Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Man-made Stiffness

I have written often about suppleness in horses and how to achieve it.  I have also explained the concept of each horse having two distinct sides: one hollow and one stiff.  So, today I wanted to write about a related concept:  resistance or “man-made stiffness”.

Often I see people, trainers included, working to supple a horse only to have the horse become stiff and resistant.  The important word here is “resistant”.  When working with the horse, you must always find their stiff side, that’s a given.  If a horse is stiff on one side of the bridle he will also be stiff all through his beck and body on that same side.  And, you should never forget that after softening a horse’s stiff side, you will need to go to their hollow or “soft” side to help the horse balance.  But, you must also remember that there’s what I call a “golden moment” – that instant when the horse softens and the rider must soften as well or new issues start to occur.

Over and over I see people making the mistake of not giving or even relaxing when a horse begins to soften or “give” to the rider’s aids.  Once this happens, horses become stiff in a new way.  This man-made stiffness is because there was no release or “reward” for giving to the aids.  The rider keeps asking and the horse starts resisting and the rider keeps asking, often demanding more and more, and the horse continues to resist, often to the point of becoming angry but definitely to the point of man-made stiffness.  The golden moment of give and take has passed and it’s now an unfortunate battle. 

The basic concept that’s often forgotten here is that when the horse gives, the rider must give back.  It’s a two-way street if you will, and it can all happen – and pass – in the blink of an eye.   True, if a horse “takes” the bridle rein you must “take” it back.  But here again, you must also soften or “give back” to the horse as soon as the horse yields or, you start to create stiffness.  If you’re working on leg yields for example, as soon as the horse softens his shoulder and rib cage while going forward, you should soften the cues and encourage the forward.  Or, if you are just sitting on a horse asking him to give to your leg, stop asking as soon as the horse yields. 

The list of examples could go on and on but hopefully you get the idea.  It’s all about that golden moment of give and take!   Talk to you next week.  JD

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