Creating a Soft Horse
- June 2, 2017
- Jenn Zeller
I believe that all horses are born soft: it’s our job when we start them as babies to keep that softness in them. We can do this by asking quietly, waiting longer, doing less, and asking when what we want is the easiest thing for them to do. We all want to ride a nice, soft horse.
A couple weeks ago, Lynn Kohr talked about riding the feet. I’d like to take that a step further and hopefully explain how that can be done.
There are many ways to attach a rein to a specific foot. One of the first things we do when we start handling a colt, is teach them to disengage their hips. We do this first on the ground, and then from their back. By placing our hand in front of the saddle horn, and using a leg, we teach that horse that when the rein is there, we want a specific back foot. This is what many of you may know to be called a one-rein stop.
The same can be said for the front feet. We can attach a rein to a foot, by teaching that horse to sweep that foot up and out. However, you have to ride that foot when it’s leaving the ground: we can’t ask when he’s got his weight on it, or we’ll trip him. We do this by riding short serpentines. The horse should literally fold in half. And we want to only release him when his feet are right and his weight is balanced. He should be equally moving all four quarters forward, round and quiet. By moving a hand to our hip, we can teach a horse to bring his shoulders through a turn for either a spin, or cow-horse turn (and there’s a difference).
When we stop and back a horse, a common mistake I see people make is that they ride the feet back, but forget about having the horse in proper form before they go to stop or back him up. Prepare the horse for the stop, by getting him soft in the face and collected. Then ask. The same goes for the backup. And we want to release with each try, each step he makes so that eventually we can back up and someone would wonder what we did to get that.
Another thing that helps create a soft horse is lateral flexion. In fact, we can’t really expect that horse to get soft vertically for a stop or a backup, if we haven’t taught him to get soft laterally first. I like to have my horses properly elevated (poll above the withers), jaw tucked nicely up and under, at a solid 90 degrees, such that if we hung a string, with a rock on it, from their foretop, it would hang completely perpendicular to the ground. I want their ears level and balanced.
I also want their hips to be free such that I can move them with just my feet, and no rein. In fact, there are four ways to move a horse’s hips and that, friends, could be a separate blog post in and of itself! I hope the video below helps give a visual aid to what I wrote above.
All of these things combined, help to make a safer, more balanced, and soft horse that’s ready to do any job you’d ask of him.
About Jenn Zeller
Jenn Zeller was transplanted, from a big city in Texas, to the plains of South Dakota. The only person in her family to ride, she grew up rodeoing, managed a rodeo scholarship to college, and earned a marketing degree from Tarleton State University. She went...