Forward into the contact: a continuing journey

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Horses are right or left handed, just as we are. They tend to lean on one rein (usually the left) and to be harder to bend in that direction.  

Starlight and I recently attended a Jane Weatherwax clinic where we worked on riding forward into both reins evenly. While it sounds like a simple concept, it’s one that we’re still working on as we train to show Third Level this year.

How hard could it be to keep the contact even? HA!

Looking at the “bad illustration” below, you can see Star is over bent in her neck (too much inside hand), resistant in her jaw (can you blame her?), a bit braced and hollow in her back and hence her neck is a bit high and braced as well.

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This is not a pretty picture.

Solution? Lower the neck, give with the inside hand, straighten the outside shoulder (don’t let it drift), make sure that inside leg stays at the girth if you are circling right (as I think I might be about to) and use your body to turn, NOT your reins. So simple, right? Oh, if only it were that easy. And ride forward to engage the haunches (engine)!

Star’s desire to lean on the left rein is made worse by my own decades long tendency to be rigid with my left wrist. My whole left side tends to have problems: left leg wants to creep up, hip collapses on that side, head tilts that way sometimes. Oh dear.

Star and I have worked out a co-dependent relationship: she will lean on the left rein and I will carry it for her with my stiff left hand.

Only I really don’t want to do that any more so it’s time to change the rules of this game.

Horses, God bless ’em, have long memories but also plenty of forgiveness (most of them). You can change the rules and stop hanging on that rein and pretty soon, the horse will start to carry himself as he figures out a new balance. Yes, this does actually work, I have felt it!

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Star demonstrates haunches-in. Note the mud-coated left foreleg (from kneeling to reach for tender spring grass under fence). My inside (left) leg should be further forward, on the girth, and my left shoulder could be a tad further back to be perpendicular to the fence.

Use suppling exercises such as:

  • shoulder-in
  • haunches-in
  • 10 or 15 meter circles
  • leg yield to shoulder in
  • shoulder in to half-pass

These are useful exercises for strengthening the horse and teaching balance.

Important: don’t hang on that inside rein!

Giving periodically with the inside rein checks that the horse is not depending on it for balance and remains on the aids.

The problem is remembering to keep the inside rein light along with all the other 2000 things we have to remember. And encourage the horse to move FORWARD (but don’t rush!) into the connection…

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Forward into connection with a nice outside rein connection

9 thoughts on “Forward into the contact: a continuing journey

  1. Awesome pictures!
    It is HARD to get hold of ridden shots.
    She looks so sweet in haunches in!!
    That deal with the inside hand. Sigh. True, it IS mind-boggling difficult to keep up with it, while also struggling with all the other stuff…
    Clearly, both of you are coming along great!!!!
    When is first spring show?


    • These are screen shots from video of the clinic – hence the fuzziness. But better than nothing! I do like her sweet expression in that haunches in, sort of a “look at me, I’m doing it!” Don’t know when my first show will be. We have to get flying changes confirmed first. They are very much hit and miss (mostly miss) right now, but it’s getting better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Argh, yeah, the flying changes… This is why so many horses cap out at 2nd I think. Softness, suppleness, ease of movements and nice transitions can carry most through 2nd level with some hard work. Ugh, then the changes come in and make everything so difficult 😉
        Hope it sorts it self out over the next months. Just give it time!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Guess what! My clever Andalusian is learning them 🙂 We have gotten them one direction. Then the other (and forgot the first direction, nope, can’t do THAT any more). But now we have the first one back. Tomorrow we’ll try and do both sides. It’s happening! I’m so excited. It’s not smooth and beautiful or even very predictable yet, but it is happening on the aid (mostly), they are fairly clean, and they are EXPRESSIVE (a little TOO expressive sometimes!). We’re both having fun, I think. I know I am!

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is so encouraging to hear!!!
        All smiles!
        She’s one really expressive looking mare, so of course the changes have some oomph to them 😚🏅
        Have fun and enjoy!
        Small steps forward!
        She’ll be solid at third level before you know it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Of course, today the changes were TERRIBLE: disunited, chaotic, running through my aids, leaping about. Did we even get any clean changes? Maybe. It’s all a blur. Ah well, there will be good days and – uh – “difficult” days. We soldier on. At least we had a nice little wander around in the sunshine afterwards, and we did end with one fairly clean change (success! let’s quit now!).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha, yeah, ups and downs…
        Maybe a few rides with no changes, and then, she’ll surprise with a clean, on the aid one, just from pondering it over a few days. Who knows 😉
        I love the cool downs after, when they can be out of the arena!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, yesterday she surprised me by being HORRIBLE at them. I despair. But o.k., two steps back, go back to some basics (simple changes again, improve the canter, get her calmed down), and try again in a few days. I have a lesson on Thursday and maybe we’ll work on it then. We will learn this (!).


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