Yielding and Releasing

Posted on May 10, 2015 by Jerrilee.
Categories: handicap, health, riding, therapy, training.

Mark Russell"Lessons in Lightness"

*Mark Russell on Yoda, riding in lateral release.

When riding your horse you may eventually want to know how to lower his head.  The typical way of shortening the reins so that the horse grabs the bit and you pull his muzzle toward the ground always ends up as a tug of war. Is this the only way to achieve a lower head carriage on the horse? To go beyond the tug-and-pull method the rider needs to learn the difference between ‘yielding’ and ‘releasing’ because, while it is possible to pull hard enough to create yielding to the bit, it is impossible to use enough force to make your horse relax and quietly carry the bit. Relaxing to the rein requires releasing to the rein, not stiffening or contracting on it. How do you learn the difference between yielding and releasing?

Let’s imagine that we are walking on the sidewalk and your next step would land you into a deep pothole. I suddenly realize that you don’t see it.  So I grab your arm and pull you away. Although you stop (or ‘yield’), you become confused and irritated.  Then I show you the pothole.  You smile, relax your body, and ‘release’ the tension from your anger.  At first you yielded without relaxing, and then you released resulting in relaxation.

Perceiving the difference between yielding and releasing when riding your horse is the beginning of its athletic development. When the horse carries the bit in its mouth, rather than locking onto or against it, then it will move more freely and respond to your cues more quickly since the areas previously locked up with muscle tension are free to move.  The reason horses are taught yielding, instead of releasing, is because novice riders need to go safely from point to point.  Horses are taught to accommodate this by clamping down on the bit and carrying the rider with a braced neck and locked jaw. Such tension travels down the horse’s spine and to the legs which shortens their gaits. Shortened strides are easier for riders who can’t sit well in the saddle. If instructors never elevate riders past this basic lesson of “stop and go”, then these horses never leave this state of muscle contraction. Laboring along, most horses eventually succumb to lameness issues. Stiff joints, leg, and spinal injuries, excessive muscle bunching behind the ears of the horse restricting rotation of the head, all these can be traced to defensive bracing against the rein.

A foal out in the pasture will look just like a deer when it rotates its head to look around. Every horse should be able to rotate its head without bending its neck. They should be able to look sideways just as people do, without turning the rest of their body. Unfortunately, we see horses bend their entire neck just to look to the side because the muscles attaching the head to the neck are too stiff from labored bridle work. In extreme cases,  horses won’t bend their neck at all but instead turn their whole body around because even their lateral flexibility is gone.

*photo from “Lessons in Lightness”, by Mark Russell

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