I recently saw a question about a horse that pulls down on the bit. Many comments said "Your horse needs a bigger (stonger) bit."
However, a horse will lay on any bit you 'let' them lay on.
The following exercise is useful for the horse that pulls on the bit or any headgear you're riding in.
It also works for horses that are too elevated or braced.
All of which have balance, or lack of it, in common.
The old solution, whether people admitted it or not, was often to inflict pain to discourage the behaviour. Thankfully that is becoming less acceptable.
We must always remember that rhythm, relaxation and suppleness must be encouraged, and not sacrificed.
Part 1: Observe it
The first part of solving the problem of the horse pulling on the reins is to notice they are doing it.
You could use narrow or slippery reins and you'll find they'll hurt your hands if the horse starts pulling.
This will remind you.
The exercise explained below should be taught to riders and horses even when the horse is not making any mistakes. It is a tool (that promotes suppleness) and not a punishment.
Then when it is needed they will both be familiar with it.
Part 2: Improve it
As soon as you feel the need to close more than just your thumb and first finger to keep the reins, do the following:
- Turn your body towards which ever side your horse is bent.
This will give the outside rein while bending with the inside rein and spiraling into a smaller circle.
- Slide your inside leg back and do turn on the forehand (disengaging the hindquarters).
As the horse disengages, they will offer more bend, as long as the outside rein allows it.
They are giving to the inside rein, from your inside leg.
They are also suppling their inside hind. That's a benefit you'll want as you teach them to transfer more weight to their hindquarters.
If they are straight when you start, make sure you practice this to either side, not just one.
If they are already bent, stay with that bend as you disengage so you don't create resistance.
- As the hind moves over and they give to the inside rein, soften your inside leg.
Resume equal contact and ride forward on that bend.
Gradually straighten and resume what you had been doing.
- Repeat as needed.
You may have to repeat quite a lot in the beginning. The thing is you need to be consistent in your expectations.
Decide how much contact/pressure you're willing to have with the horse's mouth. Apply this correction each time the horse exceeds that.
For more of my thoughts on contact, check out my other article
Question: Contact in a Bosal or Bit.
Why not half-halts?
You might wonder why I don't just suggest the rider apply half-halts.
Although this is a really good idea, many riders do not understand how to ask.
Or don't know if they are getting a response.
I find it often leads to more pulling.
The exercise shown here can be applied by most riders to most horses.
It will improve the horse's suppleness while breaking the tug-of-war habit.
This will improve the chance of success when half-halts are added.
edited to add: you’re asking the horse to engage just the inside hind leg. Something that is easier for them than engaging both, and the reason why practicing both directions is important.
When they learn and develop the ability to engage each hind leg separately, then the rider will be able to start asking the horse to engage both which is necessary for a half-halt to work.
Let me know your thoughts below.