Teaching a lesson this morning gave me a topic for today's blog. It's a point a lot of horsepeople overlook or aren't aware of so it's worth mentioning. As I mention it, I will use "she/her" to refer to riders and "he/his" to refer to horses. Not that I'm sexist, but because I'm lazy and typing out "his or her" or "he or she" whenever I need a pronoun is wearisome. Besides that, I'm a "she" and my horse is a "he" so it's relevant to my situation. Now on to the point...
Horses aren't steered by their faces. They are steered by their feet. Anyone that ever rode our old school horse, Pooh Bear, knows that a horse can put it's nose on your left foot but travel to the right with no concern for his or your personal safety. By pulling the reins to steer, you can make a suggestion about where to go, but that does not MAKE him go there. In fact, by pulling the reins you set your horse off balance creating everything we try to avoid: leaning in turns, balancing on the reins (both horse and rider), and on-the-forehandness (not entirely sure that is a real word but let's just pretend it is and move on). With the reins, you should be able to position the horse's head and neck so that it is easier for him to turn but it's your horse's feet that will carry him there. As any of the girls that have helped me with Summer camp know, you have to "kick and turn". This, along with "up, down, up, down, up, down..." and "heels down" and "no crashing" are the most common threads of beginner riding lessons. Even an advanced rider, asking her horse for say, a canter pirouette, has got to ride the turn with leg and seat. Too much rein and the horse is off balance and trying to compensate meanwhile getting the spurs and/or whip because he's not turning well.
In the lesson this morning, the student is trying to get Dancer down the lane. Dancer goes about half way, says "Eh, good enough." and turns around to head for home. Try as she might by pulling first one rein than the other, the student can not get Dancer straightened out, heading in the right direction. Dancer, like most ponies, can completely detach her head from the rest of her body so that neither piece is going where it ought to. The only way this little student was able to get on the right track was to kick! You can use the reins all day long but you must get the horse's feet moving toward the reins in order to accomplish anything. So after a few passes up & down the lane, the student got Dancer sorted out and as Dancer began to suggest a quick trip home, all she needed was a little kick and the pony was on her way down the lane again. Dancer knew what she should have been doing. The student knew where she was supposed to be going but without connecting the turn to the pony's feet, all they got was what looked like a square dance called out by Bugs Bunny in the middle of the trail.
The next time you ride, try to use as little rein as possible and sending your horse through the turns rather than pulling him through. You may find a more balanced turn, happier horse and prettier picture all around.
Next time, I'm going on with the over-use of reins issue. Unless I get distracted.