An essential technique to grasp when you learn horseback riding is how to make sure your mount is happy under saddle.
The first condition of a happy horse is relaxation - the beginning step, together with rhythm, of the German Training Scale.
Here are twelve external signs that your horse is relaxed.
- He moves with even strides and forward impulsion (but not rushing)
- His back swings – he feels loose and rythmic to ride
- His neck is supple
- He is equally soft on both reins
- He’s chewing
- He’s easy to flex to the right and left, with his crest flipping over to either side
- The switch in flexion from one side to the other is smooth
- When the horse is allowed to stretch forward and downwards, he does so without changing stride or jerking the reins out of the rider’s hands
- …and lets the rider drive him forwards when the reins are long.
- The horse snorts
- His tail is carried quietly, with only the end swinging in time to the horse’s rhythm.
- In the case of a gelding, there is no noise coming from the sheath area.
Being relaxed yourself is how to ride a horse properly. Take a good ten minutes walking your horse before beginning any serious work. (If you’re in a bad mood or short on time, don’t do any serious work!)
During this walk phase, ride on a light contact, asking him to flex to the left and right and accept your hands.
A great exercise for loosening up your horse’s back and neck muscles when you move up to trot is to ask him to “chew the bit out of the hand” on a 20 meter circle. This is achieved by riding the horse forwards into the same light contact which invites him to stretch down into your hand.
Don’t forget to change direction, by riding the horse straight for one horse length before asking him to bend to the inside of the new circle.
Repeat this in canter. Some horses loosen their backs better after they’ve cantered. You’ll find the ideal for your horse after you’ve ridden him for a while.
Different horses need different amounts of time to relax mentally and physically. A rule of thumb is to ‘ride as short a time as possible but for as long as it takes’ to achieve this calm and willing state in your horse. Over time you’ll get a feel for how long your horse needs to relax before you begin more demanding work.
Relaxation is key to eliminating tension in your horse and preventing those muscle problems which make the horse short-gaited, resistant and uncomfortable. A relaxed horse is a happy horse.