Staying Connected

So lately I’ve been noticing more and more that I struggle with keeping a consistent connection with my reins. Especially when I’m asking for more pace from my horse or doing an upward transition. I tend to throw my hands forward or over exaggerate my following rhythm. I guess I’m trying not to give my horse mixed signals by holding onto their mouth because I used to have a tendency to follow backwards in the past. Now I have the opposite problem.

As you probably know, when asking for an upwards transition, you need to have some sort of connection in order to do the transition smoothly. If not you’ll just run the horse into the next gait. Which isn’t correct and just looks sloppy. The same goes with asking for more pace within a gait. You want to keep him moving through and forward so you need that connection to push him from behind. If not, you’ll also just have a horse going faster and faster without a nice distinctive and productive pace.

Makes sense right? So why is it so hard to do sometimes? Well, just like everything in riding, you’re fighting certain instincts. You’re constantly working on retraining your brain and body to do something else. Sometimes, you’re also fighting bad habits. In my case, I’ve over corrected my previous problem of following backwards and holding onto the horse’s mouth too much that I’ve now gone to the other extreme. The challenge now is finding that balance.

It is coming along. It just takes time.

horse nose on crossties

I’m constantly trying to focus on body awareness when I’m riding. Which is actually taking my mind off of my nerves which is a big plus. Having a coach who is also paying attention to the riding techniques instead of just the lesson plan, jumping course and the height of the fences is a huge advantage too. We’ve been working on isolating the various aids and working on staying organised and clear to the horse. This includes my connection with the reins as well as the leg aids and keeping myself straight in the saddle especially through the turns. All of which is beneficial to becoming a better rider and will allow for better progress down the road.

My coach has been having me do various exercises to highlight those weak areas so that we can work on them. Such as smaller circles, spiralling circles, leg yielding, raised trotting poles and transition work. After all, you can always hide those weak spots by doing basic figures and your standard jump courses, especially when you have a horse that will save you when you mess up. But what good is that?

While doing those harder exercises, my coach makes a point to remind me to focus on my riding and what I’m doing instead of what the horse isn’t doing right. To slow my thoughts down, break it all up in my mind and to stay focused and organised with my aids. When I do that, I always seem surprised that the horse is all of a sudden doing the exercise properly. I mean, it’s obvious why the horse is doing it right, but I always seem to have that “aha” moment that focusing on me always works better than focusing on the horse.

If you also struggle with keeping your connection consistent, then I would suggest that you work on being more aware of how many pounds of pressure is in each hand. Along with the exercises and strategies that I mentioned above and with the help of a good coach, there’s another little exercise you can do. At a halt, you can close your eyes and try to feel and follow every time your horse moves his head. Make sure, obviously, that someone is there to spot you and make sure that you are always safe while doing this. If you’re not comfortable to do this on a horse, then have someone hold onto a set of reins and close your eyes on the ground. Doing the same thing, try to follow their movements and keep a consistent feel on both reins. You’ll be amazed at how much this will help your riding.

Don’t forget that, like everything, learning something new takes time especially if you’re trying to break a bad habit and form a new good one. Some days will be better than others. So don’t give up. In the end, you’ll become a better rider and will see better results in your communication with your horse.

Until next time, happy riding!