Monday, February 6, 2012

Hard to Turn Horse

Joan wrote me asking what could be the problem on her horse who doesn’t turn very well. She mentioned that she rides him in a snaffle bit with short ends which I took to mean a broken bit with shanks. A snaffle bit with shanks is not called a snaffle. It is a broken leverage bit. No matter, as it should not matter a great deal in what she is riding him in,....halter, snaffle, leverage bit or hackamore. I am assuming that Joan wants to just get the horse to turn in a smooth manner and is not trying a turn on the forehand or trying to get her horse to turn on his back end like a roll back.

If you are turning your horse from a stand still or while at the walk or jog and the horse exhibits a slowdown, or turns seemingly off balance or with short choppy steps, it is most likely that you are either 1 – trying to turn his head by pulling on a direct rein straight back, giving the horse a confusing signal – he doesn't know if you want him to slow, stop, back or a combination of that.....or 2 – the outside rein, or the rein opposite to the turn is taunt giving the same confusing signals. You could be doing both.

In the photo at left, I am trying to turn (pull) my horse's head around for a turn to the right. The position of his head, starting to break at the poll with his nose beginning to drop without turning his nose to the right is showing me that this signal is confusing to him (does that over weight idiot on my back want me to back or what?).

The photo to the right, while an exaggeration, where I hold the rein away from his neck and away from my body, is a better cue or signal to tip my horses head to the right to begin a turn to the right. While the rein may appear taunt, like I'm pulling his head over, I am not.  He is beginning to give to that pressure as the cue is understandable to him.  The opposite rein (meaning the left or outside rein) cannot be taunt or otherwise this is also confusing to him.

It is very common to maintain too much contact in the horse’s mouth or in other words,.....your reins are too tight. Even if your horse is not throwing his head up, a too tight of rein may be the cause for a horse slowing his momentum especially in a turn. No offense to dressage riders, but they ride always in contact with the horses mouth. This does not translate very well to riding him on the trail and turning, or going up/down hill especially. In fact, going up hill and pulling on his head could your horse to come over.

Joan, I’d like you to try this. Consider the reins not just connected to the horse’s mouth/head, but also to his feet. Using the reins, such as a direct rein, not also affects the head but also the feet and the weight transfer of the horse.  In the first part of the video below, you see me demonstrating a tight rein – notice how my horse’s weight transfer from the front feet (where most of the weight is carried) to the back end.

I also demonstrate trying to turn the horse on tight reins, then I demonstrate a turn using loose reins. When you are using a direct rein, try tipping his head in the direct of the turn by pulling the rein to the outside away from your body. In fact, before you try turning your horse into the opposite direction, try just to tip his head as lightly as you can by holding the direct rein out at a 45 degree angle. I think you'll see a difference. The idea in western riding is to ride with loose reins, little contact as you can get away with, or only as much contact as you need.

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