Many riders have difficulty getting their horse to go forward. They try pumping with their seat; kicking, squeezing, spurs, whips and any other means at their disposal but the horse still won’t go. While it is true that you may need some of these aids on a lazy horse the answer may not be what you are doing but how you re doing it. If you want the horse to go forward you need to take the handbrake off your legs and seat.
First I want to explain the idea of going forward. Simply moving is not necessarily going forward. Susan Harris, in The United States Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship Intermediate Horsemanship C Level, gives a good clear description of free forward moment; “In free forward movement he [the horse] is willing to move forward easily from a light leg aid, and he uses his body well when he moves. A pony that lacks free forward movement might act lazy, stubborn, or reluctant to move; or he may move with short, ‘sticky’ strides.” Ms. Harris continues to describe a horse in free forward movement as “not fast but long even strides, using his hindquarters, back and muscles freely with each stride. It also means that he wants to go forward and to do what you ask but is calm and relaxed about it.”
So how is free forward movement accomplished? The first thing we need to check is whether your seat and legs are acting like the hand brake preventing your horse from moving. To do this you will need an Equiball™ or any appropriately sized exercise ball. The size is important. You want a 90∞ angle at the back of your knee. If the angle is too big or small you will not feel what I am describing.
Make sure your feet are hip width apart. Do not try to straddle the ball. Begin to roll the ball. What direction did you choose first? Notice if it is a side-to-side or forward and backward movement. If it is sideways this may be a big reason why you horse won’t go forward! When your seat is constantly moving to the left and right the horse has to try and stay under you. This is like trying to balance a jar on the top of your head that is weaving all over. In order for the horse to go forward we need to direct our seat forward.
Now begin to roll the ball forward and back. Notice if you want to roll the ball more forward (angle of the knee decreasing from 90∞) or back (angle at the back of the knee increasing more than 90∞). If you unconsciously roll the ball more back than forward you may be making it hard for your horse to move forward. Every time you roll the ball backwards you are straightening your knees and bracing slightly against the ground. If you are doing this in the saddle you will be pushing against your stirrups with your knees straightening instead of bending. This will press your seat back in the saddle instead of directing it forward. It is like having your foot on the brake and then trying to stomp on the accelerator.
Now make a conscious effort to let the ball roll forward than back. Return to the midpoint where your knees are at 90∞ and then roll forward again, decreasing the angle at the back of your knees. Find a rhythm.
Applying this movement to the saddle means that your knees will move slightly forward and down each stride. This is a very small but important movement as it takes the handbrake off your seat and tells your horse your want him to move forward. Then your other aids will have a more positive effect.
Use this Murdoch Minute as a ‘body position self-check’ to ensure that you are allowing your horse to move forward before demanding him to do so. Working movements out on the ball can really improve your riding since the ball is ‘objective’ and only does what you do! For more exercises on the ball check out my Ride Like A Natural DVD #3 Get on the Equiball™. And remember – enjoy the ride!