There are a lot of problems that can occur when riding a horse. Although they all end up looking like different issues, if you think about it carefully, you might notice that there is one common denominator. Click on the image to see a mind map of behaviors that can be improved using one back-to-basics technique, in any discipline and riding style.

Please note: ALWAYS check with your vet and other professionals first to clear out any health or tack-related concerns. 

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Click on image to enlarge

All of these riding problems have many possible solutions and if one technique doesn't work, it is your job as the rider to find out how to approach it from a different direction. However, there is one solution that will improve if not completely resolve the issue - whether it be straightness, slowness, speed, or any of the other problems listed above.

Forward

Not the running faster kind, but the kind that allows the horse to move into strong balance. While you need to encourage the horse to move on, first from your legs and seat, you also should help the horse develop his balance through half-halts so that you don't inadvertently just push him too fast and down on his forehand.

With a combination of energy activation with your seat and legs, and well-timed half-halts, you can encourage (or allow, if your aids have been too tight) the horse to better stride underneath himself and use his own strength to balance.

A truly forward horse doesn't rush. Rather, it feels like he has all the time in the world for his legs to come through for each stride. For the observer, it appears that the horse is in animated movement but it is supremely balanced and in control of his energy.

Just by virtue of moving with energy and impulsion, he straightens out. His legs stride straight ahead. His shoulders and back swing in rhythm with his animated steps. He stops drifting because he uses both sides of his body effectively. By moving "forward", you can dramatically reduce or eliminate his balking, stopping and running backward.

The Result

He has no need to buck, rear or kick out simply because he is confidently moving ahead. The tension in his body dissipates and his ears soften. Because your aids continually give him space to move into, his jaw and poll soften and he begins to respond with increased trust in your aids. He becomes less distracted by objects or other horses and has little to be concerned about other than feeling good in his body and moving.

Suddenly, you discover that your "behind the leg" horse is maintaining his own activity and you have to learn to give him the freedom to move rather than constantly nag with your aids.

Getting There

One of the first things we teach a young horse is how to go forward. But it doesn't stop there. Developing true "forward" (not just forward as in moving ahead) is a lifelong, developmental process that we have to come back to time and again, every time we explore new movements or skills.

Moving truly forward is something you have to work on during your whole ride. It isn't a button you can just press on your horse! Not only do you have to carefully promote it in your horse, but you also have to learn to do it yourself, all the time!

Initially, it seems like an awful lot of work. You might have to become more aware of what you are doing than you have ever been. The tasks of keeping the horse going and then going with him, yourself, are challenging enough to begin with.

As time passes, you become more used to the forward feeling and so does the horse. You both will have an easier time maintaining it especially in the movements that you have mastered. But beware! Every time you learn something new, you need to develop the forward inclination all over again.

Now I'm not saying that forward is the answer to all riding problems. There is so much more to it than the few words I can write here, or anything you might be able to see on a video. But moving in a forward manner is one of the most fundamental aspects of riding.

Developing a true forward feel can only be done with a good instructor who can teach you, give you feedback and then teach you even more after you gain some mastery! But if you give it a try, you might be pleased to see the results - in any riding discipline and style. And most importantly, your horse will thank you.

How do you interpret "forward"? Please comment below.

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3d Book 2More related articles:

Go and No: The Connection Between Forward and Half-Halt in Horse Riding: We have to learn the coordination between “go and no” – all the while, keeping our balance to give the appropriate aids while not pulling on the reins.

How to Do A "Forward" Back-Up:  It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. You MUST make the back-up into a forward movement.

How You Can See A Horse's Active Back - And What To Do When it Happens:  An active back is fairly easy to identify. Take a look at the horse’s back behind the saddle.

#1 Rider Problem of the Year: Confusing Aids:  One of the most overlooked aspects of harmonization comes not from the horse becoming one with the rider, but within the rider herself.

Ready? Steady! (Or How To Ride Calmly and With Consistency:  Achieving consistency in riding is not a matter of waving a wand and then simply hanging on for the ride.

14 Comments

  1. “Developing a true forward feel can only be done with a good instructor who can teach you, give you feedback and then teach you even more after you gain some mastery!”
    –probably the most important sentence in this blog post.

  2. I interpret “forward” as happily moving along without the need to prod or push in any way. Sometimes needing to be half halted, but not argued with.

  3. I love your articles! My trainer says a similar thing: If something is right(such as the horse being hollow, unbalanced, or whatever else may wrong) the answer is almost always to add leg so the horse becomes more forward.

  4. To me this means being as one with your horse,something I always am trying to achieve,going bitless has made me so much more aware of using my seat and leg aids correctly,and it has been helping in my quest to be as one with my horse!!

  5. My problem is the one you call Laziness. I have been working with a good instructor (for about 2 years) and have made significant improvement in many facets of my riding. However my horse would still prefer Western Pleasure pace to dressage forward. I’m still waiting for (as you said) “Suddenly, you discover that your “behind the leg” horse is maintaining his own activity and you have to learn to give him the freedom to move rather than constantly nag with your aids.” To be honest I don’t think this will ever happen. If I’m not constantly driving him he just wants to stop. He has been thoroughly vet checked.

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