When you think of putting your horse in a box, you probably think of their stall. But what about the one you put them in when you ride? No, not the arena. You create a box for your horse with your hands and your legs when you ride.
Each horses box is different but they have the same basic structure. Your legs and your hands create all six sides (one top, one bottom, and the four sides). When you start ridding, you have a big box. You encourage your horse to stretch and loosen up in this big box. Then as you ride, you make the box smaller and smaller through your collection work. The box may gain height because you asked for more jump in your gait or it may become longer in the front because you asked for them to stretch into the contact. Your box may have a pop out feature on the sides, like some trailers do for living quarters, if you are working on lateral work.
My box is special because I like to think the front is an accordion and the sides have 2 doors on each side. This helps me remember that even though the front has moved forward for stretching, there is still a wall there and the room created has a purpose other than running.You are not just punching through the front of the box, but elongating it. This is why the front is not a door.
The sides, however, are for the time being. We are working on helping Cash fit into his box right now but in order to do so, we have to give him doors. Each side has four doors, two at the shoulder and two at his rump. So that he does knock his rear ones open, we have to start with the outside shoulder one open. This encourages him to bend and move through his shoulder instead of throwing his hind end out on the circles. We have gotten to the point where the doors can be closed at the walk and trot after some work. They can remain open at the canter for right now as we are still working on fitting him into the box.
But What Does An Open Door Do?
Open doors do not allow them to run around going sideways just for fun. Think about a barn aisle with two doors on the ends. For me, my inside leg creates a gust of wind that goes through the inside door and, if he is in his box correctly, the wind will go out the door on his outside shoulder. If he is not bending and moving through his shoulder correctly, the gust of wind will either stop in the aisle or go the opposite direction.
The doors to help them figure out where their body can go if it needs to go somewhere. Since Cash likes to throw his butt out and swap his hind legs, we decided to open the shoulder doors. If you are working on haunches in, you may decide to open the hind doors.
Why Should I Care?
Good question! I care about my box because when I make the box too small, Cash can’t function. He is given an inch to move a foot in some cases. Everyone’s box is made differently and has different features. You should care because your horse’s box is their workspace. If they don’t have enough room, they may make room on their own terms. If something does go wrong during a ride, try to think about what kind of box you are putting your horse in and try changing it up!