Here’s some advice that I was taught long ago and that has worked for me for years. I don’t see it being taught much anymore though, which is a shame so I thought I’d take a minute to pass it along to you myself. And best of all, it’s really very simple – one of those “little gems” that can make such a difference: When a horse softens to your aids, you must immediately also soften.
This doesn’t mean you have to “throw the horse away” but when the horse gives, so must you. It is entirely possible to make a stiff horse even stiffer if you don’t soften when the horse softens to your hand or to your leg. If you don’t ease up on your “aids” when the horse softens often a battle ensues and it’s not only unfortunate but it’s counterproductive. If this battle happens often enough the horse will become confused and then resentful and some will even become downright angry.
This advice applies to all of your aids: your hands, your legs and your seat. When you don’t follow the horse’s softening with your own, you become rigid and less able to “feel” your horse. The beautiful rapport and balance between horse and rider is lost.
Riding is all about balance, rhythm and feel and there is no feel without balance and no rhythm without balance. I really like to teach all of my riders to ride without their hands on a longe line. This is an old-fashioned but tried and true way to teach balance. (My best riders were always able to advance this exercise to include riding bareback on the longe line.)
Riding without hands on a longe line is a great way to develop or improve your seat, and from there you can improve your hands and other "aids" and your overall "feel". With an improved feel comes the ability to soften when your horse softens. I hope this little gem from the past helps you improve your rapport with your horse. Talk to you later! JD