Horses are very adherent creatures. The most direct and active affinity you have with your horse is through those thin strips of leather that links your hands to the bit. Horses are drastically responsive creatures to conceive with, and the tissue in their mouths are fracturable and sensitive. Through the reins you have the authority over your horse's entire body. Your horse's asset, both laterally and horizontally, his adopt, and his gaits are all easily manipulated by your use of the reins. That means you can help, or hinder, your horse's ability to carry himself evenly from side-to-side and from front to back. The direction and speed at which you move your hand(s) can activate or shut down different parts of your horse's body. For example, rearward pressure can shift your horse's balance over his hindquarters and encourage him to round his back. That action him to compress his neck and back, and create a lot of altercation in his body. His gaits will become mechanical and lose their natural balance and fluidity. In some instances, your horse may elevate his head and hollow his back in an attempt to escape the pressure. Also known as "above the bit," this causes a horse to shorten his stride and become rough and high-headed.
Pressure applied with a single rein can communicate a wide variety of messages depending on the direction of contact. Take the rein out to the side, and your horse's head, neck, and shoulders will approach. Shorten the rein while you hold your hand a couple inches in front of the saddle to admonish your horse to elongate his neck and reach more deeply through his shoulders.
How artfully, or slowly, you make contact with your horse's mouth makes a difference too. I never pull on a horse with the reins. Pulling or yanking creates tension, anxiety, and resistance, because you're forcing your horse to respond instead of asking. This method also encourages your horse to stay relaxed and connected, because he's never alarmed by sudden pressure in his mouth. When I do make contact, the pressure is steady. How heavy it is depends on the horse, what I'm asking him to do, and his level of training. Once the pressure has been applied, I wait until the horse releases the pressure on his own.
Teach yourself the nuances of hand position and develop a feel for how ardent your horse's mouth really is by experimenting while you ride. At the walk, draw one hand away from your horse's neck at three different angles: in front of the saddle about halfway to your horse's ears, even with the saddle, and even with your hip. Notice the different responses you get from you horse, and how he moves his body to adjust to the variations in rein direction and pressure.
Ride with light abutment with your hands held in front of the saddle, even with the pommel, and then behind the pommel. Hold your hands wider than your hips and then closer together and notice the effect it has on your horse's carriage and action. Also, apply pressure quickly and then more slowly, and then hold steady pressure until your horse releases it. Notice the aberration in your horse's expression, carriage, and gaits with each variation in contact.
Take attention as you speak to your horse through them. coach the hands that hold them, so that you and your horse can both accept and enjoy the conversation.

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