In this month's training tip on "Benign Antagonism" I'm going to answer the question, "Should I ride my horse "Deep" or "Up"? (Remember, benign antagonism simply means that if your horse does something you don't like, very calmly do the opposite.)
You've probably heard lots of discussion about whether or not to work your horse "deep." There are a variety of opinions on the matter. Some riders warm up and cool down their horses "long and low" to stretch and loosen the muscles. Others always school in a balance and frame appropriate to the level at which they are working; they never stretch their horses. Many trainers school in a deep frame only during the movements when the horse habitually comes above the bit. Still others do all of their work "extremely deep" with the horse's nose almost on his chest; they bring them up only when they're getting ready to compete.
So what should you do? Use benign antagonism to help you decide.
Let's say you're riding a "dirt sucker." This horse leans so heavily on the forehand that you feel like you're somersaulting around the arena. With a horse like this, it's best to ride him more "up." That's because his version of long and low is not a good one. Yes, his head and neck stretch down and out. But my concern is with his hindquarters. If his hind legs are trailing out behind his body, and he's pushing himself heavily onto his forehand, he's not in good balance. By shortening the reins and riding him a little more up, you can clear the way for his hind legs to come more underneath his body so he can carry himself better.
On the other hand, you might have a "stargazer," who goes around so inverted that you can almost look at him eyeball to eyeball. He travels with a low back, and his head and neck are up in the air. To retrain and strengthen his topline muscles, put this horse in the opposite shape from the one he adopts on his own. Send his hind legs further underneath his body so that his back is up and his head and neck are low. Use a "connecting half halt" to change his shape (For more information on "connecting half halts", see Train with Jane--Volume 2--Connection). Then, after giving the "connecting half halt", allow the reins to get a bit longer so he can seek the contact forward and down.