Don't Wait to Release Winter's Hold on Your Horse

Are you looking to come out of hibernation and start some earnest work with your horse? Would you like to create lightness (there’s more daylight hours!), suspension (a spring-like movement) and connection (less brace against the cold) for you and your horse? Learn more about “combing the lines” on the ground and in the saddle to unlock your horses potential and help remove the winter’s cold brace of standing against the elements. Combing is a very simple way to bring the life back into your horse and to encourage him to start using his body more efficiently with intention, rather than with brace and tension. 

 

 

 

I shot this brief, impromptu video for a client of mine to show how to comb lines and what some of the positive effects might be. In the future, we’ll make these videos just a little bit nicer, but for now enjoy!

 

Combing the Lines with Groundwork:

When working with a horse, we want to support lightness and connection and stay away from tension, the pulling that creates brace. Combing one or two lines is a simple and effective way to release tension by creating small movements and oscillation, whenever you are with your horse. The oscillating rhythm encourages your horse to release and telescope his neck, which in turn encourages his “base” to lift (raise his withers). When the base is lifted the horse has more freedom to lift his back, telescope his neck and allow his hind legs to provide the energy needed to move from behind. The combing action helps break up tension and is useful while mounted to prevent barging and bracing patterns, as well as pulling on the reins. Combing is something you can do every time you have a lead rope in your hands from pasture to arena and from arena to stall.

You can comb with any type of rope or reins, but you’ll find that some are easier and provide more of a glide than others. To start combing on the ground, have your hands palm side up with the rope between your thumb and index finger or you can rest the rope along all of your fingers. Ensure that your arms and elbows are released and not locked and that you back is soft and full. If you already have a concept of a “neutral pelvis” then certainly be in neutral! To begin, you will experiment with the level of pressure that you use on the line between your thumb and index finger. Keep in mind that applying more pressure may elicit a response of more brace, or “heaviness” from your horse. You want to comb just enough to communicate clearly and get a positive response from your horse. 

Positive responses to look for can include any kind of release, including yawning, licking and chewing, releasing or telescoping of the neck, blinking and/or soft eyes, opening of the space between jowl and neck, and more. When your horse follows your intention, you know you are on the right track. Notice in the video that when I’m combing the line, Guinness moves in the direction that I want him to move in, and he has a bit of a bend in his body as moves. His head comes first, which is followed nicely by his neck, shoulders and front feet. He bends in the rib cage and follows with his hind end by pushing from his hind legs. Mentally, he is willingly with me. By contrast, you’ll see that when I pull on the rope, his head follows for quite some time and then the rest of his body falls forward towards me. He is not a willing partner and he certainly is moving in a positive supportive way. Mentally, he is checked out, and if he could speak he’d be telling me a thing or two about bracing and pulling! 

Combing the lines in the saddle:

You can bring this “life” and connection into the saddle by combing one or both reins if your horse seems to be “stuck” on one side. We will discuss the riding piece in more detail closer to the warmer weather. Suffice it to say that by bringing combing to your ride, you will start to feel increased lightness from your horse, simply because it is easier to move in a body that is free from holding patterns, tension, or brace.

Try combing the reins first at the walk and continue combing as you ask for your upward and downward transitions. If you feel heaviness in your hands, decrease the tension in your combing. If your horse fusses, try adding a bit more firmness to your combing to provide more support for your horse to connect with. You should start to feel how light and easy it is to ask for turns, changes in direction, and transitions! You may begin to feel your horse’s front end start to lighten and his hind end start to push. You may feel a better connection from your hands to your horse’s mouth. Whatever positive things you feel, go with them, say “thank you” and take small steps to continue to build on the success that you experience!

In Conclusion:

Combing, which provides an oscillating rhythm, is one of many excellent tools to help encourage your horse into a better weight bearing posture for each and every ride. Start now, while the cold is still here, and be amazed at what a little combing and TLC will do to set you up right for this year’s season of riding!

 

*Special thanks to Peggy Cummings’ book “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”