Horse Riding Lessons Blog

Flexing Your Horse

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In order to progress when learning to ride a horse, you’ll need to understand the terms ‘flexion’ and ‘bend.’ There is an important distinction between the two and they have separate functions.

In this post we’ll look at flexion.

What is Flexion?

A horse is flexing when he turns his head sideways in the joint between his head and neck, called the axis joint.

This is the only part of the horse to change: the rest of the horse’s spine stays straight. If you look at a horse flexing to the right, you’ll see the back part of his right cheek bone slide under the parotid glands, closer to the neck muscles.

(The parotid glands are part of the horse’s salivary system. They are the fibrous bulges you can see between the base of your horse’s ear and the back of his lower jaw.)

When your horse flexes to one side the crest of his mane flips over to the side of the flexion: his head stays straight with both ears at the same height. You can see a glimpse of his inside eye and nostril if he is flexed correctly. 

Why Flex Your Horse?

Flexing teaches your horse to accept the outside rein - allowing its close contact on his neck – and to submit to the inside rein aid. It’s the beginning of suppling your horse, important for general submission and later for bending your horse in turns. Learning to ride a horse correctly means being able to flex him.

How Do You Flex Your Horse?

The horse should first be moving forward from your seat and legs into a steady contact. Exert more tension on the inside rein (the side the horse will flex to) while yielding almost the same amount on the outside rein. As soon as he flexes, your inside hand should lighten.

If he tilts his head – with one ear higher than the other – the outside rein is too tight. If the inside rein is too tight, your horse’s neck will be shortened and he can’t move freely forward.

Practice gradually flexing him to one side, straightening his neck then flexing him the other way. If he does this easily, he willingly accepts your inside and outside reins and you have reached an important milestone in your riding.

 Next we’ll look at bending your horse.

Understanding the Aids – Part 3: The Hands

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The hands (via the reins) are the final natural aid, and used to regulate a horse accompanied by the driving seat and leg aids.

A supple horse willingly listens to the rein aids: a stiff and therefore unhappy horse will resist them. That’s why, when you’re learning to ride a horse, it’s important to create impulsion (forwards energy) in your horse and achieve rhythm and relaxation in a happy, obedient mount.

You apply the hand aids by increasing or decreasing tension on the reins. Here are the types of rein aid you’ll use when you’re first learning to ride a horse.

(a) Regulating Rein Aid

This can be applied three different ways, depending on the intensity required. A light aid is pressure applied on the ring finger (the ’squeezing’ we talked about earlier): a stronger aid is achieved by rounding the wrists to shorten the reins, and the strongest use involves using the whole arm. It never includes pulling!

When you’re learning to ride a horse this rein aid is used to slow down the horse, alert him, halt or rein back. (Other uses only come into play when you’re further along with your riding.)

If you ‘put on the brakes’ by just using the reins, the horse will stop abruptly on his forehand in a sudden and uncomfortable movement. You need to push the horse into the rein contact with your driving seat and leg aids, so he feels the bit more strongly and slows down or halts.

As soon as your horse responds, ease the tension on the reins (yield) to reward him for his obedience.

Another aid in this category is the ‘open’ rein, in which you move your inside hand sideways and away from the horse’s neck: this is used when turning a stiff or unresponsive horse.

(b)  Yielding Rein Aid

This must be applied smoothly, and its range extends from softening of the finger joints to reaching the whole arm forwards.

It is used to reward the horse, and the more exaggerated form allows him to lengthen his neck and stretch. This is especially useful to give the horse a rest between strenuous sessions and again at the end of your ride.

And in case you’re wondering, the other rein aids are the ’supporting’ and the ‘non-allowing.’

Later on we’ll be looking at the artificial aids and their uses.