Updated: May 13, 2019
Picture yourself riding along in perfect harmony, your horse coming through from behind, ears listening and focused and he is light in your rein and carrying himself. Never relying on your rein to hold himself up.
Self-carriage is one of those things that takes time to develop, but through careful, disciplined training you can really improve your horse mentally and physically. Self-carriage should be the goal for anyone who is serious about their riding and is not limited to dressage horses. All horses, of any discipline, will benefit from working in self-carriage. How well your horse goes in self-carriage depends largely on your own position in the saddle, and the way you train him to go.
DEFINING SELF- CARRIAGE
There are many ways to define self-carriage but most trainers will agree that it is when the horse is working from behind, well balanced and carrying himself in a light frame. He will be rhythmical and every step will look like his last, a true picture of quality training no matter what the discipline.
A focus on rider position
A horse will always struggle to work in self-carriage if the rider isn’t in their own self-carriage. The minute you put weight on a horses back, you instantly change his natural way of going. It is very easy to look at a horse running loose and expect to achieve the same movement and way of going in the saddle but the reality is very few are actually able to achieve this expectation. That is due to the way the rider sits on a horse. The better you sit, the better your horse will be able to go for you.
Assess how well you sit on the horse. Do your legs fall long, with the weight sitting lightly in the heel? Are you sitting light through your core? If there is any flaw in your own seat and position then your horses performance will be impaired. It is easy to get stuck in a mind frame where you are focused on improving the horse that you forget to work on yourself but don’t be afraid to take the time to perfect your position. Many young horse riders find their positions to be effective to stay on through hairy moments but there will come a point where your young horse is no longer young and you want to progress further.
Learning to let go
Many riders never achieve self-carriage because they are simply afraid to let go and educate the horse to carry himself. It is basic, but often overlooked. The training process involves a constant communication with your horse, you will ask him into his frame and then soften when he gives the correct response, repeating over and over until one day, quite far down the track your give and takes are far less repetitive. This is the day when you will enjoy true self-carriage.
Don’t get into the trap of holding him in a frame, or allowing him to lean on the bit. You can create a false illusion of roundness and thoroughness by riding your horse in a double bridle and holding him in his frame but this will never bring you the joy that good, correct, patient training will bring if you simply spend a period of time educating your horse to go on his own. Give him a chance and trust him and your training that he will in fact go on his own when you stop holding him.
It will feel messy for quite some time but the result will be truly worth it! Take a chance and reward his efforts with plenty of pats and rest breaks, especially while he is still developing strength to work on his own.