(“They don’t want to risk undoing anything . . .”)
Aside from overt resistances, evasions, and arguments, there are two other circumstances where your horse can hide his lack of connection. One category is defined by “posing.” He can show you a round frame and be going fairly well forward over the ground. But if he is not honestly coming to the contact, it can feel like there’s nothing in your hands, and there will be no energy transfer or weight shift if you try to make a half halt. Be sure you don’t mis-identify this false lightness as a desirable self carriage. It is not!
The solution is to create thrust from your horse’s hind quarters and to pour it through the reins into your hands. Generate the spark of reactivity with smartly ridden upward transitions and hot off the leg lengthenings. Develop his affinity for the bit by teaching him to stretch elastically forward and down over his top line. When that is working, generalize the same reaching to the bit idea when he’s traveling in the normal poll-as-highest-point outline.
The second category of disconnection can be a bit harder to recognize because it only pops up if you ask your horse certain embarrassing (revealing) questions. A horse with a “passive connection” may appear to be steady and round as long as you don’t upset the apple cart by asking to shorten, lengthen, or rebalance him. That’s when he will brace or lean or invert himself. This situation befalls riders who are so grateful that their horse seems to be accepting that they don’t want to risk undoing anything.
Such an impermeable horse must be made laterally supple with bending exercises and varieties of leg yielding. From there he can be challenged with longitudinal suppling to make him more accordion-like through his top line and less prone to resisting. The key here is to be willing to put up with short term unsteadiness as you break through his rigidity to arrive at a softer, more pliable connection.
Remember: meaningful connection is defined by what you can do with it. If your horse is quiet and steady as long as you don’t ask him for anything, you are not scratching below the surface of his potential.