I had a very eye opening lesson this morning. I debated not blogging about it because, honestly? Everyone has opinions. But, at the same time, this is my horse, my journey, I can blog if I want to, right?
I approached my trainer about my current mindset. And let’s be real. I’m struggling. I need direction. Getting back into riding this spring after everything we went through from mid fall through March, taking it easy WAS the right choice. But, we’re both relatively healthy now. And now I NEED more to keep me motivated. Light and low-key is good for winter or when I feel like crap (which will be back, I’m sure, I have chronic health issues), but I actually am doing OK. So I basically said that.
Since we overhauled me position (still a work in progress), my trainer said that if Nay was her horse, she’d overhaul his body awareness to improve his flat work with an ultimately goal of teaching him his changes.
None of that, in and of itself is controversial. Or, at least I don’t think. But, my trainer is a believer of using draw reins and using them properly (hence my thoughts on not blogging).
See, I’m not against draw reins OR any other tool. But I want to know why I’m using it, how I’m using it, and I want to know that I’m using the tool properly. We used them briefly a year or so ago prior to me getting sick and I ended up not feeling comfortable using them on my own so I stopped. This time, there is no winter circuit so I should actually get some lessons IN the draw reins in between practice rides to reinforce the lessons rather than me just learning something once or twice and getting lost.
Anyway, we spent a good 1/3 to 1/2 of the lesson at the walk just work on bending and changing direction and changing the bend back and forth while being aware of the bend and avoiding the counter bend. Plus, maintaining a marching walk. We weren’t focused on the hind end today, just the front end, the forward, and the bend. It was a good way to see that tugging my inside hand back really DOES get him unstuck. I’ve been told this constantly, but I only seemed to get it today. Plus, as always, inside hand to belly button to around turns which is finally becoming second nature.
Next, we moved the trot and applied the same thing with less turns and change of direction. But, the same idea. Interestingly enough, we’re far better bent to the left than the right. I like the left, but Nay’s been better to the right recently? Whatever. We started loose with a tighter braided rein just emphasizing FORWARD (key of the day). Then shortened the draw rein slightly. The goal here was to maintain the bend (easy to the left, harder to the right, but we got that) AND maintain forward. So, it was shorten and leg forward so that we emphasized that shortening the draw rein didn’t mean to slow. Praise (I had to find a word other than good boy since that = halt… er. “Yes” seemed to work well). Then do it again. We started VERY long so we never getting him short, but rather working with him to feel the contact and such. He definitely was not upset by it and less confused by the end.
Finally, we tried the same at the canter. Just on a half circle each direction. We started to the right, his good canter direction where we picked it up and promptly lost it… but after recollecting were successful. Interestingly enough, the right was HARD, I had to work hard. Granted, he was very much on his front end and not using his hind end which we’ll be addressing next lesson next week, it was a lot of work. To the left where we’ve been 50/50 with picking up the lead? Easiest canter transition I’ve had in forever. All the bending we did early on, he just stepped right into it and I never felt like I was going to lose the canter. Usually I struggle to keep the left but not today.
So my homework is to practice primarily at the walk and trot like today. Then toss in a couple half circles at the canter. We’ll regroup next week and go from there, bringing the hind end into our training.
Totally understand your concerns with not blogging due to draw reins. You actually made me remember the time I used draw reins when riding Soxie to help her bend, and just like you I was very hesitant to try them. But I did trust my trainer immensely, so I gave it a go – almost exactly what you were doing with Nay. I was having difficulty with getting that bend, and as we worked I barely even needed to touch them. It was an important lesson in that many of these tools we shy away from because we’ve seen the worst of how they’re used, when we can in fact use them responsibly and correctly to help a horse learn if other ways aren’t working. I was firmly against using a whip with Amber because a) she hated them, and b) she didn’t need one, but she needed help in figuring out what I was asking, which was to bring her inside hind forward and under herself. After a few days she didn’t need the whip, but I kept it so she’d get used to it as well as to help fix my left hand position LOL. I think this is why it’s so important to have a good trainer you trust, and it sounds like a good and challenging move forward for you and Nay to work on 🙂
Thank you for sharing. This seriously helped a lot. I grew up seeing draw reins used the wrong way and was always told this is why you don’t use them. And then I came to a barn that uses them as a tool for training and it looks nothing like I saw growing up. Even some of the pony kids learn to use them if they have green ponies (but only in lessons and only under supervision). Just a different world.
Wanna know a secret? I use draw reins on Al. Not everyday. But he is the MOST wiggly animal I have ever ridden, and they help tremendously with keeping him straight. Most of the time they’re swinging in the breeze. But they’re there when I need them, and seem to help guide him in a straighter plane. I refuse to jump in them though. I just don’t think that’s safe. Fortunately, he rides a lot straighter when he’s jumping and focused than he does what he’s bored with flat work.
Anyway, I agree with you. There’s a time and a place, and as long as you’re using them correctly, they can be a helpful tool.
Exactly. Part of the issue I have is that I grew up around people who evilized the use of draw reins. The whole, “they’re used to crank a horse’s head down” mentality and it’s hard to get past that even attitude in the back of your head even when you know that isn’t why you are using a tool? But we need help with body awareness and better flatwork and I’m open to using them properly so we can take the next steps.
It’s kind of like the 3 ring elevator bit. We put it on for a reason. Nay was rooting, dropping, and almost flinging all of us forward, out of the saddle (including my trainer—1 of her 2 rides on him). I kept the same mouthpiece that he likes and the issue was solved in 1 ride. Now, where I made the mistake was to keep riding in it for longer than a few rides, but we learned Nay is great in that but for 1-2 rides to learn stuff (training tool) and then we go back to his preferred snaffle. The leverage helps us put him in the correct position, him feel what it feels like, praise the heck out of him, and then we translate the feeling in his regular tack. He’s a quick study so this works.
horse people love to judge equipment or whatever that other folks use, but…. guess what? it doesn’t really matter. the only person who has to deal with riding your horse is you, or anybody you invite into that world. and it only really matters if you’re getting what you want out of that experience. any training tools that you find useful in that journey are fair game in my book, bc it’s pretty safe to say that none of us out here are sadistic asshats actually setting out to abuse or torture our horses lol.
100% though the boys call abuse and torture due to the lack of afternoon treats… they’d like to file a protest. Jiminy also says he’s being abused due to his muzzle… But yeah, thanks for this.
I had a coach recommend them for a lesson or two under very similar circumstances and in my opinion it was a much clearer and kinder way to teach poor pony what we wanted than the potential many many lessons with me not quite having the timing to correct things and causing long term habits and confusion.
I say whatever works for you and echo Emma’s comment above. After some experimentation, my trainer and I work with Dalton in a Pelham with a converter. I know there’s contention re the converter but you know what, it works for us, holding Dalton’s head in the right place