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DO SOFT HANDS MEAN GOOD HANDS?

By
John O’Leary
Horseman
www.horseproblems.com.au

 ©2002

 

 

 

I often get asked about light hands when referring to the rein control of horses.  This has to the most confused subject in the Horse Industry, the one subject that is largely kept back from pupils imho and the one that causes the most failed training scenarios of all. Video, Trainers, Coaches and experts everywhere, are most often very politically correct these days and will rarely let the plebs' see what happens in the 'real world', how they themselves ride (behind closed doors) and why those at the top have so much success. The other problem is that a lot of Coaches do not know the correct rein control techniques and therefore cannot pass it on and of course, no article would be complete without saying the Pony Club System completely fails in this area. So there has to be confusion.

There are varying reasons but the predominant one is found in the much confused comment. quote,   "People have commented that I have light hands, so what would be causing my horse to be ignorant?" "As soon as my horse gave, I gave"

Put simply, the 'light hands' must only be evident when a horse is 'being light'. Yes, we are all looking to ride with 'light hands' and a 'light contact' but only in return for a 'light horse'. When a horse gets 'resistant or ignorant' our hands become likewise, backed up with an increased amount of 'leg on' commensurate to the increase in the hand. The moment the horse gives to the increased hand which has gone to .1% above the increased ignorance, we lighten leg and hand, thus rewarding the horse for lightening.

Therefore, this confused state of "I have light hands all of the time" will always be exploited by horses and is the one thing that actually causes 'ignorance and resistance', ever increasing as time goes on and with a progressive deterioration of the quality of the mouth of the horse and more importantly, an increased heaviness in the mind, which transfers to the mouth.

Resistance is a state of mind, transferred to the mouth. To train the mind will see the training of the mouth. Train a light mind and you will get a lighter mouth.

Horses do not want to travel with arched necks. They don't do that in the wild except briefly during sexual games, fighting and so on but normally, they go around with their heads stuck out in a most relaxed manner. Not suitable for us humans.
 

THE MOUTH IS A PACKAGE DEAL

It is therefore true then that there are many other things that influence the mouth. Keeping a good mouth on a horse is a 'package deal' and without all things operating at 100% of the time, you cannot maintain perfection. Here are some of them.

  • Ground Manners reflect directly on attitude and attitude transfers to the mouth. What you get on the ground you inherit under saddle.

This is ruining the mouth of the horse.

  • The manner of leading a horse is highly connected to the retention of a good mouth. If you lead Pony Club/Racing Industry style, you cannot have a top mouth.

  • The manner that a rider operates during all other times other than proper training is also crucial and continual mouth damage is common place with most riders' in Australia.

Both the rider on the left and right are ruining the mouths of their horses. That dis-pleases me as I broke them both in. lol This is a pleasure ride, not flatwork. Besides that, it has other implications regarding happiness of the horse.

  • Mouth damage can be caused whilst a horse is stationary and I see this happening also with at least 80% of Australian Riders'....and

The mouth on this horse is being diminished. Contact for no sake....whereas this horse is not being ruined...

  • The ridden training techniques that are common place, ensure that a horse can never improve and only deteriorate. By this, I mean this.

This style of riding is normal in Australia and sees people going around with a contact on the mouth of horses but never achieving 'roundness' or 'lightness'. Some are attempting to achieve it but have never been taught how and others are swinging off the mouth for balance. What you see here is the complete destruction of a mouth. Then you progress to building an upside down neck, like this.

and with that comes the deterioration of the longitudinal muscles and the development of the under muscles. Ever building a more resistant and hollow horse. Working the under muscles, like this:

Same horse 5 days later:


 

LEAD IN BRIDLE

The instillation of a 'led in bridle' or a 'anti rearing bit', immediately begins to diminish any possible quality mouth of the future. Lead a youngster in a bridle, unless you are natural horsemanship trained and you will be lowering the possible ranking of the mouth when the horse gets to the Horse Breaker. You are in fact, 'mouthing the young horse' by doing this. Badly!

You only get one go at attaining a good mouth on a young horse. The foundation stones can be good or bad.

So what should we be doing? Well I believe that unless a rider knows how to ride a horse in a 'round and soft outline', if that is what they want, they are better off staying right away from the mouth until such time that they can achieve it. Otherwise, you see what is in the photos above. For further comment on this, go to:

http://www.horseproblems.com.au/Help....I%20can't%20let%20the%20reins%20go.htm

What do we do?

  • When in training mode, train properly, correctly, demand lightness, do not accept resistance and reward for a job well done with a light and soft contact. Rewarding the horse often.
  • Looking to be riding with kindness through the hands and with consistency. That is what horses appreciate.
  • Assisting the horse with a correct riding position and a still one.
  • Not accepting ignorance or resistance and dealing with it by countering such resistance via an increased leg and hand until the horse ceases it's resistance and then lightening back to 'kind hands' and a 'soft feel'

In my opinion, riders' must learn that it is not a crime to 'take on' the mouth of a horse in order to retain it's quality. Providing however, that such rider knows how to.
 

THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

Once again, it gets back to the system. Unless subjects like this are broached, unless Coaches are taught how to train horses not just position, unless Coaches stop uttering, "Lovely, nicely engaged, big improvement' when it is clearly not and unless position Coaches get taught 'horse training' as well and stop hiding behind the subterfuge of their art, not much will improve across the board. You can ride with the World's most perfect carrot up you know where but that doesn't mean the horse will like your hands. In fact, most of the time, horses do not like the hands of perfect looking riders'. Those riders' are often, 'ineffective'.

Constancy is the next highly important element, for only this can gain the trust required from the horse for it to go there. Go where, I hear you ask. Go to the comfort zone. The comfortable place to be. The soft contact in return for kind hands. The more consistent the hands of a rider, the faster a horse will believe in those hands and trust that they are not going to punish the mouth.

Punishment of the mouth is why horses resist, go 'behind the bit', go 'above the bit', 'grab the bit', 'reef the reins' out of the hands of a rider. Why, because they dam well can't trust em. Would you?

So now you know why horses go through what they do, why horses do the things that they do, what you as an amateur rider has to aim to do or learn to do, but remember, until the time that you can, please stay off their mouths.

 

 

"An ordinary Trainer cannot hear a Horse speak, a Good Trainer can, a Great Trainer can hear them whisper and a Top Trainer can HEAR THEM THINK"

"Wear your Heart in your Hands"

 

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