Lightness Doesn't Come From Equipment
Riders of all disciplines desire their horse to be light and responsive to our cues. In today's horse world there are new and old products sold to riders with the idea that the product will make their horse become light and responsive. Lightening products can range from bits and spurs, to martingales, to saddles and saddle pads. Equipment like those mentioned will only put a band-aid on the problem and can actually cause further problems. Using equipment to force the horse into lightness can cause the horse to fear, have anxiety, avoid, or resist the pressure. This forced pressure causes the horse to be less willing to do what is asked, causing you to use more pressure. The reason this happens is because your horse reacts negatively to being forced into an action. To correct this problem your horse needs to be taught the cue rather than forced.
Horses need to be taught cues and correct actions since they are not programed with them naturally. By choosing easy to understand cues, being consistent, and teaching rather than forcing- your horse will learn to be light and responsive with a willing attitude. To be a good teacher you will need to be a good communicator. To communicate effectively, formalize a plan including the small steps on how to get there and be patient. In the learning process staying calm and being patient is key. Once the horse has learned the cue, training takes over using pre-cues, cues, and a form of correction. In the training process being clear and quick to respond to good actions will create lightness in your horse. Your horse will look for positive releases and learn to react to the pre-cue instead of waiting for the cue. The cue will become the correction and your horse will want to listen at each step. Each time this happens your horse will become lighter and lighter.
Another big part of your horse being light and responsive- is the rider. The horse will only be as light as the riders lightest cue. The rider needs to keep in mind the amount of pressure they are putting out and being aware of the horses acceptance of that pressure. Being self aware is very important in seeing the cause and affect of actions. The rider needs to be able to tell a good action from bad and know how to respond. If the rider is light, but doesn't release at the proper time- the horse will not become lighter. Becoming self aware means you understand timing of the release and use of correction.
To have true lightness both horse and rider need to be educated on communication and training methods. Without one knowing what the other is saying, the harmony of lightness cannot exist. Both horse and rider need to understand what is being asked, how to do what is being asked, how to be aware of their actions, and be willing to do what is asked. Lightness will come to those who are looking for it and not forcing it to happen. So to achieve lightness take off those extra aids and get back to basics. Once your basics and new cues are light and responsive it is possible to add back in spurs or a different bit to continue the lightening process. After adding spurs or stronger bit the rider needs to continue to be extra aware of their actions. Since the added pressure of spurs or bit can create negative responses, the rider will need to use them sparingly and with lightness at all times. An educated horse and rider are beautiful to watch and even more fun to be a part of! Remember to keep the gimmicks to a minimum and give yourself and your horse credit for being able to learn the real lesson.