Hands up

As horses tend to go on the forehand when we board them, to some rider the logical thing is to lift this part by holding their hands up. And as the neck is as supple as a garden hose, it will come up. But that doesn’t mean the back end lowers.

If you go onto the internet and you google a picture of a skeleton of a horse, you’ll see the neck looks like a swan neck. If you pull his head up, his withers go down. But for you to sit comfortably and for the energy to flow front behind to the front, the back needs to come up, not down. So if you hold your hands too high, the horse will push his back down and the energy flow stops at the withers.

Hands are too high if there is no straight line from elbows to the bit. The pressure that derives from it in the mouth invites the horse to push his head down to avoid this feeling. You might think that is a good thing. But pulling the bit up without feeling gives the horse an unpleasant feeling. He will try to avoid the pressure by curling up, shortening his neck and, even worse, trying to pull his tongue back.

Drop it

Riding with your hands too high creates a lot of tension in your shoulders and neck muscles. Try to let go of this. Drop your arms and shoulders.

Fear, especially when a horse bolts, can make hands go up as well. Our natural reflex is to crunch into a fetal position to protect ourselves, with hands to our chest. On a horse, this is about the worst thing you can do. When you pull him hard this way, he will panic even more. As a flight animal, all that restricts him from fleeing is even more frightening to him and he’ll run even faster. When something happens everyone reacts instinctively. I do too. But after the first shock, try to let go and regain your position with your hands down into the normal position. Then, if he still runs, brake and let go and brake and let go. He’s much stronger then you, so if you make it into a pulling match I know the outcome. You can try to calm him with a soothing voice. But if he really freaks out, this won’t work. If you are in a safe environment, just let him run and stay on board. He’ll calm down eventually. But if he’s in a small school with slippery corners, that might be hard. Try to keep yourself and him upright, don’t lean in. Don’t try to steer towards a gate, into a corner or the fence. He might try to jump it or avert at the last moment. If you are guessing what way he goes, you have a 50 percent chance of parting company. If the going is good, you can attempt to steer him on a circle. If it is outside and you know you will cross a road, you have a real problem. This happened to me once, with a quite experienced dressage horse who was frightened by a dog. I tried everything, but he only went faster. The only thing I could think of was to give him an good whack with the schooling whip. As I never do that, it surprised him so much he stopped, just in time. I guess it was like whacking someone in the face that’s hysterical.

Don’t jump off. Because of the speed you are very likely to break something. And it’s teaching him something bad. If he wants to get rid of you, he’ll only have to run…


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