Some dressage horses are very quick to switch from coming above the bit to curling behind the bit. If I’m describing your horse, you need to be able to quickly and smoothly change your aids to help him understand and accept contact.
When your horse comes above the bit, use connecting aids as follows.
1. Close both legs to send him forward toward a lengthening.
2. When you feel the “surge” of power coming from behind, close your outside hand in a fist to capture, contain, and recycle that power back to the hind legs.
3. If your horse starts to bend his neck to the outside, vibrate the inside rein to keep his neck straight.
As soon as he ducks behind the bit, send him “forward through his body”.
Here’s what I mean by that. Go on a circle in rising trot, close both legs and ask for a trot lengthening for 6 or 7 strides. Do this several times until it becomes a knee jerk reaction for him to go “forward over the ground” when you close your calves.
Then close your legs as if you’re going to do a trot lengthening, but don’t lengthen. This time you want your horse to go “ through his body” rather than “forward over the ground”. As you feel him go forward though his body and start to take a contact with your hand rather than curling behind the bit, praise him.
You might have to alternate a trot lengthening with asking him to take a contact with your hand several times. But once he understands, you’ll have a tool to use any time he comes too low in front.
This system works well for the horse that likes to go with his poll too low and his face behind the vertical, but if he’s curling so badly behind the bit that he’s ducking his chin toward his chest, you’ll have to be a bit more proactive as far as explaining correct contact to him.
If he’s curled behind the bit really badly, in addition to sending him forward through his body, you might have to raise your hands to place the bit out in front of him so he can step toward it.
The feeling is like putting a sheet on your bed. You lift the sheet up, and then let if softly drift onto the bed.
You can also think of it like doing “the wave” at a football game.
If you do have to raise your hands because your horse has dropped behind the bit, keep the following things in mind:
1. Always use your legs BEFORE you raise your hands.
2. Raise both hands evenly.
3. To the degree that you raise your hands, ALSO put them forward toward his mouth without losing contact. That is, if you lift your hands 2 inches, they must go forward 2 inches. If you lift them 4 inches, they must go forward 4 inches.
4. As soon as you’ve placed the bit out in front of your horse, put your hands back down. If you keep them up, he’ll curl behind the bit even more.
5. Keep a smooth, steady contact with his mouth throughout this whole process. Don’t let the reins get loose, drop contact with his mouth, and then snatch him up. That will discourage him from stepping toward the bit.
To sum up, for the dressage horse that alternates between coming above the bit and dropping contact to come behind the bit, smoothly switch from connecting aids to sending him forward through his body as needed until you’ve clearly explained the right connection to him. For more training tips, sign up for my free newsletter at http://www.janesavoie.com