QOTM: I try to ride my mare on a loose rein so she’ll relax. When my trainer gets there she tells me to shorten my reins a lot because my horse is too quick, borderline running away at the trot and no where near being round or on the aids. She wants my horse to basically ‘earn’ a longer rein by going slower and giving in. Will that really help relax her?
BILL— The short answer to this question is YES! There are horses who do loosen up and relax when warmed up on long reins. If yours is one, fine. However, a quick, hollow horse who is running away doesn’t much sound like he’s relaxing.
You must teach your horse to accept contact and not think he’s being restrained by it. Slowing him down and making him feel more secure on the aids can slow his heart rate and level out his breathing. When you are able to shape his topline – which is completely different from pulling him together — he will use himself correctly, get soft, and start to swing. Then he will stretch into the hand without rushing.”Earning a longer rein” is her way of saying that the stretch must be controlled and directed. The freedom you give him is freedom to do what you want, not freedom to have his way with you.