Dana Hokana’s 5 Rules For Increasing Your Horse’s Natural Lift
This week, we’re sharing Dana Hokana’s five rules to lift your horse’s shoulders and increase natural lift. A clean-moving horse with a free-flowing stride moves with his shoulders up and his body lifted. Check back every day this week for another rule from Dana to help you get your horse moving his best.
Rule #1 – Learn to feel through the your hands and release when he truly gives.
One of the most common reasons a horse drops his shoulders and starts moving on his front end is many times riders will take hold of their horse’s face to ask him to bridle his head or drop his neck or slow down. When doing this, they may inadvertently be promoting their horse to drop his shoulders because if they release as soon as it looks like he gives some horses will learn to follow the bridle reins down with first their head and neck and then their front end. Almost any time a horse is asked to drop his head and neck or slow down without also asking for collection or lift, he will drop to his front end after he is released. This may happen over time. Brilliant moving 2 or 3 year olds may be ridden this way and stay up in the shoulders for a long time but eventually their movement will deteriorate unless something is done to keep their shoulders up and engage collection. If a horse’s head and neck is allowed to get low and stay low, eventually his body weight will follow the head and neck down and he will end up moving on his front end. The fix for this is to make sure that when you connect with your hands to his mouth you don’t release until you feel him lift and collect and soften in your hands. If he gets resistant or stiff, you may need to drive with your legs until he lifts up in the shoulders and softens in your hands.
Rule #2- Don’t hold onto your horse and never let go
Another way you may cause your horse to drop to his front end is if you take hold of his mouth and never give. Many riders have lost (or never had) feel through their hands and as a result the horse learns to be heavy and drop his shoulders and move on his fore hand. Your hands need to have the feel or the ability to discern what is going on in your hands to his face. If you never let go with your hands, he will become numb or desensitized and eventually hang on or become dependent with your hands . When you do try to drop him, he drops his body weight because he has been carried and when you let go, he falls down!! If your horse is heavy on the forehand he will be more likely to stumble. The cure for this is to ride mindfully, feel through your hands and when you take hold, get it done then release to allow your horse to carry himself. If he makes a mistake, you can then correct the mistake.
Rule #3- Don’t bridle straight back without lateral flexion
Another way you can cause this problem is to only bridle your horse’s head straight back and pull to slow down without driving forward. I do a lot of lateral or side to side flexion. When you pull your horse’s head to the side, it forces him to use his shoulders more than if he were just bridled straight back. Many horses that are ridden in draw reins and pulled straight back without being driven forward will drop to their front end.
Rule #4- Don’t allow your horse to stop heavy on his front end
How your horse stops tells volumes about where his body weight is when he was moving forward. A horse that is up in his shoulders and balanced over his hind quarters will stop up and balanced. I like to feel my horses break or give in the haunches when they stop. Then I know without a doubt that they were moving up and balanced. Some pointers to help you to diagnose where your horse’s weight is balanced are: When you stop, feel through your hands how he stops. Is he heavy in your hands, does he stop with a jarring motion almost pulling you forward. Also, as soon as he stops, does he want to lean or step forward. These will tell you he is on his front end! Your goal is for him to stop light in your hands on his hind quarters, and stay put where he stopped. If he stops heavy in your hands, you can correct this by asking him to move back forward and asking him to drop until he gets it right. I practice my downward transition often. The stop is not only diagnostic, it is a correction if you repeat the stop until the horse stops balanced and up in his shoulders. Many riders just aren’t aware of what is a good or a poor stop. Learning to read your horse or diagnosing him through every maneuver will often stop the problem before it becomes a problem! I have a saying to “ride mindfully” and these pointers I’m giving you will help you to become “mindful” of yourself and your horse!
Rule #5- Be careful not to shut down your horse’s movement or keep him too slow
n trying to get that slow finished Western Pleasure horse, many riders constantly ride their horse slow which can allow them to drop their shoulders and move to their front end. Sometimes this is from the horse getting lazy, other times just out of balance. I also want my Western Pleasure horses slow, but there is often a fine line between moving shut down, “shuffly”, and moving crisp and pure. I often drive my Western Pleasure horses forward, allowing them to re-balance and readjust their lope and trot. If you drive your horse forward at times he will regain his lift through his shoulders.