Different disciplines require a horse to have different skills. A trail horse, for example, must learn to navigate uneven terrain and walk over bridges. A western pleasure horse must learn to neck rein off of slight pressure, and a dressage horse must respond to subtle changes in the rider’s seat. But horses who excel in these disciplines all have one thing in common: they are soft and supple. A horse who bends and gives is easier and more enjoyable to train than one who braces or resists.
Why Softness Is Important
When a horse is soft and subtle, they “give” to the aids. You apply your leg, and they move away from the pressure – without you having to kick or bump them. You lift your hand, and they give at the poll, which puts them in a position to back up, pivot, or walk forward. Riding a horse that responds with this softness feels easy and relaxing. You feel like you’re in true harmony with your horse.
Softer, more supple horses are better able to support a rider’s weight without injuries. Consider a horse who braces its neck and rides with a stiff, too-high head carriage and a hollow back. That horse may develop neck pain and even back pain over time. Now consider a horse who rides with a relaxed neck and a more level head position. That horse’s back muscles will be engaged and supporting the rider, which will prevent overuse injuries and arthritis in years to come.
The Three Components of Suppleness
How supple your horse is really depends on three key factors:
- Overall health
- Physical fitness
A horse that is in good health and receives proper horse care will have an easier time building and keeping the muscle required for suppleness. To keep your horse healthy, make sure you are feeding a feed appropriate for their life stage. Use a weight tape to check their weight once a month. If they are losing weight, increase their feed ration. Also, make sure your horse is getting plenty of turnout time, has access to water, and sees the vet and farrier for routine horse care.
The second key to suppleness is overall physical fitness. A horse who is physically fit won’t tire as easily. They’re less likely to become stiff and reluctant due to tiredness during your ride. Whenever possible, aim to exercise your horse four or five days per week. Long, slow walks go a long way toward building stamina. If you’re just bringing a horse back into work, make sure you progress slowly and give them time to build their fitness. Otherwise, they may become stiff and reluctant simply because they are sore.
The third key to suppleness is training. Your horse must learn to give to pressure and to bend when asked. This is our focus at Easy Horse Fix. In our video, “Keeping Your Horse Soft and Supple,” we show what you can achieve with our training methods. With patience and practice, you can teach your horse to give and bend in response to subtle leg aids. We never use draw reins or other gadgets to force a bend. Instead, we work to slowly improve the horse’s flexibility and their response to our aids through our gentle, relationship-based methods.
Softness Training: The Easy Horse Fix Way
Say you have a horse who is in good overall health with a reasonable level of fitness. How do we recommend improving their suppleness? In most cases, we recommend you start by watching our Foundational Flex 7 video. In this video, we show you seven exercises that will teach your horse to drop their head, flex, and bend in response to your aids – both on the ground and under saddle.
Next, watch our Roundabout video for some more specific training on bending and moving off a handler’s aids. Once you and your horse master these exercises, you’ll have a good starting point to work on other softness skills, such as moving sideways off leg pressure and lying down on command. Keeping Your Horse Soft and Supple shows you what you can expect after a few years of suppleness training, and it’s pretty remarkable.
While you can rent these videos individually, we encourage you to consider signing up for a monthly membership at Easy Horse Fix. Members enjoy unlimited access to all of our training videos. These are invaluable horse care resources to have in your back pocket as you work with your mount. We have customers who are trail riders, pleasure riders, and serious competitors – and they all benefit from softness training. You can, too.