Horse Showing

Self-Carriage, Part 1

May 4, 2011

Train your horse for proper self-carriage with AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman.

By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman with Christine Hamilton for The American Quarter Horse Journal

An example of a horse not in self carriage: he is behind the bridle and heavy on the forehand. Journal photo.

When a horse has “self-carriage,” the horse literally carries his weight (including the rider’s weight) balanced over his haunches. Because he’s balanced on the hindquarters, he has a light forehand and a soft poll. He carries his weight without leaning on the rider.

A horse in true self-carriage is on the bit, not above it or behind it. With a soft poll, the rein affects the hind legs and haunches, rather than stopping in the neck as it does when horses are on the forehand, above or behind the bit.

In the Quarter Horse industry, many of us have a problem with our horses not being in self-carriage.

Could off-balance riding be getting in your horse’s way? Horse trainer Martin Black says he sees a lot of horses having people problems — or maybe it’s people having ego problems. Learn more in AQHA’s downloadable report, Horse Training Techniques With Martin Black.

A lot of our horses will give in their polls, put their heads down and get behind the bit very easily. When a horse falls behind the bridle, a lot of people think they have a good feel, but it only affects the head and the neck and not the body. In reality, the horse is on the forehand. If he has got his weight on his front legs, he has a hard time moving with a light response because his weight is pushing his front legs down.

Many of our horses move like they are in two pieces. If you watch the lope of an incorrectly moving horse, his head goes up and down like a pump handle because he’s moving his front end and then his hind. The two are not connected through the back.

And he always has a foot on the ground. He doesn’t have suspension, a time when his feet are off the ground.

To have self-carriage, the horse’s front end and back end must be connected through the back, with suspension in his gaits. Again, that’s possible because the horse’s weight is balanced over his hindquarters, and he’s not on the forehand.

Self-carriage is a simple concept, but it takes a lot of practice. You need to work on three things to maintain it: No. 1, the rider must have correct balance and aids use; No. 2, the horse must understand what you are asking him to do; No.3, the horse must have enough strength built up for him to be able to maintain self-carriage through an entire maneuver or pattern.
You have to ask for short periods of self-carriage and reward with rest until both you and your horse can ride a complete pattern in self-carriage (whether it’s equitation, horsemanship, reining, trail or working hunter).

Horse trainer Martin Black says that by experimenting with your weight position, you will discover a place that you can feel your horse move freely and easily. Learn how in AQHA’s downloadable report, Horse Training Techniques With Martin Black.

Common Problems
If your horse doesn’t have self-carriage, you have probably experienced some of the following problems:

  • “Growing” or “falling apart” (When a horse leans on the rider, the horse gets faster and faster, which I call “growing,” or he gets slower and slower, which often results in a break of gait.)
  • Poor transitions
  • Lack of steering
  • Heavy feeling (When you try to move your horse, either with your reins or legs, it feels like a big effort and he doesn’t want to go.)
  • Lack of precise movements

Come back next week for Part 2 of Self-Carriage!