The Hot Potato Give

The first step to teaching a horse how to collect is to teach him to give to the bit, period. Always start at the standstill, and then progress through the gaits as the horse understands. The ultimate goal is collection, but in the beginning, it is just a soft feel. When you first pick up on the reins at the standstill and ask the horse to tuck his nose in and create slack in the reins, he may only soften for a split second. And that’s all he needs to do in order for you to reward him. As soon as the horse creates the tiniest bit of slack in the reins, throw the reins up his neck as quickly as you can. When I say “throw the reins up his neck” I literally mean throw the reins up his neck. Exaggerate the release of pressure so the horse knows he did the right thing. Whenever you teach a horse something for the first time, you always want to exaggerate to teach and refine as he understands.

That quick release of pressure is what I call the “Hot Potato Give” because I want you to simulate what you’d do if someone threw you a hot potato. If I threw you a hot potato, what would you do? You’d immediately throw it to someone else because it’s hot and burning your hands. You want your horse to think that every time you pick up on the bit, the bit becomes a hot potato, and he should immediately give to the pressure and soften. As soon as he gives, you’ll act like the reins are a hot potato and burning your hands and you’ll quickly throw them away. Since horses learn from the release of pressure and not the pressure itself, the quicker you can throw the reins away and reward the horse, the softer he will get and the quicker he will learn.

Courtesy of Downunder Horsemanship