Woe Betide My Aids

Specifically my hands. Woe freaking betide my hands.
While I’m often extremely critical of my own riding, I know I’m not terrible. Unfortunately, I’m a rider in a horrible gray area. I know enough to be effective, I know enough to know how much I don’t know. I’m solidly a mid-level dressage rider. While I stick like a tick to any shenanigans, I’m much more likely to curl into the fetal position to ride out a jarring trot than to sit up beautifully and ride confidently forward.

As a result of these failings, I’m honestly as responsible (well, probably more) for my horse’s slow progress as my horse’s own greenness and setbacks. Most of the time these failings of position, timing, or creative thinking are difficult to identify quickly and address. But recently I’ve identified a big place where I am messing up my horse’s training and am working hard to fix the issue.
Well, issues. Bc, I have a pair of them.
My hands have always been a fail point for me. Like most humans, I’m prone to moving them without thinking and tend toward grasping and holding with them when I really shouldn’t. Years spent being trained by Pig taught me much better hands, but unfortunately I went quite some time without riding him regularly. In his young horse way, Bast has undone a lot of my previously developed better habits.

The connection between my hands and the small of my back and abdominals has been shattered. I’ve been working to get back to the gym to try to rebuild that relationship, but in the meantime I keep finding myself pulling on my horse.
GASP! HORROR! Pulling?! NO!
Pulling on Bast doesn’t result in the immediately apparent negative consequences. Instead, the issue manifests in a much more insidious expression. Unsurprisingly, Bast tends to fall forward in his gaits when I pull from my hands instead of ride half halts from my seat. He is gradually starting to lose the freedom in his shoulder and upward expression that I’m working hard to build.

The changes in Bast’s balance since I started working with him have made some of these issues less obvious. However, as we work towards collection and require more active and submissive half halts, the need for me to stop pulling is getting more urgent. I need to be better so my horse can understand he is free to move expressively through his shoulder, giving himself the room to sit behind and step under himself. Currently he backs away from my hand in downward transition and half halts, and drops his withers and back. Eek!
Yeah, yeah. Definitely keep pulling on him here so that he can't get out of his own way and make room for his hind end ... smart. Real smart.
This is an area I failed Pig in his training, so I’m really hoping to fix these same mistakes with Bast and avoid continuing to train this way. The young guy already tends to travel curled up in front, and loves to use his short little neck against me. By insisting he respond to my seat aids, and not succumbing to pulling, I encourage a more trusting connection and more active half halts.
Instead when I pull I encourage the outside shoulder to literally fall off the horse. Like pictured here. Useful.
I’ve been working actively on this for the last week. It’s really frustrating work. Bast is used to me giving up when he blows off my seat, an instead pulling on him. My seat comes off when I pull, so he’s able to escape doing the harder work of sitting and pushing with his hind end. I’ve still had to do some pretty significant tooth flossing when he blows me off hard, but I work to take that strong pressure and route it through my seat. When I’m able to pull that off, he’s more responsive to my half halts going forward.
How he really feels about the "half halt."
I’m heartened by the fact that we’ve ended our rides recently with a quiet and relaxed horse who listens much more to my seat. Eventually I think we’ll be able to access this sort of ride earlier in the warm up. Or at least … we will if I can keep my hands from moving backwards. Wish me luck!

Anyone else have a riding problem that’s causing you training woes?


  1. I'm having what feels like so many riding problems...and in true form, we fix one and another one pops up the following week LOL My right hand really, really likes to go rogue which affects the entire left side of my body -- but at least I am really starting to be aware of it, even if I can't yet fix it consistently. Awareness is half the battle. Also, having an independent seat is SO hard!

  2. I find t so hard to keep a consistent contact without pulling. My last ride before I left I worked on a simple circle with the goal of using as little aids as possible. It was interesting to see how soft we were. Not sure if I can recreate it but it gave me a idea.

  3. Hands are the worst! My left is good since it’s my less dominant hand and is dumb enough to just listen. My right goes rogue and starts doing all sorts of things without asking lol

  4. This problem never went away with Hampton. it might be because I suck, or it might be just how he's built and diving down is way easier than sitting on your hocks. but yes when he does not respond to me seat, he gets his teeth floated. and then will usually be like "oh right! yes maam ok" and THEN I can use my seat. I have this discussion with him EVERY. DAY.

  5. It can be so hard to self diagnose these problems! Remember to give yourself a pat on the back for being the best computer.

    Also I guess it would be nice for me too if we started texting each other again when we did gym and stretchies (omg I need stretchies so bad I'm dying help me Austen!)


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