How to encourage your horse to stretch and relax

  • Teaching your horse to work long and low in a stretched outline is a particularly useful day-to-day training tool. It is also a movement in some dressage tests, so is a skill worth learning and perfecting.

    The aim is that you want to feel your horse’s back rise and for him to seek the contact forwards without falling on to the forehand. Here’s how to achieve it:

    • You can’t just throw reins at your horse and expect him to understand. Start in working, rising trot on a 20m circle in the frame and outline you would usually school in.

    • Think of pushing your horse forward into the contact by squeezing with your legs.
    • Take your hands a little wider to encourage your horse to take his nose down and forwards and play on the contact until your horse softens — note that playing on the rein only needs to be subtle movement with your fingers — your hands should remain steady. As soon as your horse softens and takes the contact down and forwards give him a quick little pat with your inside rein and then start again.
    • Push your horse out with your inside leg using lateral bend if you need to so that you can allow your horse to stretch. Ensure that while you are riding this exercise you don’t forget to support your horse with your outside leg.

    • If you lose continuity in the rein go onto smaller circle and retake some contact until your horse is re-balanced and then try the exercise again.
    • Timing is everything with this exercise. You have to have feel for when the horse is seeking the contact and softening. It is the rider’s job to then realise this instantly, follow it and praise your horse.
    • Don’t nag your horse in a negative way as you will only dig yourself a hole of resistance between you and your horse.
    • When introducing your horse to this exercise, think baby steps. Don’t try or expect to achieve everything that you want in just a handful of sessions.

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