5 Ways To Be A Confident Horse Rider

5 Ways To Be A Confident Horse Rider
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography


We all know that we should be riding horses with confidence. 

We know that horses can literally sense our state of mind - not through some heebie-jeebie magical mythical powers, but quite simply because they feel us through the saddle. They feel our aids, our balance... and our hesitance.

But we can do something about that.

It's possible that some riders have more intrinsic confidence than others. But confidence is the by-product of the skills we learn. Here are five ways you can learn to improve your confidence while in the saddle.

1. Let the horse move.

It takes a certain amount of courage to let the horse really move underneath you. Many of us tend to hold back the horse and ourselves using the reins - to slow down, contain, "collect" (probably not really but that's what we're thinking we're doing), and even hang on. Sometimes, we also hold back physically, getting behind in the horse's movement.

I don't mean that the horse should run off and we should do nothing. We should always strive for connection, balance and straightness. We should always be watching to maintain correct rhythm and a good tempo for our horse.

But it's more about letting the horse find his balance, energize enough to be able to use his hind end, and flow in the gait. If you can allow the movement, you might be surprised at first about how much ground a horse can cover in relatively few strides. It might feel powerful and strong.

Your body has to get used to the movement. Sometimes, you might have to consciously work to stay with the horse, especially in the upper body.

2. Never mind the bobbles.

A confident rider lets the bobbles roll off her back. In other words, if the horse takes a misstep, or goes for a little romp, the confident rider has enough skill to roll with the flow, as it were, and still be there at the end to ride on. She goes through all that with little stress and maybe a giggle. The horse feels her confidence and settles.

Now I'm not saying that the confident rider aspires to be a bronc rider. But the bobbles will invariably happen, and the cooler you can be, the quicker you can get back to your rhythm and tempo, the better you and your horse will be in the long run.

Which begs the question: how can you learn to ride the bounce?

Well, you do have to earn the skill to stay on when a horse takes a step sideways or upwards. It helps if you have a great horse (and instructor) to let you develop your seat early in your riding career. Lunging lessons are hard to find but indispensable and the quickest path to a great seat. Otherwise, there is no answer other than ride, ride and ride (many horses if possible). It's about practice, time and experience.

3. Ride with patience and influence.

I've written about patience and how it relates to riding in The #1 Rider Problem of 2016: PatienceEssentially, I feel that riding with patience is a key component of confidence. Riders who can be patient about skill acquisition, practice and self-development invariably become composed, confident riders. 

What does patience look like?

  • the rider who looks to herself to improve the horse's movement.
  • the willingness to wait a little longer for the horse's response.
  • knowing that finishing on a good note is more than enough from a day's ride - even if the desired movement was not perfectly achieved.

When a rider has influence over the horse, she can be effective. Influence is evident by the rider's ability to get the horse's calm, relaxed response. She makes immediate corrections (or anticipates problems so that they don't appear in the first place). She uses small aids that "go through." She maintains her balance while she improves her horse's balance. She sets her horse up for success.

4. Stay open in your torso.

You can probably spot a defensive or fearful rider by their posture. And so it is the same with the confident rider.

If you can maintain tone and strength in your upper body, you can stay "open" in your torso. This means that your upper body is tall and stays tall through movement. Your shoulder blades are dropped down and together enough that your shoulders are even and square. Your hips are open enough to allow your core to move freely with the horse's back. Your chin is parallel to the ground and your eyes are looking between your horse's ears.

The opposite is the ever-common fetal position (when the rider hunches over and falls toward the horse's neck), rounded shoulders, looking down and carrying tension in the body.

You can fake this till you make it.

5. Breathe.

Finally, a confident rider breathes. In every gait. Through all the figures.

Because lack of breath pretty much ensures tension, tightness, and being forced to have to stop before you're done with the movement.

If you have to collapse at the end of a canter set (or similar), you know that you're probably not breathing. If you find yourself huffing and puffing, see if you can make it a point to breathe in and out in rhythm with your horse's strides.

If you want, you can try counting out loud, or do what I make my students do - sing along in tempo with your horse's movement. The singing takes you out of your left brain and into your right, makes you breathe and acts as a calming influence for you and your horse.

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

First, Plan Your Ride. Then, Scrap It: Even though you are inspired to get that horse to do the next cool thing, your horse might simply not be ready.

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Are you an average rider? Then join the club!

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

Finding Your Comfortable Un-Comfort in Riding: Being uncomfortable is often a good place to be in riding.

23 Ways to Solve the Riding Problem: Of course, we rarely speak of the one "true" way...


A Horsey Valentine’s Song

Dear Readers,

My human-mom has this unbreakable habit of singing songs (out loud!) while she rides. I think it's because of the incredible acoustics of the indoor arena - she must think she's on stage or something. But it got me thinking about creating a song of my very own, extra special for you on Valentine's Day.

Once you know the words, maybe you might want to sing along with me. It's sung to the tune of If You're Happy And You Know It.

With Love, Cyrus


A Horsey Valentine's Song 


I hear your car before you even park,

Out beside the barn down on the slope.

I know you're coming by the pitter-patter of your steps

And the clanging of the snap on the lead rope.


I lift my head and perk my pointy ears

I twist my neck just so and strain to see.

I hear it's Valentine's Day and so I lick my lips and chew,

Anticipating the treats you've brought for me.


You lead me down the lane back to the barn.

You pick my feet and brush my glossy coat.

You fluff my mane and tail, sprinkle me with smelly spray

All the while, I dream of munching on my oats.




The saddle's on and next you wrap my legs.

The bridle's set and we're going for a ride.

I thought I made it clear, you were going to be a dear

And spoil me with all the treats that you supplied.


So we're off and trudging through the knee deep snow,

The air is crisp, the sky a clear bright blue,

As we walk along the path, I consider the aftermath,

Of what will happen if I run back home with you.

The sun is low, it's time we turn around.

The barn is warm, the stall calls out my name.

There's a delicious smell inside, my excitement I cannot hide!

It's a happy Valentine's Day all the same!


Horse Listening

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Here are some more poems, just for fun!

Moment of Beauty: Caught in the moment and recognizing it.

Because of Horses: What has changed in your life because of horses?

A Recipe for Living: If life were a recipe, what would it look like?

Living in Flying Changes: I wrote this short poem after a wonderfully exhilarating night ride.

Eight Legs Plus Two: A poem.

How Many Aids Are You Using?!

Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

"Which aids are you using?" I routinely ask my students this as they develop a particular skill, especially once they have gained enough experience that they can analyze a problem while they ride.

But here, we can do it off the horse. Let's use this example:

You are in left lead canter, and getting ready to leave the rail to make a left circle. As you head into the circle, your horse drifts out, loses balance and breaks into trot. (If this does really happen to you, don't worry! It happens all the time to all levels of rider and horse!)

It's like he is losing just enough balance that he is unable to maintain the canter. What aids would you use to correct the problem?

(If you like, stop here and quickly think about or jot down the aids you would use. Then read on. I've added links in blue to other articles that explain some of the specific concepts better.)

1) Outside Neck Rein

One of the most common errors is to use the inside rein to pull the horse into a turn. When you pull on the inside rein, though, the horse's neck has to follow your hand. So before you know it, the neck is pulled to the inside, which requires the outside shoulder to bulge outward. The horse then HAS to step out in order to manage to stay upright. While you're trying to turn the horse left, he's got his neck left but is actually stepping right. 

Use the outside neck rein to catch the outside shoulder that wants to bulge toward the rail. That helps keep the horse's front end from drifting around the turn. The neck rein is also the initiator of the turn.

2) Outside Leg

Use the outside leg to prevent the horse's hip from swinging out.

Another tendency is for the horse to swing the hind end outward. When you are on a turn, you want the horse to turn "straight" (well, not literally, but physically). If you use your outside leg back slightly, you can influence the hind end so that it follows the front end on a single track. 

There's got to be more than just those two aids. So let's fill in the details. It takes some concentration and "feel" to break things down even more.

3) Inside Seat Bone

Put your weight on your inside seat bone, swinging it forward on the turn line so that you encourage your horse to come under your inside seat more - to basically keep him on the turn and not drift out from under your seat.

Using your weight aids is something that needs a lot of fine-tuning at first. But with practice, you will be able to first know which seat bone you have more weight on, and then be able to actually direct the weight to where you want it to be. Your weight can have a lot of influence on the horse. 

4) Inside Leg

Use a strong downward-stepping motion on your inside stirrup - like you are standing on the ground through the stirrup, in rhythm with the stride.

The stepping down helps the horse have a solid balancing aid on the inside rib cage, which encourages better bend and balance through the turn.

5) Inside Rein

Give a tiny bit with your inside rein as you cross the middle of the arena, to allow the inside hind leg more space to step into. Keep the outside rein fairly steady.

6) Impulsion

Use two legs for forward just before you leave the rail. This helps him engage a little more before he starts to drift, sending him forward rather than sideways.

7) Keep Your Balance

Try to let your seat come through more after you ask for impulsion (don't resist), so you keep your center of gravity over the horse as he moves off. Don't get left behind!

8) Use Half-Halts

Even while you ask for more energy, use half-halts to help the horse stay in balance and not just run faster and onto the forehand. You can try a half-halt before you leave the rail, through the middle of the circle, and then again as you finish and go to the next movement. But it might depend on your horse - you might need more or less.

Pinpointing your aids like this is actually a very interesting exercise, because while we often recognize the most significant aids, we rarely feel everything that the body is doing to produce one result. I bet you can think of a few more to list here as well.

Seriously?? So many aids for one simple movement?

Well, yes. And, not really.

The thing is, once you get the hang of it, it won't be nearly as complicated as it sounds here. If you think about it, we can probably break down every movement into multiple aids and skills like this. The more aids we can control through our ride, the more sophisticated we can be in communicating kindly and gently to the horse. 

From Wikipedia:

Automaticity /ˌɔːtəməˈtɪsɪti/ is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.

I like this word! And I like how it feels when I'm doing this while riding. The less you have to think about things, the easier it gets. But at the beginning, you do have to learn the skills first (practice, practice, practice!), before they become blueprinted into your body.


After a few rounds, and a few transitions down to trot and then back up into canter, things should get better. Your outside aids might keep your horse straighter. Your "ask" for impulsion might help him reach further underneath with his hind legs. He might drift less and then not at all. And slowly, his canter might become more fluid, stronger, more balanced.

And even while you know which aids you are using, you won't actually have to think about them. Well, maybe you'll be thinking about only one or two!

Horse Listening

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If you enjoyed this article, read more here:

What Do Leg Aids Mean? Instead of relying on them only to get the horse to move his legs faster or transition to a new gait, we might discover more involved messages that can be given with a sophisticated leg aid.

Rarely Considered, Often Neglected: Lunging to Develop the Riding Seat: There is no better way to develop your seat.

The #1 Riding Problem: The Outside Rein! The outside rein is the most underused and poorly understood of all the aids, and here’s why.

Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem:  It can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.

Everything You Need To Know About Horses (OK, More Like 11 Things)

Everything you need to know about horses

This is a great article for the non-horsey people in your life!

While everyone knows about horses, you'd be surprised at how relatively uninformed most people are. Myths abound and everybody has an opinion. To help clarify any misunderstandings, here are a few essential tidbits you need to know about horses, especially if you are considering taking riding lessons or purchasing a horse for the first time.

1. They are big.

People usually notice the relatively large size of the horse first thing. Rightly so, because even a small horse can weight 800 pounds and it only gets bigger and heavier from there! Even small ponies give us a run for our money when it comes to strength and power.

In comparison, we are small.

Which leads us to the most important understanding when it comes to the intermingling of horses and humans: we can get hurt. It might not even be on purpose. Whenever we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, we will be the ones who incur the most damage.

So one of the first things we need to do is to learn how to be safe working with, around and on horses. We must stay safe AND the horses must stay safe.

2. They eat. ALL. THE. TIME.

This is an interesting concept.

One of the key predictors to overall horse health is to provide them access to forage (meaning hay or grass) as much as possible. Many of us now have high quality hay that actually over delivers-in terms of nutrition and energy. Some horses self-regulate and eat small portions, many times throughout the day.

For horses have a tendency to over-eat (which then can cause unhealthy weight gain), we now have "slow hay feeders" that regulate the amount of hay a horse can eat at a time. In this manner, even "easy keepers" can have access to hay for long periods of time.

3. They have their own personalities.

This is where horses and humans are similar.

Every horse has a unique personality. Some are overachievers. Some are lazy and would rather not. Some are playful and cheeky. It takes a while to identify these traits, but if you listen carefully enough, you will get to know each and every one.

4. They can learn things as easily as you can.

Just because horses are generally quiet, and would prefer to be out grazing doesn't mean that they don't learn. They are so quick to pick up on everything!

Their amazing ability to learn allows us to ride them, develop intricate communication, teach them tricks, and perform marvelous shows that leave you in awe.

5. They recognize people.

Some horses are extremely clear about who qualifies as their "peeps."

I have known several horses over the years that act completely standoffish until they know who you are. It's like they're warning all their friends of "stranger danger!"

If you don't believe me, check out what happens when their favorite treat lady just walks into the barn. They sure know who they can hit up for treats! Or who feeds them. And who turns them out or in. Or who does their feet. Or the veterinarian they should avoid!

6. They have a very long memory.

They remember the good experiences. They remember their horsey friends of long ago, even if it has been years since they last saw each other. They also remember the bad experiences. It is true that they remember rough handling and any serious riding mistakes.

But here's the good news: horses don't hold grudges. Literally, the second you can improve or change, or their environment changes, they move on and adapt. They will remember it all, but you can be sure that they are ready and waiting for better days ahead.

7. They are very athletic.

ALL horses are athletic. Not all of them choose to show it, though!

Of course, some are more suited to certain disciplines than others, and some need more practice and conditioning as others. However, they can all move quickly when needed (like when there's something to be afraid of)!

8. They are herd animals.

Horses are naturally social. They live in a herd situation and they are the embodiment of the concept of "safety in numbers." How this relates to us as humans is that when we choose to interact with horses, we should understand that they see us as herd mates too. So we'd better brush up on our communication skills - equine style!

9. They have a strong social structure.

Which brings us to herd dynamics.

Every herd has a social hierarchy. There is the leader (or what has been termed as the "alpha" horse). Then there's the second-in-command (the beta) and the third, fourth and so on, right to the last horse on the social ladder. Each horse gives way to the horses above him in the herd. So if he's eating at the round bale and a higher-level herd mate wants to eat right from the spot he's in, he has to give way. He must walk away and give up his feeding spot.

This is a super important concept for us humans to understand because every time we're with our horse, we are effectively interacting as a two-horse herd. Except that we're people, and we're relatively little. If the horse feels that he is the herd leader between the two of us, we'd better be ready to give way to his every whim and desire.

You can see how that could cause problems over time. It becomes our responsibility to learn to communicate our herd position (alpha) clearly in a way that keeps us safe. The alternative is that they may literally walk over you (if they aren't taught to recognize your space).

10. They don't see the same way we do.

If you look carefully into the eye of a horse, you'll see that the pupil is a horizontal slit It can open wide in darker light and takes on a larger oval shape. There have been many studies done about how horses see, and how they interpret what they see.

What is remarkable about the horse's sight is that he can see from his nose to his tail on the one side. And he can instantly switch eyes and see that much on the other side. He can also see directly in front of him with binocular vision. However, he has a blind spot in front of his nose and behind his tail. Our sight is exactly the opposite. We can see straight ahead with binocular vision (so we have no blind spot) but our peripheral vision isn't nearly as sharp.

You can imagine that having better peripheral vision is very helpful to a prey animal. Horses can see all around them at will - which means they can instantly run away if feeling threatened in any way.

If we have a good understanding of spooking, we can be safer when on horseback or even on the ground.

11. They are experts at reading body language (apparently even human facial expressions).

So aside from picking up on all your behavioral clues, the horse can tell your mood right from the moment you are visible to him. One of the most valuable skills we learn as equestrians is to keep a steady demeanor, especially in scary situations. The quieter and calmer we can be, whether on the ground or in saddle, the more confident the horse will be in general.

I'm sure there could be a thousand things we could add to this list. If you have something to add, please share it in the comments below.

Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

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HL Five Years
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Read more about horses here:

Living (Horse) Life In The BasicsCan you distinguish the difference between good and bad movement?

Top Ten Reasons To Ride A HorseThere must be as many reasons to ride horses are there are people who ride.

Do You Want to Own A Horse? Answer 'yes' to these questions and you are on your way!

Riding is Simple, But Not Easy! Let’s face it – all we want is for the horse to do what we want, when we want, where we want, with suppleness and strength!

On Enjoying the PathI can hear you now – you’re groaning… the path?? How can “the path” be fulfilling?

Not Seeing Our Facebook Posts?

Dear Reader,

Over the years, it has been my mission to use our Horse Listening Facebook page as a method of delivering articles on a daily basis.

I usually like to post two articles a day so that you can have some consistent "food for thought" when you check into Facebook.

As of this month, Facebook is changing its algorithm to prioritize posts from real people - your Facebook friends. So if you happen to notice that you're seeing less and less of the Horse Listening posts, that is because of this algorithm change.

This will be true of all the pages you have liked. They will be purposely limited in exposure going forward. However, there is a way that you can change that if you want to.

If you'd like to continue seeing my posts as they are published on Facebook, here's what you need to do:

  1. Go to the Horse Listening Facebook Page
  2. Find and hover over the "Following" button.
  3. Click "see first."

That's it. Then the page posts will keep showing. You can do this for all the pages you really want to hear from.

Thanks for reading! 

3 Steps To A Quieter Leg Position

how to quiet the rider's legs
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Do any of these things happen to you?

  • You lose your stirrups during a transition.
  • You feel your feet bouncing in the stirrups, especially during sitting trot.
  • Your lower legs sway in canter.
  • You can't feel your feet in the stirrups.
  • You have trouble placing your legs on your horse's sides.
  • You can have nice long legs riding without stirrups, but still lose the stirrups as soon as you start using them again.


These things happen to most riders at some point, especially during the first few years of riding. Sometimes, you develop a habit that lasts even longer, mostly because your body blueprinted itself long ago and now it's even more difficult to break that habit.

But it can be done.

We are always striving to maintain quieter legs, a more secure seat, and stable feet (preferably with the heels lower than the toes). The thing is, the harder we try to keep the legs from moving, the more they swing, tighten, and finally slide out of the stirrups!

What to do?

Here are three steps (pun intended!) to a quieter leg position.

1. Soften through the seat.

Whenever you find tension in the lower legs or feet, you can direct your attention higher up. In this case, consider your seat. Are you tight through the lower back? Are you gripping with the gluteal muscles? Maybe your hip angle is closed or you're leaning forward in the upper body.

In all these cases, start with softening through your seat. Don't become a blob of jelly - just feel for tension or gripping, and release that as much as you can. Allow the hip angle to open. Allow your upper thighs to really sit into the saddle.

Try to be quiet in your seat aids. If you feel you are moving bigger than your horse, or if you are pumping through your seat and body to get him moving, work toward whispering your aids, reducing body movement, and becoming lighter over the horse's back. We often get "too loud" in attempt to be clear. The quieter you can be in your body, the more opportunity you can have to feel your legs and the horse's sides.

So start with a softer seat that allows a more open hip angle and a straighter leg from the highest point of the thighs.

2. Straighten the leg from the hip through the knee down to the ankle.

Do two things with your leg.

First, rotate your leg inward toward the saddle, so your knee is facing straight ahead. You might need to grab the back of your riding breech and actually pull your leg slightly backward from the hip, placing the thigh flat on the saddle.

Second, straighten your knee slightly. Don't push it too straight, but see how much you can open the knee angle as you lengthen your leg downward.

It's like a stretch of the leg, constrained within the length of your stirrup  leathers. You might discover that your leg will naturally feel longer.

3. Push into the stirrup with your foot, allowing the heel to go down if it can.

Now let's focus on the foot itself.

The ball of your foot should be flat on the widest part of the stirrup. If placed correctly, you will feel like the stirrup is as solid as the ground. We call this "grounding" your feet in the stirrup.

After you have lengthened your leg in step 2, you might feel that your heel just wants to go down on its own. This is a great sign that you are on the right track. However, don't force your heels down - that would cause more tension in your leg and be counterproductive. Let the heel hang if it will.

Start at the halt.

Take time and soften through the seat and hip, position the leg and then ground the foot on each side. Do all of this at the halt first, so you can feel the effects on your seat and leg before you add movement.

Then try to maintain the leg position through each gait. Walk is easiest. It might take some effort at first but will feel more natural over time, until you aren't even aware that you are doing it.

The longer leg and softer muscles will also allow your seat to position deeper into the saddle. 

One last thought. You might not be able to do all three steps right away. In fact, you might be able to do one, then another, then maybe two at a time... you know what I mean. Add transitions, the sitting trot or canter to the mix, and you might have to be even more patient.

So be aware of what your seat and legs feel like, work on loosening the seat and lengthening the leg, and one day, you might be surprised that somehow, without forcing anything, you legs stopped swaying, your stirrups stayed on your feet, and you can actually feel the stability of the stirrups even as you canter merrily along!

Horse Listening

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HL Five Years
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Lots more to read about the leg aids below!

What Do Leg Aids Mean?


12 Riding Quick Tips – #3: Work On Those Long “Wrapping” Legs


Stop Kicking the Horse!

Why Would You Bother to “Scoop” Your Seat Bones?


Move to Stay Still on Horseback

#1 Rider Problem of 2017: Riding “Disconnected”

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

As in, we should be riding with better "connection."

This is not just about contact. It's quite a lot more than just what you feel through the reins (although that is a part of it).

Since I started the blog in 2011, I've ended each year with an article about something that I feel is a common problem for most riders. In the past, I've discussed the leg aids, pulling on the reins, the outside rein and more. I've zeroed in on bits and pieces that make up riding, but this year, I've been thinking a lot about the "whole" of it.

I often feel it's necessary to break riding skills down into small, concrete chunks. Because without the pieces, we can't possibly put it all together. On the other hand, if we never consider "the whole," then we won't be successful in the application of the skills. Plus, we effectively cheat our horses out of what we should really be doing, which is to make everything seamless, smooth, balanced, and not interfering.

So we need to begin somewhere. Because really, if we always ride our horses in bits and pieces, we will always ride the horse into lack of connection.

What is connection?

This is a difficult concept to clearly describe, because like contact, it is based on feel. Let's look at it from this perspective:

What happens if you apply pressure with both legs?

Will your horse move straight forward, round through the body, reach farther underneath with the hind legs, lighten the forehand and stay in balance, swing through the back, swing through the shoulders and reach for the bit?

Will you have this wonderful lightness of contact that feels at once super powerful and yet incredibly sensitive, as if your hands are out of the discussion and the slightest shift through your body (lower back, seat, legs) will be all that is needed to communicate with the horse?

Will you feel at one with the horse, literally dancing with imperceptible whispering aids, together "as one?"

That is connection.

And unfortunately, most of us ride outside of connection most of the time.

How do you know you are missing connection?

There are many hints to tell you when the horse isn't "connected." You might experience one or more of the following:

  • you can't stop your horse from spooking
  • the horse speeds up faster and faster in a gait when you ask for a transition
  • the head swings upward while the back hollows when you use your leg aigs
  • your rein contact is on/off/on/off, long-short-long reins no matter what you try
  • you feel you're often out of balance - either on the forehand or the horse drifts through the shoulders
  • your horse's neck is bent inward going one direction and outward going the other way
  • the horse's footfalls are very heavy (more than you think they should be)
  • your upper body reacts forward or backward with either sharp stops (or downward transitions) or lurching take-offs (or upward transitions)
  • your transitions don't happen where you want them to
  • you have difficulty maintaining straight lines
  • your circle size changes, or you tend to have large circles going one way, and really small ones the other
  • you feel that your horse is very heavy on the bit
  • you have trouble walking from canter
  • you have trouble cantering from walk
  • you feel like there is absolutely no pressure on the bit

There have to be many more. In general, the symptoms of lack of connection show up in the horse as imbalance, inability to respond accurately or quickly, and/or stiffness through the body. The horse might also have little confidence in the rider.

How can you improve connection?

There really is no one magic pill to developing connection. Unfortunately, it takes time and practice for you to be able to influence your horse well enough to make a difference in your horse's way of going. You will likely need an instructor's input to first identify the many skills you will need, teach them to you, give you feedback as you try and make mistakes, and finally confirm when you make progress.


There is something you can try on your own, and get enough feedback from your horse to help direct you on your path toward connection. 

Try this:

1. Squeeze both legs.

2. Go with the horse.

3. Give with the reins (a little).

4. Maintain the same tempo throughout.

So this sounds very simple and it can be, if you know what you're looking for. First, you have to create energy, then ride that energy.

1. Start with a soft but steady contact. Then apply leg pressure to ask the horse to move ahead. Keep steady rein contact throughout.

2. When the horse does go, you go with him! Don't get left behind.

3. Give the horse a little space to step into - even while you maintain a light contact. You can do this by extending your elbows just a little, or letting the reins out - not more than an inch. Make sure you don't suddenly let go of everything and "drop" the horse on his forehand. It's just a little give, but it's enough to let the horse move more freely forward.

4. Maintain the tempo in the interest of balance. If the leg speed changes, the horse will likely lose balance and the whole disconnected thing will start all over again!

Do it on a circle and stay on that circle as you play with the aids. You can start with walk and trot at first, as you will have your best balance in those gaits. Initially, you're looking for what I described above: 

  • your horse moves straight forward,
  • rounds through the body,
  • reaches farther underneath with the hind legs,
  • lightens the forehand and stays in balance,
  • swings through the back,
  • swings through the shoulders, 
  • reaches for the bit.

Any of these responses are a step in the right direction.

Don't be too disappointed if nothing much happens when you first start this exercise. If you and/or your horse are used to riding without connection, it will take time and coordination for you both to learn how to let the energy flow and reach forward (rather than pull backward) to achieve movement. But practice, and one day, all the bits and pieces will fall together as one!

Good luck, and happy Horse Listening in 2018!

Horse Listening

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If you enjoyed this article, here are some related topics:

What Is Contact? This is a three-part article about the phases of development that riders go through as they learn about "contact." This is part one.

The Difference Between Rhythm And TempoConfused about which is which? Do you use it interchangeably sometimes?

What To Do When Your Horse Loses BalanceIf you can identify why your horse is stumbling, you can begin to address the cause with one or more of these five tips. They will give you a good idea of how you can influence the horse’s balance.

7 Errors To Avoid After You Ask For More Energy - And SolutionsThe quicker you can recognize these miscommunications, the sooner you can address them. In fact, it would be best if you could correct these mistakes as they happen, before the horse loses more balance and then has to completely regroup.

Not Fast. Not Slow. So What IS Impulsion?  The thing is, we often think that energy is all about a surge of forward-moving legs. Use two legs, squeeze either from the calf or from the lower leg. Follow with your seat to allow the increase in movement and energy from the horse. Then invariably, this happens: the horse runs faster.

Horse Listening Round Up: Top 10 Posts of 2017

top 10 Horse Listening 2017

A year gone by already? So hard to believe! 

It's been an active horsin' around year for me personally, and I've been happily sharing new posts on the blog regularly. Taking a look at the articles from this year, I can see that while I still have some "fun" articles and some horse "listening" types of posts, I've moved more and more into writing about the rider, the aids, how to become a more effective rider (and listen to the horse while riding), and patterns to help develop the rider and the horse's specific skills. 

The Practice Sessions are taking on more shape and I'm almost ready to present them. I've been working on developing a repertoire of patterns but as I got more and more into it, I realized that there should be much more to the Practice Sessions than just the patterns. As soon as I'm ready to proceed, I will share updates with the people on the Practice Sessions Pre-Launch list. If you want to be included, go here and sign up. You'll be the first to hear the news.

Thank you for being part of another fantastic Horse Listening year. Here are the top 10 articles by number of views, in backward order. 


One Simple Way to Quiet Your Hands While Riding Horses



Here’s How (And Why) You Should Ride With Bent Elbows



When Good Riding Instruction Becomes Great



How to Halt Without Pulling on the Reins



The #1 Rider Problem: The Outside Rein! – Sponsored by Benefabproducts.com



“Inside Leg To Outside Rein” – The Cheat Sheet



7 Essential Aids For An Epic Canter Transition 



Dear Adult-With-Many-Responsibilities Horse Person



To The 50+ Year-Old Horse Rider

... and the Number One article of 2017...


9 Things You Need to Know if You Want to Ride Horses

Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Horse Listening Book Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

Read more here:

12 Riding Quick Tips – #12: Five Ways To Reach Your Horse Riding Goals in The New Year


Top 10 Common Goals for Riders – Presented by Buck Steel Horse Barns


Listening Corner – Riding Goals Defined

First, Plan Your Ride. Then, Be Ready To Scrap It.


6 Ways To Compete Against Yourself in Horse Riding