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 movements. I guess I’m trying not to give my horse mixed signals by holding onto their mouths because I used to have a tendency to follow backwards in the past. Now I have the opposite problem.

The trick is to find that middle ground. The proper way to keep a connection. Because throwing your hands away and loosing that contact means that the horse is all of a sudden on their own. Without any support. And this usually happens when they really need that support. It leaves the horse lost and confused. Which is almost as bad as holding on too much while the leg aids are saying to go forward. Mixed signals never work well with horses.

horse nose on crossties

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 frankly 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. Leading them to fall on their forehands and lose their balance.

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 reins 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.

I’m constantly trying to focus on body awareness when I’m riding. This is also actually taking my mind off of my nerves which is a big plus. It’s allowing me to be present in my riding instead of all in my head. It gives me something to focus on.

Having a coach who is paying attention to the riding techniques instead of just the lesson plan (like the planned 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. Once these proper riding techniques become second nature, it 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 for you in the long run?

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 is doing wrong.

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 and what I’m doing always works better than focusing on the horse.

It’s all about thinking positively. Focusing on what you’re doing right instead of what you’re doing wrong. Be in the moment and perfect your skills without getting frustrated. Then everything falls into place.

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. Be physically and mentally aware of your rein connection. Keep it focused in your mind. You’re less likely to lose that connection is you’re making a point to focus on it.

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. Try to feel and follow every time your horse moves his head. Make sure, obviously, that someone is there to spot you and to make sure that you are always safe while doing this. If you’re not comfortable doing this on a horse, then have someone hold onto a set of reins with you 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. It’ll allow you to realise just how elastic that connection should be. Just how fluid your arms should be in order to follow the horse’s neck movements.

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 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. That connection will become stronger and your cues will become clearer. Nothing improves overnight.

Until next time, happy riding!