High head, high hands – Dayo is working to accept contact

“I start with hands because they’re so difficult to teach. Are your hands over the horse’s wither? Are your thumbs the highest point of your hands? If a horse resists the bit in any way, I don’t drop my hands. If necessary I shorten the rein. The horse has to accept the hands. That’s why we talk about the straight line from elbow to mouth. With a high head, you have a higher hand. When that horse starts that business, don’t drop your hand.”

The horse has to accept the aids. Recently, Dayo has taken to either lowering her head so that she is impossibly on the forehand (dragging my seat out of the saddle to avoid the leg and seat) or has been flipping it up high. After a series of frustrating rides, today I defaulted to the master. I held my hands up, shortened the reins, and worked off my legs and seat. The higher Dayo’s head went, the higher my hands went, not with undue pressure on the reins, with a resistance that was in direct proportion to the amount Dayo was resisting my hands.

The exercise offered several benefits. Because my hands were not lowered, I was able to stay upright, balanced with a light seat, a long leg, and a stable body while Dayo worked through her avoidance of contact. I was able to use my legs more than I ever have, and particularly my inside leg, without Dayo running through the bit, or pulling me downward. And I was able to be appropriate with my contact.  George Morris can produce results in minutes, but it took about half an hour of steady work and patience for Dayo and I. It was worth it. By the end of the ride, I had a happy mare who worked into light contact, was on the leg, balanced, steady and relaxed at both the trot and the canter. Best of all, Dayo, who has recently taken to grinding down on the bit as one of her expressions of rebellion, snorted happily with her ears forward while we circled, serpentined, and rode squares. When we went back to the barn, she had the peaceful look of a horse who has done a good job and knows it.

I suspect this will be a lesson we repeat many times over the course of the next few weeks, hopefully with each session being shorter than the last. I’m lucky to have Dayo – she is certainly training the trainer who is trying to train her, and with every success like today’s, our bond gets stronger and our partnership grows.


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