Of Horse

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Clear Connection
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Clear Connection

“Your forearm should basically be an extension of the reins in a direct line to the horse’s mouth at all times.” – John O’Leary, Horse Trainer

While I am presently between trainers, I am blessed to work at the stables with Mary, a retired riding instructor. Since I respect that her time in the arena is time with her horse Rocky, I don’t like to ask her for advice. However, Sportie was being completely unmanageable one morning when Mary and I were exercising our horses in the same arena, and she could tell I had my hands full. Yet she respectfully held her tongue until I sighed in desperation:

“Sportie will not listen to me today! What am I doing wrong?”

Mary did not need to be asked twice.

“The reins need to be in a straight line from Sport’s mouth to your elbows.”

Of course, I knew that. And I thought they were, but as I looked down I could see some slack. I slid my hands up the reins a little. But Mary wasn’t done with me, now that she had a foot in a door she had obviously been dying to break open. True horsewomen don’t offer advice unless asked. We have no mirror in our arena, so Mary knew she needed to tell me exactly what she was seeing and what was wrong with the picture.

“Your wrists need to be flat,” she instructed. I obediently lowered and slanted my hands so my thumbs pointed towards Sportie’s mouth.

“Your hands need to be still, not stiff. Relax,” she continued.

“I’m trying to relax,” I murmured, now shocked that I had had any control at all over Sportie with such poor connection.

“Breathe. Your wrists need to be flat on the sides also, don’t bend your hands out towards me or in towards each other.” I continued to fix what I hadn’t realized needed fixing.

“Okay hands forward, remember to half halt just with your fingers and without moving your arms. If you need more control lean on his neck, not on the reins, and remember to release the reins completely when he stops for you.”

As I tweaked each and every inch of my rein connection, Sportie let out a deep sigh as in “Finally!” As we finished our riding session, I could feel our connection and control improved 100%. We were communicating back and forth through a clear and straight line.

Mary’s impromptu refresher lesson is our New Year’s gift to you and your horse, just in case your arena doesn’t have a mirror either. Happy 2017!


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  1. jst4horses
    Another great article, and I would like to add that it is important for the rider to know where they are going, at what speed...........I had a wonderful student one day who asked her husband to try it all out, so he did. He was simply walking a very solid therapy horse we had used for years. He was having a horrible time with her. Finally he stopped walking in frustration and said, I can not get this horse to even walk while I am on the ground, how will I get her to mind when I am on the saddle. I said, well, where are you going? He looked perplexed and then started laughing. He again walked out, with purpose, and taking the lead, he had no more problems with the horse. When he again pulled up next to us, he was laughing, he was a conductor of a city orchestra, a new position and was not doing well, he told us, and now he saw, through his experience with the horse, that he had NOT been leading, he had been wandering and waiting for the orchestra to read his mind.

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