How can I encourage my horse to accept the contact?

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Does your horse struggle to accept the contact? Here, BHS qualified trainer Alison Kenward advises a reader on what to do. 

Q: My horse always tucks his chin in when we work on his topline muscles. Is there any way I can encourage him to engage these muscles without tucking his chin into his chest?

Horses drop behind the contact or tuck their chins into their chests when they're avoiding contact with the reins or when they don't understand the rein aids you're applying. 

To ensure there's no underlying physical cause of your horse's head tucking, you first need to rule out any pain or discomfort, so get his teeth, back and saddle checked. 

Physical problems ruled out, your goal should be to improve his acceptance and understanding of the contact and to develop his balance and suppleness

Understanding rein aids 

If the issue is that your horse doesn't understand your aids, then you need to refine them.

When trying to ask him to work on a contact and properly over his back, your job is to encourage him to stretch his neck and seek the contact from your reins while using his hindquarters to create energy.

Try to imagine that when using your leg aids, your horse responds by actively stepping his hind legs forwards, under his body, to meet your hands. 

In doing this he'll become connected. lifting and lightening his forehand, improving his gymnastic ability and developing his topline. 

Fixing the problem

Simple school figures and shapes will help your horse to find his balance, develop his suppleness and gain confidence in your partnership so that he doesn't feel the need to avoid the contact.

Try the following exercise: 

  • On a 20m circle, in the middle of the arena, ride a transition as you cross the centre line. 
  • Concentrate on establishing the new pace so your horse is working in a regular rhythm and in balance before you change the pace again.