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Welcome to my inaugural column on World of Horses.
I hope that you will enjoy it. - Karry Gardener
The Brief - Why can't I get my horse to move forward?
When I was told that of all the queries received at World of Horses, the most common one was "How Can I Get My Horse To Go Forward",  I got very excited because I've just sorted out that particular problem with my own horse and I thought "Whoopee, something I understand - easy-peasy!"
But the more I thought about it, the more I actually started to panic because although I understand the theory, trying to sort out why people can't get their horses going forward on the internet was just going to be a nightmare ! 

I am lucky in that my teacher, Alec Lyall BHSI (hereafter referred to as The Boss) is able to get on my horse for me and actually show me visually and at first hand, all the things he tries to teach me verbally which sometimes, I don't immediately understand.
But then The Boss is always telling me that when he describes "riding" whilst he is teaching, he just tells it like it is, right down to the feeling he gets from the horse. Sometimes the client "gets it" sometimes they go away and play until they get it for themselves - that's when teaching becomes such a pleasure when a difference can be made, seen, and above all felt by the rider.
I had The Same Problem - How Did My Instructor And I Set About Solving It ?
So lets have a go eh ? When I got my aged ned, I discovered, quite by accident that I could get her, momentarily at least, to go "down onto the bit" by fiddling the contact. i.e. spreading my hands wide over her withers and bracing them with an almost backwards action until she visibly "gave" to me in her neck and her poll . What I didn't realise was that there was no way I could sustain this, although it looked ok, because I had "pulled" her onto the contact instead of driven her to it. What I had actually learned to do with my horse set me back several weeks and I'll tell you why !
I had achieved the "outline" that everyone seems to be obsessed with, but my horse would not go forward and "take "my hand forward in an accepting way. What I had taught her to do was lean into my hands and drag herself along using her front legs.  So the walk was flat, the trot too fast and bumpy and the canter was unbelievably horrible!

Her back was rock hard and I was unable to take a sitting trot and at that stage, I was clueless as to what I was doing wrong. So along came The Boss who instantly tells me that as long as I insist on hanging onto the front end, the back end cannot move. 

This was demonstrated when he made me let my reins go through to the buckle and drive the horse in walk, trot and canter on no contact at all with me clinging on for life to the balance strap I have on the Dee rings of my saddle across the pommel (something which I think all old people like me should have).

It demonstrated that the horse could move forward but I wouldn't let her. The thing that was stopping her, surprise, surprise was ME ! My mare has her teeth checked and rasped regularly which is important for all horses and especially for young ones whose secondary teeth are still developing and the growth of which, can interfere with the part of the horses mouth where the bit lies.

I ride my ancient (22 year old - aspires to be a Hanoverian when she grows up ) mare in a KK Ultra jointed snaffle. It was mega expensive because it is made of Aurigan (high silver content) and is anatomically designed not to put pressure in the horses mouth. So far, I have been doing all the right things and using the right tools for the job. The horse's mouth is comfortable and the bit is kind and the horse not "over bitted". All this becomes irrelevant though, if the hands holding the reins are hanging onto the horses mouth pulling it into a contact.
The first thing The Boss made me do was to apply a new warm up regime which meant that I worked my horse in on a looser rein and sent her forwards in walk and trot actively and using my legs and my whip to  drive her forward . I didn't bother doing directional changes as this would have been putting in an exercise that we were not ready for . At this point, it didn't matter where her head was - the most important things was that she moved forward freely and unencumbered by the reins.

She soon learned that I wasn't going to hurt her mouth and gradually she started to lower her head (this took twenty minutes though and not three!). When her head was lower, she started to "take" my hands and the reins forward and as she did so, her back became much softer to sit on and I was able to take sitting trot . We were still not in an outline and still not on a contact, but she moved very freely forward with her hind legs swinging through and underneath her body.

I was instructed to take up the reins but not on a very short contact - we still trotted briskly forward (and I was tired by this time.) At this point I was instructed to use a half halt (squeeze for about one second) on the outside rein and together with my seat and legs, I was able to slow down her speed so that the trot become slightly more collected. As I collected the trot down, again using the driving aids of seat and legs (and whip if needed), I squeezed her forward so that she was using more energy but without increasing the speed at all.

At this point, there was a definitive "giving" in her neck and poll and she was salivating freely. Several times, I slowed her down on the short sides, and pushed her back up on the long sides of the school. If her head came up and off the contact, I did not yank it back down or fiddle with the reins but kicked her forward (and tapped her with the whip) until she decided to lower it herself . I did this on both reins and I did it for about fifty exhausting minutes until we were both completely shattered !

If you are a nervous rider and I am not the bravest in the world, it takes a little courage to let go of your horse in this way. The Boss was aware of my apprehension and he told me that If The Horse Is Moving Forward, It Cannot DO Anything - it cannot put in an almighty buck, it cannot rear , the problems only occur when the horse ISN'T moving freely only when it is STUCK !
I cooled her off by going back to the long rein and walked her around. But that wasn't it - there was more. After five minutes of neck stretching, we started again building up to sitting trot quite quickly but this time I was instructed to bend her neck whilst we were trotting around to the inside of the arena, then straight and then to the outside. It was whilst bending to the outside that I noticed how she started to flex at the poll and willingly take my hands forward. I was able to bend her both ways, ride her straight and ,finally, change direction with ease. I did this by NOT using the inside rein to bend but by driving her with the inside leg into the outside hand and actually giving a little on the inside rein to allow her to bend - ah but that's bending and that's another matter entirely. 
What Conclusions Did I Reach ?
The Boss always says that you " You must ride to put in place all the tools that you need to do the things that you want to do" and NOT just for the transition or the change of direction or the movement or whatever. In fact, If you start a change of direction and it's sloppy and badly set up, don't ride it, go back and set it up again until the movement becomes secondary to the setting up of the movement.

In this lesson I was riding to get the horse working forward and taking up the contact for herself because SHE WANTED TO and not because I pulled her into it. She established the contact herself because she trusted my hand and wanted to move forward which in turn made her go down on the bit. When she got there, I didn't pull her in the mouth and although I may have made adjustments with the reins, they were always sideways, stretching , elastic movements designed to re-balance her and not  pulling back hard movements which hurt her.
When your horse won't go forward , it's nearly always because if he or she does, it causes pain and being a flight animal, the natural reaction is either to run away or hide. The rules must therefore be to check teeth, check the fitting of the tack in general, especially the saddle over the back and check how the bit lies in the mouth and if the bit is appropriate. Too strong and the horse will back off or run away - just what strong bits were designed to avoid, but strong bits control by applying pain and so the whole sorry circle starts again. Above all, check what you are doing to stop the horse moving forwards , take off the handbrake and drive into the contact don't pull onto a contact !
How Can We Prevent This Happening With Our Young Stock ?
Also, please bear in mind with younger horses, especially those that are still getting secondary teeth and those who are newly broken, that a young horse has much to learn about carrying a rider, balancing itself without leaning into the contact and every care should be taken NOT to damage a young horse's mouth because it will quickly become unwilling to accept the bit at all.

It must also be worked on the basis that the muscles are underdeveloped and it will take time and many many years of schooling before it can cope physically and mentally with the same demands as an older horse. If you want  instant results, buy a schoolmaster NOT a youngster.

In theory at least in Madame Ginger Bits I should have bought the ultimate schoolmistress when she was 21 but in reality, I have spent the last ten months undoing the damage she sustained over the last two decades. She is although, mature enough to cope with my inadequacies and my demands (even though she sometimes fails to understand the point of me at all!!)
What Did MGB Think About It All ?
Madame Ginger Bits was totally exhausted afterwards but she had her neck bent right over with her head about twelve inches off the floor - she had worked hard and she had worked freely of her own accord. She told me that she was glad she had given me a hard time with all the stiffness and head tossing and napping because she appreciated being ridden properly and thoughtfully. She also said that if  I was a really nice Mummy and generous with the Spearmint Polo's, she would consider doing it again for me tomorrow - but only if I was as kind on her mouth.
I've just pointed out to Madame Ginger Bits that if she insists on going on tour with Anky Van Grunsven like she's always rattling on about then she'll have to start wearing her double bridle again and so she told me that she would but only if I went out and spent £200 or so on a yummy nice tasting Sprenger Weymouth Aurigan set.

Oh, and whilst I was at the tack shop, would I mind bringing her back some of those apple flavoured crunchy treats and maybe one of those hanging thingies with licky bits on and possibly a ball that smells of molasses with treats that roll out and maybe a large packet of horsemints and anything else that might make her life with a cow as a companion more bearable.

Will someone take that mail order catalogue off my horse please !!!
To send your email question to Karry please click here
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