Question: I have followed the techniques of a well-known natural horsemanship trainer who advocates the lateral flexing of the horse's neck in order to promote suppleness and a light response to a rider's hands. It is also used as part of the "one-rein stop." My problem is that now my horse will stop and "yield" his head to me when not asked to, it seems to get out of doing any more work. Have I created a monster? I'm glad I read your articles on the false "collection" of bending at the neck instead of the poll. I'm going to let my horse set his head where it feels comfortable to him, and concentrate on really riding him. I use a Barefoot treeless saddle, and I believe it helps me to feel the horse's movements very well. Thanks, Cathie. (By the way, I think lots of women are very silly too!)
Answer: What you have done is made the horse yield to the bit, and now you will have problems. On the racetrack they used to call horses that yield to the bit the "rubber neck" horses, because since the jockey has nothing available but the bit to steer the horse, such horse will not respond to the steering, bends its neck and keeps on going straight. Needless to say that this is dangerous.
As I have mentioned in my articles, the horse's neck serves to horse's balance in motion, and whenever you mess with the horses head/neck you mess with the animals balance. In genuine riding we do not steer the horse, like the jockeys do, but we ride them from the rear end forward, and it is from the rear end that we also determine the direction. We do not determine the direction of going by bending the neck, or by pulling on the rein to the right or to the left. Of course people do this, because that is the only way they can ride the horse, hence this is purely amateur/greenhorn style, or a quick way to get by when riding on a horse.
Of course horse has to be first trained to respond to the pulling on the rein to change direction. If you have ever started a young horse/s, or seen it done, all young horses tend to respond to the bit just the way you are describing, flexing at the neck but going straight. This is one of the first thing that the rider has to teach the young horse not to do, not to yield to the bit, because once the horse learns it, it is almost impossible to correct, because it becomes the way for the horse to evade any discomfort the bit may causes, not to mention that we never can use our hand aid to manage the collected energy of the horse. In short such horse is for most part ruined. Any decent riding horse must learn first to accept the bit and not to yield to it! Yielding to the bit is a bit refusal on the part of the horse, and horses like this are literally dangerous to ride, especially if they panic they become unmanageable.
The horse's neck is quite supple, unless someone causes it to stiffen up by improper riding. And so anyone that teaches some exercises to make the horse's neck more supple is more likely the same person that caused the neck to get stiff in the first place. If and when you ride the horse into a certain direction, the horse will balance itself by placing its head and neck into the balanced position, which is his choice and not the rider's choice. If and when the horse bends its neck to one side or the other, the animal bends it at the base of the neck and not at the middle; just watch free horses running outside on the fields and pay attention, and all will become self-evident as all truth is, if you see it.
And so, to sum up all the above, a genuine
rider does not steer the horse into a direction via the bit/head/neck but he
rides the animal into the desired direction via his seat and leg aids and the
horse puts its head and neck there were it feels safe and balanced to the horse.
When compared to the car, the steering wheel is in the rear legs of the horse,
and the clutch is the horse's jaw. No one uses the clutch to steer the car, get
it? The horse's jaw, the bit/the hand aid/clutch controls/mange the collection
and the release of energy of the rear legs, not the direction/ The leg aid/gas
pedal prompts for needed collection/energy, while directing it, while the seat
directs/determines the speed into the desired direction, hence both the seat and
the legs direct the horse into desired direction, while the clutch/hand aid
releases it, and then recollects again for the next release if and when the
horse is ridden in hand. If ridden on the lose rein, we ride without the clutch,
sort of like an automatic transmission when compared to cars.
Of course without having a decent seat, the leg aids will not work, as well as the hand aid will be refused by the horse. The lesser riders, like amateurs riders, are better off riding on a lose rein, because the riding in hand requires fairly refined rider, a limit which no amateur will ever reach, and only very few professionals even in the old days did. And so if most professional rider did not managed to get needed refinement to ride in hand, how does an amateur reach it?
And so as I keep saying over and over, "A
man should know his limitations and woman her place". Do less with the horses
and do it better. People that seek glory or fame should do so in the sports that
do not include animals, or they should go to politics or become actors or
singers, lest they will abuse animals for their own vanity sake. Due to the
technology the people of the modern world are stupid in the natural world,
totally incapable to relate to nature, and very much clueless in the eyes of
animals, especially in horses. The more scientific approach to nature we have
the more stupid we become in relevance to nature and
The only natural thing in horsemanship that I am aware of comes out of the rear end of the horse quite naturally.
Ps: As far as the treeless saddle goes I could not comment since I have no experience in it. It should be noted that the less between you and the horse the better, however the tree in the saddle is of the essence in stabilizing the saddle, especially when one sided stirrups pressure occurs, accidentally or not, it could cause the saddle to turn, among other things. The stirrup leathers are attached to the tree, and in the treeless saddle the integrity and the stability of such saddle could be compromised. Keep in mind that people had millennia to experiment with saddles, and they came up with the saddle tree for obvious reasons. The treeless saddle is just another marketing gimmick in this age where no one knows anymore how to design a decent saddle, since there are no riders left alive.
Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek