We are all trying to get our horses to that finished level. I find the easiest horses to ride are the ones that guides on a loose rein or stay between the reins without contact.
To me, a finished horse is one that does not lean on any type of pres-sure. If they do not lean on the rein or the leg, we will have a horse with a soft face and one that moves freely and willingly.
There is also another type of lean — leaning while guiding in the arena. To discover where a horse is leaning, we must turn them completely loose from our hands and see if they will stay between the reins.
I find one of the hardest things to accomplish is riding on a loose rein. I teach this to a horse before I ever start collection or riding with contact. If they can stay between the reins on a loose rein, it will be much easier to begin to ride with contact.
Before I begin to teach any guide, I ensure I am able to move my horse’s
shoulders and hips willingly, and with a soft face.
I use an exercise called ‘stay on the rail’ from the Training Thru Trust DVD set. We start this exercise with our horse on the rail and our hands pointing forward in the direction we want to go and with no contact.
If our horse comes off the rail, he will be coming out from under our reins as well and this will be our cue to roll him back into the rail slowly. In the beginning this will be done with just the direct rein or rail side rein.
We don’t want to force the roll back, just wait for your horse to complete the roll back or direction change on the rail and time our release when he is headed down the rail in the other direction.
It’s very important we don’t ‘babysit’ our horses through this exercise. By that I mean we can’t give them any kind of help with the rein to encourage him to stay on the
rail. We want to 100 per cent let him make the mistake so when it’s fixed, its 100 per cent fixed.
If you have a rushy horse that will not hold a gate on a loose rein, you will want to address this before getting into guide.
To address that, you can use the same idea except you will be rolling back for him rushing off or breaking gate until we establish some speed control.
Riding with constant contact or holding our horses is a very natural response
when a horse always breaks gate or gets rushy. I consider that the equivalent to riding the breaks in your car... it will be fine for a while but sooner or later we will run out of brakes.
If you are nervous to about riding on a loose rein, I suggest you start this exercise at a walk to keep everything slow, and show your horse what you want in a controlled setting.
It’s not uncommon when starting this with a new horse to have to roll back and then immediately roll back again, and keep that pattern until we see a change in our horse.
At the same time, we also want to make sure we are giving them a chance to make a mistake before we start fixing them. To get a horse to stay in a desired gate or stay between our reins on a loose rein, we must first give them a chance so we can fix or reward them.
A good thing to remember is, if at any time we find our horse stiff in the face or leaning on the rein, we should abort mission and fix that before moving on. I find if we don’t address this issue, it begins to snowball and get worse.
If we start to feel our horse getting heavy, we can start a roll back and continue moving his shoulders, pulling out and up until we can get him moving willingly and with a soft face.
We can use a light but building outside leg pressure in this exercise to help encourage our horse to soften. Once we feel him willing and soft again, we can move right back on to the rail and continue on with where we left off.
"This is one of my favorite things to teach my horses because I find the more freedom we can give a horse from the rein, the happier they are. Enabling our horses to do their job and accept responsibility for their movement is what creates the enjoyable and successful ‘finished horse.’"
- Kade Mills, two-time Mane Event
Trainer’s Challenge Champion.