Testing The Connection Through The Outside Rein

Over the last 2 months, I’ve discussed the importance of the outside rein in connecting aids and what it feels and looks like when your horse steps though the outside rein. This month, we’ll look into testing that connection through the outside rein.

TESTING THE CONNECTION THROUGH THE OUTSIDE REIN

After you’ve pushed your horse through the outside rein with connecting aids, you can tell if you’ve been successful by softening your inside rein forward for a couple of strides (uberstreichen). If your horse maintains his shape and position while you give your inside hand forward, you know he’s stepping through the outside rein.

Start your test on a circle where the bend of the circle will help you to put him through the outside rein. Give a set of connecting aids for 3 seconds. Close your calves, close your outside hand in a fist, and maintain flexion to the inside by lightly vibrating the inner rein.

Then put a loop in the inside rein by softening your hand forward toward your horse’s mouth for a couple of strides. Does your horse stay bent along the arc of the circle? Do his speed, balance, and frame stay the same? If so, you can feel confident that your horse is connected through your outside rein.

If anything changes, give the connecting aids again, and try the test again.

Next, challenge yourself by doing this same test on a straight line where you don’t have the bend of the circle to help your horse fill the outside rein.

When you give the inside rein away after the connecting aids, ask yourself if your horse’s spine stays parallel to the track or does his neck bend to the outside. If it bends to the outside, does it bend a little or a lot? The amount that your horse’s neck bends to the outside tells you the degree he’s connected (or not) through the outside rein.

Once you know your horse is stepping through the outside rein on circles and straight lines, do the same test during lateral work. Start a shoulder-in, a haunches-in, or a half pass.

Give your connecting aids and then soften your inside hand forward for a stride or two. Does your horse maintain his bend and position? If he does, you’re in business. If not, you’re probably helping him too much with your inside rein rather than pushing him from both legs through your outside rein.

HELP!

At this point, you’ve ridden a bunch of connecting aids, but your horse just doesn’t seem to understand stepping through the outside rein.

Every time you drive him forward and close your outside hand, he stiffens against the rein and raises and shortens his neck. So what now?

What I do in this case is use the momentum of a lengthening to give my horse the idea that he must go forward “through” the closed outside hand.

To do this, start on a circle where you know your outside rein has to be more definite because of the bend. Then ask for a lengthening.

When you’re really motoring along, close your outside hand in a fist while maintaining the lengthening. While doing this, your inside rein is doing its usual job of keeping inside.

If your horse lowers, stretches, lengthens, or rounds his neck even one inch, soften your aids and reward him. If he doesn’t, KEEP lengthening while maintaining your closed outside hand and vibrating your inside hand until you see his neck lower even slightly. (This could take half way around the circle in the beginning!)

When the power of the lengthening carries him forward through your closed outside fist and he comes rounder, soften your aids and praise generously.

INCREASING CONNECTING AIDS

If your horse still stiffens against your hand when he feels you use your outside rein, give “increasing connecting aids”. Start with light connecting aids but over the course of about three seconds, increase the pressure of the aids.

If you need “more leg”, you can tap your horse with a whip at the same time that you are using your driving aids and hands.
Now here’s the important part. While you’re doing this, watch your horse’s neck very carefully. The moment it becomes even slightly longer, relax all of your aids.

By lengthening his neck, your horse is telling you that he’s starting to step “through” your outside hand. He should be instantly rewarded both by softening all of the aids and by praising him.

Then start again with light connecting aids. Increase the pressure of the aids only if it’s necessary. Always start with light connecting aids rather than immediately going to strong ones so that you give your horse the option to respond to a subtle aid.

You always want to ride using the most refined aids possible. It’s not much fun for either you or your horse to ride from strength.

In this way your horse learns that when he arrives at your closed outside hand, he should soften and yield to the action of the rein. He has other options besides jamming up against your hand. He needs to view the outside rein as a wall—but it’s an invisible wall that he can step through.

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