As you improve your horsemanship skills, there will be habits that need breaking. The easiest way to change one pattern of behavior is to replace it with a new one. When a horse spooks or threatens to bolt or buck, the safest way to keep yourself and your horse safe is to use one rein and bring your Horse’s nose to your toe and disengage his hips. If you have practiced disengaging hips safely at home at all gaits, you and your horse will be better prepared to manage unforeseen situations that arise away from home. However, for many people their first impulse is to tighten up on both reins and pull. They feel a sense of security by pulling on both reins at once, but by doing so, this pulls the rider forward lifting their seat out of the saddle causing their legs to extend behind their body close to the horse’s flanks. When they become unseated, they clamp on with their legs and if they are wearing spurs, this can escalate into a more dangerous situation in a hurry.
Chances are if you are used to pulling on both reins, you balance on the horse’s mouth and have not learned to ride with your seat and legs. The following is an excellent exercise to teach the rider to separate the upper body from the lower body. For these clients we go to the safety of the round pen on one of my trusted horses. It’s time for hands free riding. My horse is fitted with a bridle; however, the reins are looped, run underneath, through the pommel and then up and over the horn of the saddle. This way if the rider panics, they can still have use of the reins. I’m in the center of the round pen and I control the movements and speed of the horse. Once I have taken away the riders ability to use their hands, they can better concentrate on their seat and legs. By softening the lower back and keeping their shoulders relaxed and just slightly behind their hips, it also helps them to understand how a strong core helps keep your seat in the saddle. We start at a walk, and then when the rider is comfortable we move on to the trot and canter. The rider’s hands are in the position they would be as if they were holding onto reins.
Once the rider gets comfortable riding with no hands at all gaits, then I begin to delegate speed control to the rider. My Horse has been thoroughly trained by the use of seat and legs so it’s easy for the rider to experience success when they have given the correct cue. This is the benefit of someone in the partnership having more experience that the other. If the rider is green, the horse needs to be seasoned and have more experience than the rider. This will build the riders confidence and give them a tremendous sense of satisfaction in feeling the horse respond correctly to their cue. If the horse is green, the rider needs to be more experienced than the horse to be able to make the necessary corrections and give the guidance the horse needs to build their trust and confidence safely.
For speed control I ask the rider to gently squeeze their calf and urge the horse into a walk. Once in the walk I have them raise their energy a bit, squeeze again with their calf and request the trot. While trotting I will have them concentrate of polishing the saddle with the pockets of their jeans, soften their lower back and keep their shoulders behind their hips. Their legs should be relaxed with their calves gently resting against the horse’s rib cage. Their heels should be down, but not pressing into the stirrups. By pressing into the stirrups causes your legs to brace and this will lift your seat out of the saddle. Just rest your feet in the stirrups the same way you rest your feet on the floor when sitting in a chair. Once the rider is in rhythm with the trot, I will ask them to decrease their energy by exhaling, lowering their shoulders away from their ears, and taking their calves off the horse. As soon as they do this, the horse will slow its gait from a trot to a walk. While at the walk I will ask the rider to repeat the above steps, add the word Whoa and the horse will stop. Repeat at the cantor.
If you balance of your horse’s mouth, chances are you will hit the dirt at some point. This is an excellent exercise to develop a seat which will keep you safe as you head down the trail.