August 21, 2012
Contact and control are possible even when riding your horse on a loose rein.
By Carol Metcalf in The American Quarter Horse Journal
When it comes to riding on a loose rein, many amateurs think they must steer the horse with their legs all of the time. That’s a misconception. The leg is not a steering wheel; your hand is.
But if a horse is trained to be responsive to that rein and move off it without you having to take hold of him, then you can steer him and put him anywhere you want.
This applies to any western discipline, even on the rail, because you have to steer around people. If you maneuver with your hand, then you are not having to put your leg on every single time you steer your horse, and this will make him more apt to stay quiet.
The First Exercise: Riding Forward
- Move your horse off the rail and ask him to jog or lope in a straight line.
- Look down and see where your hand is.
- Is it in the center? Or is it slightly to the left or to the right of the saddle horn?
Many riders will not have their hands in the center. For example, if you are left-handed, you will tend to ride with your hand off to the left. Your horse learns to compensate for that and instead of turning left, he goes straight and leans on the right rein. Then when you move your hand to the center, he will move to the right. Your horse needs to be between the reins equally, and your hand needs to be in the center.
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The Second Exercise: The Zone
- Create an invisible zone around your hand that is only a few inches up, down and sideways.
- By moving your hand within this zone, you teach your horse to respond to ounces of pressure rather than having to pull your hand way over to steer him.
- Pull softly. If he doesn’t respond, increase the pressure until he responds, and then release the pressure as soon as he moves away from the rein. That’s very important, and you want to make sure you don’t release that pressure until the horse moves away from it.
- If the horse continues not to respond to the pressure and move off the rein, then bump him with your outside leg until he moves.
- Do not allow the horse to stop, back up or throw his head. If any of these things happen, tap the horse forward with your leg and pull him over again with the rein until he moves forward.
The Third Exercise: Riding in Circles
- Jog your horse in small circles. If he leans on the rein, react by pulling him over and making him get off the rein.
- Jog circles in both directions, ensuring that the horse is not leaning on the rein or dropping his shoulders.
- Make sure he is steering off the reins.
- If the horse’s nose moves to the outside while jogging in the circle, stop, bend him around and make sure his nose is supple.
- If he veers to the outside, such as if I ask him to go forward and he leans on the rein and keeps veering to the outside, then I will tap him harder with my outside leg and steer him over a little bit harder and move him more into the inside of the circle.
- If a horse is very obstinate, and you are unable to get him to move forward or he keeps throwing his nose to the outside, then ride him two-handed until he responds to the rein pressure.