Here I’ll outline two position mistakes that impede your horse’s desire—and ability—to go forward and how to correct them. I’ll then discuss a simple maneuver to get his feet moving again.
This doesn’t require any specific tack or situation. You can evaluate your body position in any tack, and you can use my tips anywhere you have space—whether it’s in an arena or out on the trail.
This legs-forward, leaned-back, stiff-arm position is counterproductive to your go-forward cues. Bracing with your feet—especially if your hands and arms are stiff, too—doesn’t allow you to use your body to encourage your horse to move forward. This kind of posture isn’t feasible for encouraging forward motion.
Here’s the other extreme. Your go-to response might be to “chase” your horse forward by pushing your arms toward his head, leaving slack in the reins. This tips your torso forward and pushes your legs back, which can put you in a dangerous, out-of-balance spot if your horse shies out from under you. By taking your weight off his back and leaning forward, your head is in a bad spot if he decides to rear. And you can’t give a good signal with your feet because you’re standing in your stirrups, making it difficult to use your legs to create energy to go forward.
This is a good example of middle ground, rather than extremely back or forward. I’m sitting straight in the saddle, with my shoulder to my hip to my heel aligned, and I’m balanced. You can also see that my horse has collection—he can go forward, backward, or laterally because he’s in frame and soft in my hands. He’s in an athletic position and is ready to listen to my cue.
Leg position matters. Your legs should be closer to your back cinch than your front cinch so you can encourage forward motion. Ensure that your knees are away from your horse so your lower leg, heel, and spur can be used in a progression to give your cue. Start by squeezing your horse forward with your upper calf (around your boot top), then go to your heel, and then your spur if he doesn’t respond. Wrapping your legs around your horse with a far-forward position can cause him to back into the pressure instead of going forward.
Once you’ve checked your position, here’s how to get your horse moving forward. Bring his nose around to one side or the other by pulling your direct rein back toward your hip. Keep your outside rein loose so it doesn’t confuse the signal. Too much neck rein (outside rein) can cause your horse to back or rear. Place your legs on your horse’s barrel, behind the front cinch. This allows his front end to move laterally or his hind end to the outside, starting a movement that’ll unstick his feet. When done correctly, this keeps your horse from lunging or bolting forward, rearing, or running backward, as well as keeps his feet from tangling.
Now we’re getting somewhere! My horse willingly moves forward. My hands are forward and my reins are loose, but my upper body isn’t tilted forward like a jockey or leaned too far back. In addition, I’m riding behind the motion to allow my horse to travel underneath me.