Balance is incredibly important to the horse's mental, emotional and physical development. A horse that relies on his rider to hold him up will not be balanced and will experience difficulty in every movement. My goal for each horse, regardless of discipline, is that they learn to carry themselves in a way that leads to self collection. Meaning, I don't want collection via force, holding or pulling and then driving. There is no self-carriage in that...
Self-carriage means that the horse is completely responsible for holding his body in a specific way. This leaves the rider free to do other, more important, things. I refuse to use force to hold a horse in a "frame" or "in contact". Instead, I teach them to carry the bridle comfortably, never becoming afraid of it, never leaning on it, or feeling they must take it away from the rider's hand. The gray gelding was afraid of the bit, because he'd had the worst bitting situation on the track. His avoidance, his protection of the soft tissues of his mouth, was to lift his neck to full height and then lift his nose straight up into the air. That is a highly effective way of taking control away from the rider.
Interestingly, unlike most horses with this problem, the gray would do this and not run away. This posture was exhausting to him and he certainly couldn't see much. It was imperative that I fix it. With the sweet iron snaffle on the Vaquero bridle, I chose the right rein to help him. I very gently slid my hand down that rein and brought my hand back to my thigh. By using one rein, the gelding didn't have anything to lean against. His brace had been trained into him using both reins, so he had no prior knowledge ingrained to resist just one. When he brought his head around to the right, I reached out and rubbed him on his forehead. He softened immediately to my touch and we finally made that connection. He understood I was different. I wasn't going to hurt him. I was going to honor him. I would set things right. I released his head when the softness came and we started forward again.
Each time he got frightened and raised his neck and head, I would bend him gently. I wanted him soft to the reins, so I made sure I bent him equally on both sides. I took my time, there was no need to hurry. This problem had been built into this horse for some time and rushing to fix it was not the answer.
Horses being who they are, seeking comfort, seeking direction, it wasn't too long before this guy was walking comfortably along with his head at wither level and with some soft feel on the reins. Each time he got nervous or he fell out of balance, he would seek me for the answer instead of panicing and raising his neck and head.
We were on a roll. He wanted to trot and I thought that was an excellent idea. Might as well get the anxiety out of that gait, too!
Right away, his old training - the imbalance, falling on his forehand, looking for something to lean against and raising his neck and head came back. No worries! As we trotted around, I refused to pull on both reins. Instead, I repeated the work I did at the walk.
The correction at trot took less than half the time it did at walk. This gray really is quite special. He places himself in the care of his handler with such ease and grace. What better time to have his owner hop up and produce the same results...
Which she did. The combination of the correct equipment and philosophies worked beautifully. I was so happy for them!