* This is the second part of a three part series. In Part I, we discussed "Take Up The Contact". Click here to read Part I.
Stage Two: "On the Bit"
Eventually, "contact" begins to take on a deeper meaning. You will find out that just shortening the reins won't help your horse a lot. The horse will tend to feel any pressure you put on the reins, and will often either brace or tense against your pull.
We've previously talked about how pulling is not the answer to achieving healthy and quality movement. The simple reason is that every time you pull, you block the horse's energy from his hind end and through his back - resulting in a shortening of the horse's stride and a reduction in his ability to use the inside hind leg for balance.
Stage Two is when you start to notice the "pull" and do something about it. Although you know you need to shorten the reins for better communication, you begin to learn that contact cannot happen if it doesn't start in the hind end. So you begin to use your legs and seat to initiate the shorter rein length. Notice that the short rein happens as a result of impulsion/engagement. First, you activate the hind end. Then you shorten the reins.
When you ask the horse to engage (come under the body deeper with the hind legs), the horse's body will round more. The horse uses his topline muscles better and suddenly, your previously shortened reins seem too long! This happens because in rounding, the horse's body actually becomes shorter.
So at Stage Two, you initiate movement with your seat and legs. The horse uses that energy to round through the body and come to the bit. Even though you shortened the reins enough before you asked for the horse to round, it is the horse that takes the bit at this stage.
To repeat: the horse takes the bit.
You don't pull back or harder to get a result. The horse steps "forward" - to the bit. Some people call this action "seeking the bit". The only thing you do is decide on a rein length (by the way, it could be short or long - it's not the rein length that matters) and then send the horse to the bit from your seat and legs. Then you maintain balance through well-timed half-halts.
You will know this happened the first time you get it. It feels great! The "contact" is light, the horse's whole body, including the poll becomes soft, and the movement becomes bouncy bouncy - in a nice, round, trampoline-y sort of way. You will likely get a snort or two, and the horse will feel as buoyant as you do...
...even if it only lasts a few strides! 😉
You will also feel a distinct difference between the feel of the contact between this and the first stage, when you just shortened the reins. This feel is more like you're really communicating, progressing through space together. The pull feeling is replaced by a contact feeling (if that makes sense!). You're in touch but not in a heavy way. The horse feels distinctly more powerful and round. Your aids become clearer and your horse feels freer even while he responds sooner and easier.
Stage Two: "On the Bit"
- initiate from the hind end
- horse steps to the bit
- horse rounds
- shorten the reins
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Listening Corner: Contact and "On the Bit": Read the words of some of the masters about this concept.
18 Reasons to Establish "Forward" Energy: It’s not exactly about just getting the horse moving faster – this is where the ideas of impulsion and then engagement become more critical.
Collection: A Beginning Exercise To Try: Your leg and seat aids combined will be morphing into something new to tell the horse: put more energy into your movement, reach deeper underneath your body, and begin to tilt your pelvis so that you can start to carry rather than push.
17 Things I Learned While Developing My Seat: Maybe some of these will resonate with you too.
What To Do When Your Horse Pulls: “Pulling” is something that is absolutely under your control and something you can change if you focus on your aids and timing.