possible for an onlooker to see the difference in rein length. What she will see if you are riding a horse, however, is the response of the horse - he will round, soften in his head, neck and eyes and generally appear less tense or forced into position.
Now Try It on the Horse
Take a steady and firm hold of the reins. How much you want to shorten the reins depends on your bit and riding style. Let's assume you are riding in a snaffle bit. Shorten the reins enough that you have some pressure on the horse's mouth, as required by your horse and the situation. In most cases, a light but steady pressure is ideal.
Keep your hands in front of the saddle and shorten the reins enough so that you can feel the horse's mouth. Maintain an even pressure regardless of what the horse does, or what your body does to balance. Avoid increasing pressure unless necessary.
Try giving the reins. There are many occasions when you want to "release" the reins to the horse.
Maybe your horse softened his poll or jaw or lightened the pressure on your hands. You want to let him know he's right by giving a little in the reins.
Maybe you want to give him a little "space" to move forward to the bit or lengthen his neck. By giving him this slight release and forward aids from your seat and legs, he can step deeper underneath his body and increase in impulsion.
In any case, give the reins smoothly and steadily forward. It should feel like you are almost pushing the reins forward rather than dropping them. Avoid making an abrupt change of pressure. You can always give the reins out more and more (as in the case of a stretchy walk, trot or canter) as the horse reaches forward toward the space you have created.
With a little experimentation, you can find out the amount of pressure your horse likes the most. Some horses want very little rein pressure while others feel secure with more pressure. While you want to always work toward the least amount of pressure necessary, don't feel that you can't take pressure.
As long as you do it smoothly and calmly, your horse will learn that he can trust the hands at the end of the reins!
What are your thoughts on rein pressure? Comment below.
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Read more here:
5 Steps to Effective Short Reins: Just as with any other movement and technique that is taught to horses, short reins can be very beneficial to the horse when applied correctly.
Find the Space Between the Give and Take in Horse Riding: As with so many other things in life, we need to find the happy medium.
Why A Release Is Not A Let Go in Horseback Riding: Many people interpret the term ‘Release’ literally – but that’s not what really means.
Here’s How (and Why) You Should Ride With Bent Elbows: How to avoid an on-again, off-again contact with the horse’s mouth.
In Praise of the (Horse Riding) Hand: How to develop hands that sing poetry in your horse’s mind!