Ride The Line: Improve Your Finesse
By: Linda Parelli
Finesse is all about precision and refinement, and it can be hard to figure out how to get that without becoming stiff in your body and upsetting your horse by using your reins too much. This article is about a great technique to help you improve your Finesse; I call it “Ride The Line.” It’s going to help you have quiet hands, a happier and more relaxed horse, and better results. Ready to learn how?
REFINING YOUR FOCUS
Most of us know we need to look where we are going, but when it comes to precision, you have to develop a more detailed focus. For example, instead of riding towards that tree or just doing circles and straight lines in an arena pattern, I want you to imagine a line on the ground to follow. Even more importantly, for your horse’s nose to follow! As soon as you begin to do this, things change dramatically.
When your mind and body are more coordinated, you become more balanced and clear in your communication.
Do you want to know one of the most common issues I come across in riding? The rider not focusing where the horse is focusing, and vice versa. While this works for riding that doesn’t require a lot of accuracy, it does not work for Finesse. In fact, it gives the horse mixed messages, because everything has to be so precise and when you turn your head too much, the horse feels this and he tries to go where you’re looking. As a result, precision becomes difficult and the horse loses balance and rhythm.
What you need to do is see the line on the ground in front of your horse’s nose and keep your horse’s nose on it. This will ensure that your entire head, neck and body are lined up with your horse’s head, neck and body.
(See photos of riders riding the line, looking through the horse’s ears.)
At first this is going to feel a bit weird, especially if you’ve never done it before, and you might feel like you’re looking down, but in fact you’re not looking at your horse; you’re looking at your line. You’ll have to correct yourself as you fall back into the habit of turning your head more than your body, but pretty soon it will feel more natural, and of course the results will be fantastic.
HOW TO RIDE THE LINE
You use your legs to control the horse’s body
When your horse’s body is not following his nose, the worst thing you can do is press on him with your legs in an attempt to bend or straighten him. First you need your horse to be mentally following your lead, which is what will happen as you guide his nose on the line. Pretty soon his body will follow his mind and his nose. Once all this is going great, you can think about enhancing the bend and improv- ing suppleness; just don’t try to press on a tense or stiff horse. When you use your hands and legs at the same time this can be too much information, and it can upset the horse. Keep things really simple when you’re teaching your horse, since in Finesse the idea is minimal use of the reins anyway.
Your reins are not equal in length
It’s common to have one rein shorter than the other. Make sure your reins are exactly the same length from the bit to your hands.
Your connection is uneven: on and off, flapping reins, or one rein is tighter than the other
If one rein gets loose, it’s confusing for your horse and it will be hard to keep his nose on the line. Make sure you keep a steady feel on both reins. This will ensure that the bit stays quiet, which will help your horse relax, and it will improve your accuracy. You cannot ride the line with loose reins. This is about precision, and a concentrated rein is required.
Note: This can be done with a hackamore, but it is more difficult than with a bit. The hackamore is for teaching gross motor skills and FreeStyle riding, where accuracy is not as necessary.
You make the line too difficult for your horse to follow
Carve a line that has graceful curves and turns, and is easy and soothing for your horse to follow.
Horse does not follow your line, resists, or fights your leadership
If you have a left-brained horse with a high spirit, you may run into this problem, because left-brained horses are born to argue! Don’t get drawn into the fight. Simply keep trying to follow the line until your horse realizes that you are committed to being the leader and cannot be disturbed nor distracted by his antics and tantrums. This means you also don’t get mad, frustrated or harsh, as that only proves you are not a confident leader. Just stay unflappably focused on the task. Pretty soon your horse will follow the line and that’s the time to stop and repeat it the next day or later in the session again. Remember that install- ing positive patterns takes between four and seven sessions; sometimes the darkest hour is just before the dawn!
Horse wants to go too fast
Some extroverted horses will speed up on straight lines or when you change directions. Instead of holding your horse back or stopping him with the reins, do an unexpected turn (or two or three) until he chooses to slow down. Pretty soon your horse will stay mentally connected to you and the speed and rhythm you set. Use quick changes of direction only for control; otherwise, stay with lovely, smooth, graceful lines.
Your horse turns one way better than the other
This usually means that YOU turn one way better than the other, and the problem is with your shoulders. Shoulders are for steering, so make sure you are turning your shoulders equally to the right and to the left. It helps to think about pulling your inside shoulder back and pushing your outside shoulder forward. You need to exaggerate it in order to break through the stiffness or restriction you’ve probably been riding with for years. A lot of riders turn their shoulders the wrong way and wonder why the horse drops his shoulder in the turn! Work on turning your shoulders at the walk first and notice how much better your horse starts to turn and how little you need to use the reins as a result. This is about retrain- ing your body.
You cross your inside rein over the withers
This issue relates to the one above. When you don’t turn your shoulders properly, your horse will ‘drop’ his shoulder in the turn, leaning in while his nose goes in the opposite direction. Don’t let that inside rein come toward the withers. Do the opposite of what you think you should and open the rein away from the neck, keeping it in line with your hip!
NEW from Linda Parelli! The Finesse Training Sequence DVD Set,
Precision Riding Made Simple For Both You And Your Horse
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