View Full Version : How do you ride on the trail? Relaxed? Lots of contact?

Sep. 26, 2009, 10:44 PM
I've been working with my three year old [four on Jan 2nd] and we're working on her accepting the bit, and carrying herself round and correct vs head up and hollow.

I see so many endurance riders flying down the trail with their horses heads in the clouds, back hollow, and trailing behind.

I don't get it? Wouldn't going long distances in that frame be a lot more damaging and exhausting to the horse than going in a rounded frame, even if it's somewhat relaxed?

I used to let my horses do that, but then realized if I wanted them to last for any amount of time I should get them going correctly.

I am the first to admit that my horses get more leeway on the trail than they do in the arena when it comes to keeping on the bit, driving from behind, etc. But to let them get the way they can seems so silly to me. It takes more time to fix a neck that is very overdeveloped on the underside than it is to teach them correctly in the first place. At least my opinion.

I am not bashing anyone here, it's just something that I ran across in a lot of the endurance books I have [them stressing correct movement, etc] but don't see it implemented as much in the "real world". But then again, I am not even up to the levels of the really hard, popular rides like Tevis, etc so I cannot even compare to those riders.

Sep. 27, 2009, 08:43 AM
> we're working on her accepting the bit, and carrying herself round and correct vs head up and hollow.

Me too! Although my mare starts out hollow and crazy, usually by the second trot around the ring, she'll relax and "round" more. I'm trying to build her "core" to hold up her fat belly not to mention my weight.

When we venture out on the trail, I am so nervous that she'll bolt at any moment (she's a youngster too!) that my hands and seat are actually more secure than in the arena. As soon as she hollows, we stop and start over rounded.

Everyone who owns horses are different. Some people like their horses to look fiery with bulging necks underneath a high head. I don't and obviously you don't. Doesn't matter what the discipline, it's just poor posture, imho and just not good for their long term health. :no:

Sep. 27, 2009, 08:58 AM
The good horses get slack and invited to carry their head and neck out and down so long as they keep up a good, marching walk.

The younger and or goofier horses may not be able to handle such freedom so they still get offered the above, but on greater contact and with lots of requests for tiny transitions to keep their attn.

Encouraging or lazily letting a horse zip along very high headed and hollow isn't good for them. On the flip side Insisting on a particular 'proper' posture isn't either: at some point, they need an 'at ease' to stretch, sneeze, gnaw on an itchy knee, etc. So I'll use hills to make sure they take advantage of the workout opportunity...but then throw them away for a long ways so they can relax and enjoy the ride, too. So long as there are a couple of ways of going the horse can manage and still carry himself fairly well, we're good. But babies may not be up to long stretches of 'good' posture- don't piss 'em off nit picking for it. Shorten your rides or moderate your expectations. YMMV :)

Sep. 27, 2009, 09:28 AM
I don't know if how I do it is "right" or not. On trail rides I usually ride with slightly looped reins (usually holding both reins in one hand) when we are taking a walk break or cooling out on the way home. Starting out, or in areas where my mare is easily distracted, I usually ride the walk on a contact, but a pretty long rein (not really in a "frame" or "round", but just so I have a feel on her mouth so I can say "hey, pay attention" when she wants to look around). At the trot and canter I ride on a light contact, with medium length reins, as long as she is relaxed and listening.

If we are in a complicated situation where I might need to make some quick corrections or she is getting over excited, I shorten up the reins and generally ride in more of a two-point/half-seat, with my hands resting on her neck a little, but that gives me a little more reaction time if she suddenly tries to bite another horse or swerves at something laying on the ground. When I feel her relax and stretch down a bit, I'll let the reins out a little again. What I want is to feel her using her whole body, so her head and neck reach or bob with the stride she is taking. Maybe something more like a hunter frame than a dressage frame? Not sure.

Sometimes if we are walking or trotting along in a nice flat area at a mellow speed I'll mix in some "ring work" and ask her to round up a little, leg yield, go slower or faster, and other exercises. She came to me with a real "head in the air" braced way of going, and I find the lighter the contact, the more relaxed she is. But with no contact, she tends to start thinking of her own plans and not paying attention.

My other mare, who is older, had years of proper training before I got her and generally not as reactive when in a group ride and rarely thinks of doing anything except going wherever we are all going, I don't keep much contact at all. Mostly my husband rides her, and he is a recent rider and generally has not much contact on the reins at all. She carries herself nicely naturally, from her past training - again not a dressage frame, but using her whole body fluidly and reach forward in a balanced way. If I'm riding her I generally only pick up the reins if we are going past cows, which she hates, to keep her looking a little away from them so she doesn't get carried away with her own imagination.

Sep. 27, 2009, 09:35 AM
I work my horse both completely relaxed on the buckle and more on the bit and round on trail, though still a soft rein, he rides more off leg and seat than the contact anyway. Most of the ride is on the buckle and relaxed( more long and low) but we do some lengthened trot work where I ask him to round up through the back , get on the bit and really push behind where I shorten the contact. We also do some canter work where I ask him to collect and extend and really use his hind end and back properly. He almost never goes along on trail hollow and like a giraffe.IMO, that is never correct. A horse can work relaxed and still be reaching down and traveling freely, long and low type work rather than head up in the air and hollowed out.

I agree lots of work with the horse high headed and hollow will do you NO favors. A good, strong and correctly developed topline will do wonders for your horse's way of going and overall soundness.

Sep. 27, 2009, 04:54 PM
Thank you so much everyone for responding, it is appreciated and it's good reading how everyone else does it.

My three year old is very curious, and has the attention span of a gnat, so we have to constantly keep her busy and attention on us. So we'll do things like 'slow jog to that boulder' and whatnot. Most of the time she is very good about keeping contact with the bit and lowering her head, but there are times where she wants to imitate a giraffe and I have to ask her for something to get her attention back on me.

I plan on having her last for a long, long time so I want to do anything I can to make that happen. Going correctly seems like the first step to take.

Sep. 27, 2009, 05:04 PM
I ride very relaxed on the trail, loop in the reins (and I am riding and ex race horse STB) when we do trot or lope I make him collect. And I vary my rides. One day I will do alot of loping and an ocasional gallop but then our next ride will be an all walk 3 hour trail. I would say for a young horse or a horse that is is green on trails like mine was last year...switch it up alot, talk a walk one day and then work the next. And yeah I am no fan or the crazy trotting hollow backed riding..

Sep. 27, 2009, 06:14 PM
I'm like LookinSouth where I vary the horse's stride and carriage throughout the ride. In the beginning I usually need more rein contact when the horse is excited. We get more relaxed as we go, and I always try to reward for a lower head. Still, we go from shortened to lengthened and back again, with and without contact. I'll use my seat to affect the stride. When in a group, I tend to focus on different things than when alone.

I'm working on an issue with an OTTB right now who wants to trot hollow with his head up. He wants to stay on his forehand, and we're trying to work it all out. Don't know how much of it is habit left over from his race days, how much is the slightly ewe-necked confo, and how much is overdevelopment of the wrong muscles (may not be truly ewe-necked). I'm thinking a multi-level approach is necessary to help him, so I do body work before each ride to help his posture.

With the young Arab, I'm trying to avoid the situation the OTTB is in. Unfortunately, she starts out very excited and high headed. I haven't quite worked out how to encourage her to relax when she's excited to be hitting the trail. Her posture improves after the first couple of miles, but I'd like to be more effective in relaxing her out of that head carriage (and corresponding hollow back). She used to be extremely reactive, and now she is only moderately reactive. I'm hoping time and training will make a difference. The question is whether I'm going about it the right way for her.

BTW, I still receive riding instruction after 34 years of riding. My current instructor is helping with some of the above issues. I keep bringing her different horses, and she has helped with each one. Wish I could drag her out on the trail with me.

JackSprats Mom
Sep. 27, 2009, 07:05 PM
For the most part he's allowed a loose rein contact on the trails, that said loose does not mean giraffe neck or inverted however I like him to be able to balance himself as needed with his neck.

I should add that he gets schooled 4-5 days a week in an arena in our attempt to do dressage so I don't think one day on a loose rein will ruin him in any way ;)

Sep. 27, 2009, 07:43 PM
I ride on a loose rein pretty much all the time, BUT:

- I'm a trail rider, not an endurance rider.
- I ride a stock horse with a naturally low headset.
- I ride in a mechanical hackamore.
- My mare's never had issues with stargazing anyways, her head naturally sits where it should be most times.


Sep. 27, 2009, 10:18 PM
Just to say that the head-in-the-air way of going is not only not so good for the horse, but it's terribly uncomfortable to ride. Much more jolting and abrupt than a low-headed relaxed gait. So I worked on improving the Morgan mare's posture as much to save my poor seat as to help her develop better muscling. Posting her "Amish road trot" is not much fun at all!

Sep. 27, 2009, 10:51 PM
I dont think that the bracing, head in the air, hollow carriage, inverted back that you see with some endurance horses is all or mostly because of how much "contact" the rider has. A lot of horses moving like that also have riders pulling on their faces, which is contact in its own way.

I think it has more to do with how the horse is generally ridden and schooled in the arena and on the trail and if the rider rides more from their hand than their seat and leg and also how nervous / tense / rushy the horse is. A horse with regular dressage type training is going to begin to use its body better in general than one ridden by someone that just gets on and goes fast. I think its good to spend quite a bit of time in the arena with a new endurance horse and also going slowly on the trails at first so they dont pick up the "bracing and racing" stuff to start with, since its hard to break.

Sep. 28, 2009, 07:44 AM
I also think the high head carriage can be from nervousness. My Arab does it when she feels tense. The hard part for me is figuring out how to relax her enough to lower her head! I wonder if that is what is going on with some of the endurance horses: the desire to boogie down the trail rather than relax.

Also, I've seen quite a bit of not-so-great-riding at endurance rides and competitive trail. For horses with riders who perch or have their feet stuck way out in front and lean forward to compensate, it is never a surprise when the horse shows up with a sore back at the end. Some of those horses may be sticking their heads up in an attempt to relieve their backs from a rider who is not balanced well.

Sep. 28, 2009, 01:29 PM
I try to pay more attention to the tenseness of the back than the height of the head, especially with my Arab. If he's going a little head-high, but he's relaxed along his topline and striding out well, I'll just keep a light contact on the reins and not ask for a frame. But if the head goes just that inch higher so that he hollows out and does his pogo-stick interpretation, then I take up the contact and ask him to lower his poll and relax through his back.

Sep. 28, 2009, 02:46 PM
It depends which horse I'm riding, and the overall conditions of the trail.

Generally, though, I ride relaxed. My 11 year old TWH gelding is pretty laid back, keeps a light contact with the reins and rounds his back and neck beautifully on his own.

I ride one of my boyfriend's horses (also a TWH) frequently as well, and he can be a little more of a handful at times. He's not rank, but he can be opinionated and gets distracted by his surroundings when he should be paying attention to where he's putting his own feet.

Lady Counselor
Sep. 28, 2009, 04:42 PM
Same here. Depends upon the horse and conditions. I usually have places where I am asking him to round up and carry himself, especially when he needs to be balanced, and other places when I let him pick his path and his way.
But overall it's a lot more relaxed than training in the ring.

Sep. 28, 2009, 04:52 PM
I try to pay more attention to the tenseness of the back than the height of the head, especially with my Arab. If he's going a little head-high, but he's relaxed along his topline and striding out well, I'll just keep a light contact on the reins and not ask for a frame. But if the head goes just that inch higher so that he hollows out and does his pogo-stick interpretation, then I take up the contact and ask him to lower his poll and relax through his back.My mare had a sore back today when we finished a ride. She went relaxed for about %75 of the time, but there was quite a bit of tenseness and head tossing the other %25. So I've got to figure out if it is my riding causing the soreness, or if it's because she got high headed, or what. I was thinking back to my post about riders causing back soreness. It never fails; criticism always comes home to roost.

Sep. 28, 2009, 05:31 PM
Um, well, I ALWAYS ride relaxed. Whether in the ring or on the trails, on contact or off. If the rider isn't relaxed, no way in heck will you get the horse relaxed. Relaxed should not be equated to mean non-vigilant, though!

I generally ride off-contact on the trails- even at speed. I'm out there to enjoy myself, mostly, not constantly drill the horse. I might establish contact on some horses for tricky spots on the trail, particularly steeps. I don't tend to ask a horse to 'round up' or whatever unless I am schooling (which is a useful thing to do to distract a horse on the trail from the horse-eating fill-in-the-blank).

But. Having a horse going on the buckle (or off-contact with the reins shortened to establish contact quickly should the need arise) does NOT mean having an unbalanced, heavy on the forehand horse! A horse does not have to be 'rounded up' to be balanced! Schooling the horse to travel in a balanced manner is NOT the purpose of contact- should be starting that work from day 1 of starting the horse under saddle, with elementary aids, and building on that. My horses know to automatically shift weight back to the hindquarters to negotiate hills- with flapping reins- because I teach them that skill when they are young (and if necessary, take them on long, gradual descents, steep enough that they will quickly become fatigued if they try to go heavy on the forehand, nonstop- they do learn how to take care of themselves).

As for high headed horses, a wise instructor in France (Saumur educated) gave us the solution for that, and I'm surprised I've never seen anybody except me teach it on this side of the pond-- simply keep your hands above the horse's mouth. Always. Horse gets high headed for whatever reason- just raise your hands to keep them above the horse's mouth. I've never had one go more than 30 seconds before giving up and dropping the head back down. Most people try the lower-hands-and-saw approach, which seems like the right the to do- but it really isn't.

Sep. 28, 2009, 06:29 PM
Depends on the horse. My last 4 mounts (2 of which I still have) were all different.

I prefer a loose rein - but not one that is so loose that a tree or branch will get wrapped in it. My "finished" horse neck reins and moves off my seat and leg at all speeds, and is a real pleasure to ride at a canter down the trail. However, when he was green, he was ridden with contact until he got the swing of things. This horse has great self-carriage and never had any head issues -he carries it nicely arched, flexed at the poll, naturally even in the pasture.

My greenie for this year is a giant klutz. His natural movement is with a below or at-level headset, but he tends to relax TOO much if allowed a loose rein, nearly falling over his own nose. I expect him to maintain at least a level headset - he's allowed to stretch, etc, but not travel peanut rolling at 9mph down the trail.

The mare I did my first 50 mile endurance ride on couldn't handle the contact that a bit gave her without a martingale to change the direction of the pressure. She would neck rein, but never 100% reliably, but would respond well to basic direct pressure cues as long as a martingale was on and properly adjusted. Without it, she would headtoss and pull her nose straight out, and be unable or unwilling to travel well. She was a good, tough little mare, though.

My last arab gelding was a bit fiddler when I started him under saddle. No amount of time or switching bits solved it - he simply liked - still does - to play with things in his mouth. It was annoying as all heck, and distracting to both him and me. So we went bitless, with one of the much-hyped Dr. Cook's bridles. It worked great for him, and he did his first LD in one, completely without issue. His headset was varied between flexed at the poll and straight out - but he used himself very efficiently and required little contact.. When I sold him as an 8 year old, he was fully able to be ridden on a loose rein in a bitless bridle, neck reining and moving off seat/legs.

Moral of the story is the same as how it started. Depends on the horse, level of training, etc ;)

Sep. 28, 2009, 08:02 PM
As for high headed horses, a wise instructor in France (Saumur educated) gave us the solution for that, and I'm surprised I've never seen anybody except me teach it on this side of the pond-- simply keep your hands above the horse's mouth. Always. Horse gets high headed for whatever reason- just raise your hands to keep them above the horse's mouth. I've never had one go more than 30 seconds before giving up and dropping the head back down. Most people try the lower-hands-and-saw approach, which seems like the right the to do- but it really isn't.I've been taught this too by more than one instructor. My excitable guys don't usually lower their heads in response until they relax.

Sep. 28, 2009, 09:21 PM
My horse does her most beautiful, floating, rounded impression of a mega-level dressage horse when she's feeling, uh, healthy on a trail ride. The neck is beautifully framed and is low and rock-steady, the back is gorgeously up and consistent, impulsion is huge yet controlled, the tail is e'er so gracefully carried at the perfect position, and with every trot stride she hangs in the air for what feels like three or four seconds. It's beautiful. And I can sit that trot like a master rider.

However. That carriage is never repeated during my dressage lessons with my trainer looking on. And I cannot sit her ringwork, what-can-I-get-away-with trot anywhere nearly as well as I can the "I'm Black Beauty! I'm Pegasus! I am the Black Stallion!" trot she pulls out on the trail.

I rode once (inadvertantly) through a farmer's market that takes place at one of the properties we ride through. Good Lord. If one more person said, "What a beautiful horse!" as Madame carried on like a supermodel traveling down a catwalk, Madame would have exploded from her own ego.

If she's relaxed and quiet and her head is low and I can feel the muscles of her back and butt moving nicely, I ride with the reins more or less on the buckle. If she seems to feel the need to have her brain occupied, I ask for a dressage frame.

Sep. 28, 2009, 09:27 PM
I don't worry too much about headset when I am out hacking. Although my horses have a lot of ring background so they know where to keep their heads- plus they are built with their head and neck low (not like arabs).

when I am trail riding, I generally have a loser rein because I am not asking them to be 'on the bit'. I prefer for them to have a natural headset. I trust my horses and I know they generally dont do stupid stuff so I don't keep nagging them in the mouth the whole time.

And usually when we go up hills, I just grab mane and they will stretch their neck out and down, carrying themselves in the best way possible.

Sep. 28, 2009, 09:30 PM
Relaxed . I have moved back to the L.A area-well at least my horse, I am up in N .Cal for a few months. But it is mostly hills and I would much rather the horse have their neck .

To the OP yeah I know what you mean. Where I ride one of the trails near me in LA, every time I notice an endurance rider do his practice ride. Bam, bam, bam he keeps pounding into the back and the horse has its head in the sky , wide eyed get me outta here look!:cry: It is one thing to do that in a lesson for an hour , but for extended periods of time!:no:

But that has nothing to do with relaxed or riding in contact though. But Arabs generally do have a higher head carraige. But I ride in a treeless and when my mare gets tensed you can feel it underneath. So there is a difference between high head carraige and high head and tensed back. I wouldn't wan't to ride that-mine is too athletic. I work on calming her and bringing her back to me . It is just easier to ride relaxed. Especially the kind of terrain I ride-maybe 20% is flat unless I trailer to the beach or something.