Riders who balance with their hands can create a high-headed horse and/or a horse who is dull in the mouth. For many riders, when the horse gets nervous, so does the rider. We tend to tense up and grip the reins even tighter, which feeds back to our horse. Their only release on the mouth is to raise their head even higher.
We can break this pattern by learning to give and take with the reins. As soon as your horse wants to relax his head, feed out more rein and allow him to lower his head. You don’t need to drape the reins on the ground, as this compromises safety; should something startle your horse you will need to communicate with him quickly. Learn to feed out and gather your reins in a soft flowing manner without jerking or bumping your horse’s mouth.
Soft giving hands start with relaxed shoulders. The softness then runs down the arm with an open elbow (greater than 90 degrees) and then feeds into your hands and directly to your horse’s mouth. Gently close your fingers, instead of making a tight fist (holding on for dear life), and reach down and out for your horse’s mouth. You can practice by placing the bridle over the back of a chair and work on your body position, gathering and feeding out your rein while watching TV. Then practice on your horse at the walk and watch your horse’s reaction, he will tell you if you’re being too rough and jerky, or if you’re being soft. If you’re soft, your horse will be soft.
Kim Baker, KB Natural Horsemanship, kbnaturalhorsemanship.com
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PHOTO CREDIT: Julia Johnson