Reins — Too Slack is Not Slack Enough?

Head Carriage is Like a Fart
Pictured above: Common sense.

One of the challenges I find myself facing with Pilar is teaching her proper head carriage. Being a Friesian she likes to hold her head high, although once properly warmed up and interested in what is going on, she dips down to a quite decent ‘on the bit’ position (although there is of course no bit). Keeping her there, though…

As always, it comes back to the rider, i.e. yours truly. Alvin purchased a video camera this month (who’d have guessed from the sudden influx of little Pilar videos on the site, eh?). Watching the shoots of my riding there is a number of things I am very unhappy about, but the one that stands out the most is my hands. They’re everywhere. I thought I had steady, easy hands on the reins, but what I actually appear to have is light hands (at least!) that are going in every direction in order to communicate along the rein. My reins are too long.

My reins are too long. I never thought I’d hear myself say that. Logan couldn’t get the reins long enough, and as he was perfectly capable of responding to tiny signals along the slack reins, I let him have his way — heaven knows that horse had suffered enough pulling at his face in the past. I have seen so many horses like him in the past, struggling against the bit, trying to breathe, and ending up tied down with draw reins and chambons to achieve ‘proper’ head carriage. Instinct tells me to drop the reins, and give the horse freedom to move and breathe.

However, Logan was old and experienced and had a good idea of what I’d likely be wanting him to do. Pilar is young and inexperienced and relying entirely on me for directions and instruction. I need to pick up those reins, keep my hands still, and give clear, useful information to her as she develops the muscles and bearing required to achieve a healthy, natural head carriage when ridden.

The next couple of weeks I am going to be focusing on keeping my hands steady and still, and on finding a balance where the reins are light but not slacking, communicating my requests properly without using force.

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