Relinquishing Control in order to Develop Self Carriage

Relinquishing Control in order to Develop Self Carriage

Relinquishing Control in order to Develop Self Carriage

Relinquishing Control in order to Develop Self Carriage

What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-

  • To stop controlling and allow the horse to think for himself
  • Realise the importance of your horse’s head and neck for balance
  • Understand the difference between positive tension and holding on
  • Harness energy rather than being afraid of it

We all know as riders that we have to carry ourselves in the saddle.  The responsibility we have for what our body does is drummed into us from our very first riding lesson…

However, riding is a team sport; meaning that your horse, as a team member, must also carry a certain amount of responsibility towards how he carries himself when being ridden as well.  The all important self carriage. 

Stop Controlling and Rather Allowing Your Horse to Think for Himself

One of the things a lot of riders find hardest to do is taking that step back and seeing where the conversation will go.  Many riders think that self carriage, both horse and rider, is their responsibility to set up and maintain.

I think the riders role in self carriage is to facilitate.  To line everything up in the best possible way that it gives their horse the greatest chance of succeeding.

Self carriage is not possible if you do not allow your horse to think for himself.  Thinking for himself requires confidence in his own abilities.

Think back to a time when you were doing something and another person kept peering over your shoulder, almost waiting for you to make a mistake so they could jump in and ‘correct’ you.  I can bet you didn’t feel comfortable, relaxed or confidence – and your horse feels the same. If you are always ‘waiting’ for him to make a mistake and fail, you are micro-managing.

I want you to start thinking about true self carriage as being you asking for something, your horse doing it and continuing to do it until you interrupt him to ask for something else.   Your job is to encourage him to begin taking those few steps ‘alone’.

The Importance of Your Horses Head and Neck for Balance

Years and years ago, in a riding lesson, I was shown just how much the horses (or ponies as it was at the time) balance depends on being able to use their head and neck.  We were all taken off our ponies, and asked to hold our hands together behind our backs.  We were then told to jump a small jump on our own too feet, hands together behind our back.   It was eye-opening!

Self carriage is built on the foundation of balance.  Without balance, nothing can carry itself! 

For many riders, control and contact are words that ‘do the same job’.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many riders want to control too much through the reins.  Your horse must first begin to develop his physical strength if he is to carry himself.  He can not do this in a way that will allow him to use his body to the best of his ability if you are shutting all movement down through an overly fixed or controlling rein.

Contact is a way to communicate as in have a conversation.  Control is a one way street – you talking at your horse, rather than speaking to him. 

The Difference Between Positive Tension and Holding On

Think of all the ways you have contact and connection with the people, animals, things in your life every day.  Some of those experiences are positive and some are negative.  What makes them so?

The positive contacts usually are when the two people (or the animal etc) want to communicate with each other.  It is almost as though there was an unwritten agreement that they want to connect and are happy to do so together.   Like holding hands in a relaxed manner on a walk.

The negative contacts happen when one person either does not want to be there, or one person wants to force the other into doing something their way or in their time.   It can also be when the energy doesn’t match.  If we think of the holding hands example, this might look like one person walking faster than the other.

Self carriage can only be truly achieved when your horse wants to work with you to achieve it.  When he feels confident enough in his own abilities and confident enough in yours.  It is a mutual agreement.

When you are holding on it looks like a backward rein aid.  When your horse holds on, it causes ‘heaviness’ to occur.  Neither one of those situations are any fun for anyone involved – and so must be avoided in order to facilitate true self carriage.

Harnessing the Energy Rather than Being Afraid Of It


So we have already said that self carriage is really balance.  How well your horse can carry himself and you while remaining in balance and without the ‘training wheels’ on.   However, this balance is a two-way street.  You the rider must also be capable of balance in the saddle.  The independent seat.  Your own self carriage is important for your horses self carriage.

When do you begin to ask for self carriage, it has to come from behind the saddle.  The hind quarters are where this energy starts and then flows through the horses back to the front end. 

For many riders, the first time they truly experience self carriage in the saddle is actually out of the arena and on the trail.  The horse will often be a little more ‘tuned in’ to his surroundings and this energy is clearly felt by the rider in the saddle.

Rather than trying to shut this energy down, which is a little like trying to push the lid back down onto a boiling saucepan, I suggest trying to harness it.  Rather than ‘control’, think about ‘directing’ it.

When you can do this, two things happen.  Firstly, you can distract him from what his is so concerned about by asking him to turn his attention to you.  Secondly, you might get to experience those all important first steps of true self carriage.  The softness, the lightness and the connection between horse and rider as you move forward together.

Only ‘Fixing’ When You Have To

The final point I want to leave you with today is being brave enough to take the training wheels off for your horse and allowing him to make his mistakes.  He cannot learn if he cannot make his mistakes.

Yes, set things up and yes, make sure that the rhythm is established and that you are both moving forward.  Yes, do everything you can do to line up all the pieces in order for him to get a success under his belt (or girth!).  But then remember to take a step back and let him make the success of it.  

His confidence in himself will grown when he realises how much confidence you have in him.

Happy Riding


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