Working with the green horse part 2 – Plum Tack
Working with the green horse part 2

Working with the green horse part 2

 Self carriage

 Anybody who has ridden a green broken horse would know how wobbly and unbalanced they are. Most of them have the turning circle of a Mack truck but lean like a motor bike. Their stride is either hurried or super slow and lazy. And clumsy!!! They are all over the place.

Having your horse on the bit is touted as the holy grail of self carriage but you often find your horse working hollow, fighting through the bit, sucking behind the bit or losing their brakes. This is because the frame and your horse being on the bit is the last piece of the puzzle and should happen as a result of self carriage not create it. Once your horse has learnt how to not only engage its postural muscles but also move freely while balancing you on top of them and holding their posture they can come onto the bit.

This takes significantly longer with a green broken horse than anyone talks about! I remember as a kid my instructor got a new green horse that wasn’t working in a frame and I thought well she mustn’t be as good a rider as I thought. What I didn’t realise (because I had always ridden trained horse to that point) was that conditioning the horses body for holding us and self carriage takes time!

In fact, from introducing a movement or exercise for the first time it takes:

  • 6 – 8 weeks for coordination (nerves firing to the muscles)
  • 3 – 4 months for muscle density (strength to do the exercise repeatedly)
  • 6 – 12 months for bone and ligament density (the movement becomes part of their conformation)

And this is as long as nothing goes wrong. No previous injuries flare, no new injuries are sustained, tack fits well, no training or behavioural things slow down progress.

There are some key skills a horse needs to develop for self carriage and therefore reduced risk of injury and longevity of career

  • Transfer their weight onto and squat through the hindquarters to lighten and take the concussion off the forehand.
  • Distributing their weight evenly into all 4 legs and not twisting or collapsing through the pelvis or shoulders.
  • Engage their core. Lifting through their stomach supports their back and it needs to be especially strong to hold our weight and prevent back pain
  • Elasticity of topline. An elastic topline allows for suppleness, freedom of movement and movement to just feel good. Prevents the horse from “jamming up” and getting tight and stuck in their movement. You will also see them tracking up
  • Extension of the shoulder is the end result of the horse being balanced, engaged and moving freely with elasticity. Issues with thoroughness result in the horse jacking up and being jammed up.
  • The horses holding their frame is like us holding our posture and not collapsing through the neck.

Movement is dynamic and adaptive. The more you try and hold or force it the more restricted and tight it becomes the more potential there is for the horse to pull up sore. By showing your horse how to hold self carriage you are encouraging the horse to move freely whilst engaging its postural muscles which looks pretty, like the horse is dancing but should also feel good for the horse.

 Katie Boniface from

Leave a comment