“Lazy” horses – one thing rider can do to win some energy…

Sometimes they simply make you work harder than you would like. Sometimes they hide behind the contact, shorten in the neck or “come back” at the rider. Sometimes they won’t move “off the leg”. There are many shades of an unmotivated horse who just doesn’t move through and truly forward so below I attempted to describe a feel/technique we can add to our riding repertoire to win some energy…


Photo credit: Author’s own training. Lusitano stallion Utuaba. Portugal. The horse who loved to drop in his own back and switch off to the leg despite otherwise being a very sharp and sensitive ride.

Learn to put your horse in front of your back…

There is a lot of talk in arenas, whether dressage or jumping, about the importance of having your horse in front of the leg. It makes sense since the leg is regarded as a “driving aid” but I like to think about it or feel it as having the horse in front of my back…When I sit in the saddle and start walking, I find seat bones position that feels as comfortably close to the pommel as possible; feel ever so slightly anchored through the tail bone but watch that I do not lean back or put more weight into the back of the seat – just feel the weight of my head dropping softly into tail bone and into the saddle as I walk.

What next…

As you walk on around the arena or out hacking, seek the feel of the movement of the horse’s shoulders gently lifting your thighs – left, right, left, right – but do not let them move into “chair seat” – they stay right underneath you. Your seat bones softly moving in a manner of a mini walk (think in millimetres rather than inches).

Seek the feel of both seat bones being close to the horse’s spine but watch out not to clench your seat muscles, just stabilise your spine directly on top of your horse’s spine. The more stable your upper body is, the less your horse’s back muscles have to contract in order to “catch you” as your both move together.

Got the feeling? Now, allow your legs to hang softly by the horse’s sides by their own weight and feel slight left to right shifts of weight through your horse’s ribcage as it moves under your seat bones. Let your horse breathe fully by feeling the slight opening of each hip joint as the ribcage opens/bulges outward and soft closing as it swings away from your leg.

Feel which way your hip joint opens more i.e. which way the horse’s ribcage swings further out and which way there is barely any movement. This should tell you which hind leg is doing more work and which one is the “lazier” one…Activate the slower/stiffer hind leg with quicker (not stronger) leg aid.

As you walk and feel the hind legs do not let yourself be moved forwards through your upper body. Remain in “your spot” with your horse moving “in front of your back”. I like to visualise the rider’s back as a draw bridge which closes the way back…(think about rein back when you lighten your seat ever so slightly to open the way back…the opposite needs to happen when you want more forward energy). 

Now, the same has to happen in trot and canter – practice neutral pelvis position and your seat connecting to your thighs – if you hollow through your back, lean forwards or otherwise let your “draw bridge” lift you no longer have your horse moving in front of your back. The more he stays in front of your back, the less leg you need to use and the more naturally he/she will desire to move forwards.

Below is a very short video showing the tendency many riders have in canter – letting front of their bodies extend on upwards swing of the canter. Notice how that hollows the rider’s back and how, when corrected, the rider makes herself stronger and less moveable from the centred position in the saddle. This even front to back posture allows for supple strength through rider’s back, provides the horse with better balance and quality of the canter and helps the rider put the horse in front of the rider’s back (or in front of the leg if we go with the usual language 🙂 )

Better balance = more energy…

What do you think? Have you experienced this feel before? How would you describe the feeling of “putting the horse in front of your leg”? 


Pure Essence Photography


3 thoughts on ““Lazy” horses – one thing rider can do to win some energy…

  1. This was really interesting, thanks for posting (I’m having a comment catch up day, can you tell?). On a personal level, I think what could be beneficial is if I take these ideas away and work up the courage to have a bareback session with these thoughts in mind – I find it quite hard to think about these subtleties in the horse’s abdomen and spine in connection with my own body sometimes, but taking away the barrier that is the saddle might help. I guess it’s a case of getting to the point where it’s easier for the horse AND yourself to move, rather than the situation that most lazy horses put us in which is where they create a situation where it’s easier for themselves (by switching off to aids) but harder for us (because it gets to the point where we nag or give bigger, more energy-sapping aids).

    • 🙂
      Yes, bareback riding really makes you aware of subtle details so if you can do it on a fun, safe, nicely covered horse then I agree it would be invaluable.
      Otherwise, you can put your hands/arms on a horse that is led by someone else with you walking next to it and just feel how the body moves…how much the actual spinal column moves (not much!), how the ribcage swings left and right – do it for a good 10-15min until you are really noticing various changes in motion when the horse trips, slows down, speeds up, turns a little, goes crooked etc…

      • Ah good idea 🙂 the horse I’ve been riding recently is nicely covered, but the problem with him is that he can be a little on the inactive side, and I assume this is easier on a horse who maintains gait well? The other option would be to have someone leading or lunging him, I suppose.

        Though in seven weeks I’ll have a herd of 30 to choose from 😉

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