How to Move Your Horse, Freely AND Forward.
I share this story to make an important point about the benefit of training that promotes what the horse is naturally good at, moving with freedom, relaxation and energy.
Many horses move with tension and are just waiting until they can stand still to relax. This is not good for them and can be dangerous for us. Luckily, we can influence our horses to move forward freely, with relaxation AND power. That is the goal!
When horses move with tension in their body and their mind, they are unable to relax. In this state of tension, they are disconnected from themselves which makes it difficult for them to connect back to us. Horses need to learn how to be in active neutral; a sweet spot in movement, while being able to breathe and relax in forward momentum.
Here’s what I have seen; horses moving forward and outrunning their rider. The horse panics or braces on the rein; they are going forward while the rider is seemingly riding backwards and the horse and rider are never together. In this state a horse could move all day long and never truly relax. This is hard on the horse and uncomfortable for a rider.
As riders, we need to ride with a forward, active seat, looking where we are going and continue moving forward until the horse starts to relax. But the question to ask yourself is, “Will my horse outrun me? And then what?”. It's at this moment you need to maintain your seat and leg connection slowing the horse with your reins until the horse comes back to you. Then reset your rein so you don't burn sensitivity against the bit. Many times we need to go longer and in a smaller circle (about 20 meters) with a lateral bend through the length of our horses body. This will help them balance and then find a spot of comfort while moving.
To be very clear, it is not about running a horse tired, but rather riding in a forward seat, up ‘with’ the horse so they can find harmony with the rider while moving.
I had the opportunity to demonstrate this during a Horsemanship Camp one summer. Meet “Zorro”, a big, beautiful, warmblood, gelding. A strong horse, with LOTS of forward and a tendency to be afraid of his own shadow and power. He can be tightly wound with some panic in him. Although he had made significant progress with his owner, he still had a hard time letting himself relax when in movement, especially at speed. Getting his energy up, to him, meant to get his power up and go forward and faster and with more and more tension. My goal in riding him was to allow him to go fast physically but learn not to go fast mentally. I did this by building speed slowly while keeping him calm and then slowing him down so that eventually he learned that going fast didn’t need to be a panic but rather something that was enjoyable.
When I started, he tried to bolt right out from under me! I sat with the same seat I maintained the whole time, he ran into my hands, then when he came back, softened his posture, slowed to my speed and bent his body slightly, I released my reins (resetting my aid) and carried on for a few more strides before he would power right up and try again and again. During this time I was willing to go back to trot or walk anytime if he got too heightened in his forwardness. I could easily start at a slower speed, but I thought he was ready and could feel he was enjoying the movement but would panic now and then like he was in trouble for moving out. When I maintained my core strength and balance on him and didn't punish him, he came back to me easier each time. I knew we were getting there when he started to breathe rhythmically, stretch through his entire body, his foot falls became lighter.
The session lasted about 40 minutes with many walk & trot intervals in between. In the end it felt cleansing for this horse that had been held back for so long, was pent up, and was never really able to use his whole big body. It was a freeing feeling for him; being comfortable at speed, with power, and without tension. This ride felt SO good for both of us and it was magical to feel him breathe deep, reach with each stride and eventually cruise around a 160 acre field.
The point of this story is to emphasize that our horses need to be taught how to go freely forward at speed, with energy, while being connected to their rider. Their mind and body are moving in synchrony. We do this through our balance, equation, good timing of aids and not over facing our ability or our horses. His owner prepared him to be safe in a large area and I was up for the ride, so it was a win. You can start slowly in a small area, evaluate ‘are we together now? and a few strides later...now?...now?’ and adjust as that connection comes in and out. If you have set your horse up for success the time they relax in movement grows. I know that all horses are seeking relaxation and they will begin to trust and find it easier each session.
When a hot blooded horse truly connects with a rider for the first time it is a special moment. I know it feels good to me and I’m sure it does to them too.
This was a ride to remember!
Need more information on how to do this? Learn Jonathan's Program: Natural Foundation Set
Read MORE articles from Jonathan HERE.
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