Q: I have had my 12-year-old horse for about a year and in the past three months, he has really picked up and is working beautifully. He will soften, but won’t go in an outline. Do you have any exercises or advice to help us?
Tina Sederholm answers:
It is really good news to hear that your horse has started to soften (I presume you mean in his mouth, and possibly becoming more flexible in his sides).
However, although relaxing the jaw is part of encouraging a horse to go in an outline, the most important thing is that his hind legs are engaged. In other words, in order to go in a good outline, he needs to be connected up from behind into a soft contact.
You can get your horse’s hind legs to engage by making good downward transitions and changes of pace. For instance, in trot, ask him to lengthen for a few strides before taking a half-halt to bring him back to working trot.
Ask a trainer…
If this is all beginning to sound a bit technical, I strongly encourage you to get some experienced help with training your horse to stay in a consistent outline. In fact, you may be interested to know that when I was young, it took me a long time to understand what connecting a horse up and riding him in an outline truly entailed.
In addition, if you are starting to get short periods when he is in a good outline, remember to reward him and let him have lots of breaks. It takes physical strength and fitness for horses to maintain an outline, so if you over-push him, he will start resenting it.