Often times, that roadblock we all face with out horses is a simple one.. a simple one that often comes from one of four places
- lack of attention to detail & biomechanics
- pain or physical inability in part of the horse
- mental blocks and lack of a correct foundation/training in the horse and/or rider
- mutual trust and respect
It may be something as simple as your not balanced in the saddle, your reins aren't even or are too short, horses feet or tack are creating soreness or imbalance issues and some other easy fixes. It may be more complex in the way of the horse not using his/her back or hind quarters correctly and becoming heavy on the front end or dropping a shoulder, or a physical/conformational issue creating another issue.
Commonly, I see riders with very short/tight reins riding the horse completely from the face, saddles slid too far ahead over the withers, the riders weight leaning forward, and then their left wondering why their horse is so darn heavy on the front end. Simple, its biomechanics.
Those tight short reins are creating resistance in the horse. Resistance creates tight muscles, tight back and a road block.. Contact should not be confused with short and tight.. You can easily have contact with out resistance.
Pain is a big one, if the horse is in pain or something is out of balance from compensating for something, your going to hit a roadblock there too. It could be something as simple as sliding your saddle back to where it naturally wants to sit (NOT perched on the withers), finding a different bit or saddle thats not creating discomfort, having the horses hooves assessed by a reputable farrier familiar with the effects of hoof balance on the rest of the body, or maybe a massage therapist of chiropractor to address the musculo-skeletal issues.
Attention to detail is likely the biggest one that all to commonly falls to the wayside. A riders weight and body wareness can play a BIG part into how the horses react and use their bodies to carry out the riders requests. The rider may be the one collapsing a hip, dropping their own shoulder, cocking their head to the side, leaning forward, or carrying their weight unevenly. All of which can greatly affect whats going on with the horse. Alot of riders don't realize their even doing it until they ride with a trained eye or have use of arena mirrors to look at themselves.
Trust & Respect. We've all ridden a horse that as a few fries short of a happy meal or had some issues that just didnt make sense to us at the time. With good training a lot of those issues can be overcame if its just a training issue and not a big mental issue on the horses part.. For your average horse thats not been screwed up too bad along the way, you generally should be able to trust that horse enough not to do something that will get you both hurt or killed for no apparent reason. Trust is a two way street. If you dont give your horse the opportunity to make a mistake and learn from it, your going to hit some roadblocks that wont just take care of themselves. Respect is fairness. Respect and trust go hand in hand. The horse has to trust that their rider won't be snatching them in the mouth, unfairly discipling for the correct response(when the rider inadvertently thought they were asking for something other than what their body was telling the horse), or passive agressiveness in letting things slide and slide and then going postal when it could have been avoided if corrected appropriately the first few times instead of letting it slide.
The opposite end of trust is fear. Fear of falling off, horse running away with you, dumping you in the dirt, or the unknown. By riding with deep seated fear, your creating it within the horse. Tight reins, clamped leg, rigid body thats leaning forward, your telling the horse it has something to be scared of, when all you want to do is feel more secure with yourself. Its a viscous circle that your actions are fueling its continuation.
Under normal circumstances, your horse can be trusted to do what he has been trained to do. It’s only our intervention that makes his behaviour abnormal Thus you must always trust your horse, unless you have good reason not to. When you first swing a leg over a new horse, you’re entitled to be cautious. The more you get to know how the horse responds, the more you can relax and let the fear of the unknown and "what if"'s fall to the wayside. The quicker you do this, the better for both!
People often complain that their horse isn’t listening to what their asking, the horse is tuning them out. This is a two-way street. The rider has often tuned out the horse, and the "asking" has become an annoyingly nagging repetition. Tune out your horse, and your horse tunes you out. Ask until you get a response, even a little one in the right direction needs to be rewarded in the begining. In time the horse figures out that if they respond to the slightest of cue, you will quit getting after them. But if you keep asking over and over with no release when the horse is responding appropriately, your opening the door for the horse to just tune you out.
Head shaking and bit evasion. It comes from training and/or tack choice. A horse needs to accept contact, but if that contact is from the hands of someone who likes to jerk the reins and snatch at the horses face or catch the horse in the mouth when they get of balance, the horse is going to turn to whatever means they can to protect their mouth. Bits and how the horse is bitted play into this as well.. a single jointed bit will create a nutcracker effect in the horses mouth, jabbing them in the roof of the mouth. Add some shanks to a single jointed bit, and you get a bit that will rake up and down the horses pallette when pressure is applied. Tom Thumbs and Argentine snaffles have no place in my tackroom. There are MUCH better bit choices. Your horse will thank you if spend the extra few $$ on a bit that doesnt have such a poor mechanics.
Bottom line, if your stuck at a roadblock, listen to your horse. Their actions and REactions are in relation to their training, discomfort or biomechanics. Often one small adjustment can make a whole world of difference.