In a lesson I was giving recently, I was helping a rider to do some bending poles. Whenever the horse went around the final pole before turning to come home, it would virtually stop, spin around and then have to get started again from a virtual standstill. Many riders use the same sharp turns with the reins to stop a horse that is out of control, yet this rider was only attempting to turn her horse.
This reminded me of a lesson I had many years ago with an old-time show jumping instructor. We were practicing turning at speed to make up time in a jump-off course, not dissimilar to the lass who was doing the bending poles. He first told us to stand on a line, canter up to a barrel and turn around it as quickly as we could then canter back. Easy you say? So did we at the time.
Then, he made us tie our reins in a knot, put the knot up on the hoses neck for emergencies only, then go and repeat the exercise without reins. We thought the exercise was impossible and that he must have been crazy…well he was a bit but it worked out to be a wonderful exercise.
The bottom line is that most riders learn to turn by pulling on the inside rein. When we do this, we turn the horse’s neck but they commonly escape “through the outside rein” just like a car going straight on a slippery road despite the wheel being turned. We need to learn to turn with both reins and engage the hindquarters at the same time.
The idea of this exercise with no reins was to learn to turn the horse more with our seats, and more generally, to practice using our seats as a primary aid, preferably, before we use the hand.
The “trick” to turning the horse with your seat in this exercise is to shift the seat in the saddle then turn the trunk and shoulders like you would turn a bar stool when you can’t touch the bar or the floor. Other essential ingredients to this exercise are to look exactly where you want to go and to push the horse forward in the turn.
Reiners, campdrafters, polocrosse players and sporting horse riders generally learn this lesson by necessity while many casual riders, dressage and even jumping riders can get away with pulling on the inside rein, just like my pupil was doing. As unusual as it may sound, give my “bar stool” exercise a try… anything to break the habit of pulling on the rein.