I’ve been working on a new analogy recently, which has been positively received and greatly helped several riders. So here it is.
So often riders get overly focused on what’s going on at the front end of their horse, as it’s easier to see that rather than feel what’s going on behind them, that they become handy and forget to ride from leg to hand.
Some horses, when a contact is taken up, shrink in the neck and try to hide behind the bridle, either by hollowing or becoming overbent.
Putting the two together makes a difficult combination.
In walk, I get the rider to gather their reins – not too short, but not slack – and this is the rein length that they will maintain. I ask them to imagine that they have created a box with each rein being the long side of the box, and the short sides of the box are created by the bit and the space between the hands. The box is going to stay fairly square, and this size.
I ask my rider to push their horse forwards in the walk, focusing on the idea of filling the box in front of them with the head and neck. This encourages the rider to use their leg rather than their hand to improve the horse’s gait. It also discourages the rider from shortening the reins, and the horse shrinking behind the bridle.
Once this is established in walk, we move into trot. The aim is to keep the horse filling the box in front of the rider. This encourages the rider to keep using the leg and have a softer hand, which creates a more positive and consistent rein contact. The horse tends to stay longer in the neck, and the rider feels that they have more horse in front of them than they do behind.
I find that thinking of this box helps change the rider’s thought process and they start to apply the leg before the hand.
Of course, the size of the box can be changed as necessary – if the horse carries themselves in a shorter frame in one gait, or they are being asked to stretch longer and lower – but adjustments to the rein length should be planned and not fussy with micro adjustments. This also helps create a more stable connection between mouth and hand.
Once a rider understands and visualises the box, it becomes a useful reminder when the horse drops behind the leg, becomes over bent, or shortens the neck. I find it particularly useful to improve the canter, helping the rider to use their seat and leg to increase the energy in the canter.