By Real Riderz
Lazy horses, who hasn’t experienced one of those? Usually, dull horses are most commonly lessons horses, or horses ridden by people who are scared of lacking control. There are three causes for a dull horse: pain/poor care, imporper training, and incorrect riding.
Pain and general discomfort is a factor which should be ruled out first, before we even start to look into the other factors. Common problems can be poor saddle/bridle fit and illnesses. Diet can also be a factor within this category (not enough carbohydrates in forage/grain to create energy), but this is usual the last thing to look into changing if the diet suits the horse in other ways. Once you have discussed, analyzed, and resolved any potential problems, we can look for solutions in the next factor): improper training.
A horse which has never been taught forwardness from a young age, will likely always be a little more backwards. Most horses are natually forward, afterall, they need to flee from danger in the wild. However, with humans in the equation, quite a few things change. Naturally, we want to feel safe, so it is not uncommon for inexperienced riders with greener horses to use too much rein or incorrect seat in order to start “collection” of the horse. This creates problems in the long run because not only is the horse working incorrectly (not working from the back due to lack of muscles and incorrect signals from the rider) but also the horse starts to fear going forward. It is possible to resolve this training issue, but only with proper and consistently good re-training/riding. When it comes to training, lunging and groundwork can be used to encourage a horse to think forward.*
A horse can be well trained but as we all know, every time we ride a horse we also train him/her. A rider which is more timid/less experienced can unknowingly instill certain habits in a horse. A rider who has fear may overuse his/her rein aids whenever the horses attempts to go faster or starts doing something that may cause the rider’s fear. The abrupt pull on the reins is usually accompanied by pain which makes the horse fearful to go forwards. The less experienced rider may use the hands to balance, and apply leg at random times or even all the time. This makes the horse confused and causes a collision of throughts which do not make sense together. This is one of the main reasons why green (AKA young/inexperienced) riders and green horses do not mash.
“Fixing” the lazy horse with riding comes down to two factors: your seat and how you use it. You must be in full control of your entire body in order to avoid confusing the horse. When it comes to making the horse go forward, apply the leg just behind the girth and then release. The release is the vital part, even if the horse has not gone forward. If the horse did not go forward from a squeeze, tap with your leg. Release this pressure right away, even if the horse did not move forwards. The last resort is the crop/spur. The reason why releasing the leg is so important is because it teaches the horse to go forwards even from the lightest of leg aids. A leg that is always “on” can be confused by the horse as part of the saddle, which eventually numbs the horse to the leg in general. Besides correct use of the seat/leg, be prepared for your horse to go forward (and even have a few play bucks). If your natural reaction is to pull, the horse will only be more resistant in the long-run. Check out our previous article here for more on how to halt with your seat rather than reins.
*One helpful and relatively quick tip for reinforcing the leg on the ground is using the dull side of the crop against the horse’s side as a tool to mimic the rider’s leg. This tool can be accompanied by a cluck (or whichever other voice aid you use) and reinforced with the use of the crop. Do note however, that this is not the long-term solution, just something that could help to remind the horse on the ground.