We begin and ended our discussion in Part I talking about having a goal in mind when riding your horse--always advancing him closer to that goal and focusing on centering and balancing your horse the entire time.
Now to help you form a plan for yourself, I will give you some examples that I use when I start riding. At this point, I will assume that the horse already knows how to move around an arena and can make walk, trot, and canter transitions. If he can’t do these transitions yet, you need to work on them.
So let’s get started when I first get on my horse, I will bend his head laterally left and right with his poll being straight, then I will bend his poll vertically so his head is on the vertical. All this being done without him moving his feet. I want to make sure he is soft. Then I will back him up a few steps making sure his head is on the vertical. Then stay and wait about two minutes, this is to make the horse start to pay attention and let him know that when I mount him it’s not a signal to walk forward. I want him standing still and quiet and soft. Now when I am ready to move forward, I pick up my reins until his head goes down on the vertical and then walk off a few steps that way, that is called the soft feel. Then, I will give him his head on a lose rein, bend him, take his head around, check and see if I can move his hindquarters and then his front quarters. I do this in both directions, left and right. If the horse feels soft and even left to right I can move on. If the horse is heavy, I’ll stay there awhile until I get an improvement. While I am doing these maneuvers, I want to make sure the horse is between my aids: my legs and my reins.
So the first thing I check on is if my horse can carry a soft feel. I’ll pick up the reins and see if he can get soft and carry that softness for a few strides. Then almost at the same time, I will ask him to move off of my inside leg, the feeling of having a horse be up off my inside leg allows him to get softer. If the horse does not respond to moving over off of my leg while maintaining a soft feel, then I’ll work on leg yielding until he gets an idea about what I’m asking for. At a walk and keeping him straight as I can, I’ll ask my horse to move laterally away from my leg.
After I have that well established, I will work on that throughout my ride. The reason for this is I know that will help my horse get more centered. Also at the same time, I will make certain that by moving my horse over off my inside leg I have not allowed him to fall to the outside either.
A point I want to make here is in helping my horse get softer, having him up off of my inside leg puts him in the proper position to do arena work. I always want him to be able to make a turn or a transition without losing his balance. if he is falling to the inside of the arena as is most common, he will not be able to make a proper turn or balanced transition without me having to redirect him. For me this is critical for me to have working throughout the ride, if at any time I’ve lost that timing to move him off my inside leg I will regroup that before continuing on. When I use my inside leg to ask my horse to move over, I want him to stay there. I don’t want to have to hold him there.
Here is an example: If I am riding my horse to the left I have him up off my inside leg and I will start working on transitions. I am always thinking first about my preparation to the position for the transitions. Most people want to go straight to the transitions without preparing, and that is when trouble begins. I will make sure my horse is up off my inside leg, that soft feel in my hand. Then I feel as if I am reaching for his mouth with the soft feel and I will ask for the transition with my seat. I always ask for the transition with as little as possible and as light and soft as I can, that’s why I ask with my seat first. At this time of the transition if the horse happens to fall forward into my hands, instead of stopping the horse and backing him up I might ride him forward again and try to maintain my balance better so the horse doesn’t fall forward. I will continue to work on all my transitions, maintaining on having the horse soft and balanced through them all. Here’s an example: I will come down to a walk, letting the horse walk on a loose rein, then gather him back up and get him soft which is the soft feel at this time. I will ask for a transition up to the trot, move him over off my inside leg and ask for a transition into the canter.
Be sure to give your horse sufficient breaks throughout your transitions and let him walk on a loose rein.
In the next issue, we will continue Part 3 on having a goal when you ride.
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