When starting the young or green horse, common-yet often major-mistakes come from riders who work in a show ring frame instead of toward one. To ensure a successful future for a youngster, his posture should evolve naturally as he is able to carry himself with a "rounded" back. Try to keep these points in mind:
A horse needs to use his neck to help him in balance. Therefore, it is necessary to keep his tempo slow enough and very regular so he can relax his neck. This will get him into a position where he will begin to stretch voluntarily.
Check your horse's tendency to go "above the bit" by closing your hand-taking care to maintain your tempo-and allowing the reins to sag when your horse drops his head. Don't take up the contact as this cancels the reward you want to give him when he accepts the bit.
If he snatches the bit, snatch back as a reprimand: "This behavior is not acceptable."
If he drops the bit or overflexes, softly lift his head up and go forward with your hands so that your horse has something comfortable to move into.
Remember that consistency-on your part-and time will give you the balance and regularity -- and the posture you will eventually show him in. You always want to feel that there is more horse in front of you-in terms of size-than behind you. This ensure that you are allowing the horse to come forward to you rather than being pulled back into a head position.
Work to understand that this is a conditioning process, not a teaching process. In nature, your horse can do everything you are asking of him. All he needs is time to acquire the strength and stamina to be able to do things under your direction and, eventually, to do them well.
Conditioning also has to do with the back muscles. Confine your sitting trot to short intervals, perhaps just when you ask for canter at first. When you do sit, return to posting immediately if you detect any change whatsoever in your horse. These include changes in tempo, contact, posture, ear position, tail activity, etc.
Concentrate on "reading" your horse. A tossing head, swishing tail, deviations from the track or spontaneous changes of tempo are ways horse communicate that your message is garbled or he is being overfaced. Your horse shouldn't have to comprehend what you are asking; it is only his body that should respond.
Whenever you get impatient, ask yourself if you could learn to do the splits overnight.
This article first appeared in the February 1996 issue of Dressage Today magazine.