The give & retake is one of the movements that i think is so often misunderstood and rarely worked on in training. So what is a give and retake, what's the purpose of it and how do you actually get a good mark for it in a test?
This is a movement that i see so many people getting wrong in a test purely because of the execution isn't correct but i think if you can do it correctly its going to give you an opportunity to get extra marks that many other riders might not get, so crack your give and retake and you could be in for a good few extra marks which could make a huge difference to your overall percentage.
What is a give and retake?
The give and retake is introduced from the very first intro tests you can do. To do a give and retake you must give the rein to create a loose loop in the reins by pushing both hands towards the horses ears. This should be maintained for a minimum to 2 strides before retaking the reins and contact again.
What is the purpose of a give and retake?
In a test, the give and retake highlights to the judge whether the horse is carrying itself or whether it is in fact the rider that is holding it up. In other words, it has the potential to highlight a huge host of training issues.
Lets take a horse that is on the forehand and heavy in the riders hands, if the rider gives the rein that horse is going to fall onto its nose because its lost that rein that it was relying on to keep itself upright rather than using its hindlegs.
If a horse is a little the opposite, and struggles to take the contact and the rider gives and then retakes, the retake could result in the horse getting tight in the neck, compressing, coming behind the vertical or stopping travelling forward.
If a horse isn't truly round over its back, giving with the rein would probably result in the horse hollowing even more and bringing its head up.
Its also a great test of whether the rider is relying on their reins rather than their seat and leg to control their horse. Taking away the riders reins even for a few strides takes away a reliance on them and could highlight how the rider is controlling the bend, speed, frame or any other number of things with their reins rather than the seat and leg.
So, all in all its a great test to highlight how correctly the horse is moving and how correctly the rider is riding.
What does the judge want to see in a test?
Some tests require you to give with both reins while others may ask for just one rein to be given. Either way the judge will be looking for a clear letting go of the rein contact with a visibly clear, slack loop in the rein. This needs to be done for a minimum of 2 strides.
Whilst this is going on the judge will be looking to see how the horse reacts,. Ideally, were looking for the horse to maintain the same good outline, speed, balance, straightness and rhythm. If this is done it highlights a correct way of going without a reliance on the rider and also shows a correct way of riding without a reliance on the reins.
How to ride a good give and retake in a test
Preparation, like with most test movements is the key. If your horse isn't moving correctly and well beforehand, its unlikely they're going to then move well in the movement. But preparation is also about setting your horse up to be able to do the movement in the best way, for example, some movements may require more preparation than others, more balance from the hindleg, more suppleness, more activity and so on.
For a give and retake, we want to make sure our horses are as balanced as possible on their hindlegs and not relying on our reins to hold themselves up. This may require you to change the speed if your horse is a bit too forward or slow, and may also mean you need to give a half halt to rebalance their weight onto their hindlegs (we have a blog post on this if you want to find out more about the half halts).
The best tip i was ever taught to prepare is to do mini give and retakes in the strides leading up to your main give and retake. This is going to help your horse to be prepared for the give and retake but will also give you lots of information on how they will react and then you can change anything you need to before the give and retake has to happen. Make sure though that these are big enough that your horse notices but not so big that the judge or anyone else on the side lines can see them.
From here how you ride the give and retake is very much dependent on your arm/body confirmation as a rider. Riders with long arms can maintain a tall upright body position and simply push their hands forwards with their hands alongside the top half of the neck. If you have shorter arms or find that even with your arms straight out there is no loop in the reins you may need to incline your upper body forward from your hips to create that loop the judge needs to see. Ideally we dont want to do this as its going to shift your weight more onto your horses shoulders but the most important criteria of a give and retake is that there should be a giving away of the contact and a visible loop in the rein that the judge can see.
What not to do
There's a couple of things you want to avoid when doing a give and retake and these are probably the most common mistakes that riders will make.
The first thing is to make sure that your give and retake is smooth rather than throwing your weight forward and throwing the reins at your horse and then snatching the rein back which can jab your horse in the mouth. This is just going to throw your horse off balance and result in your horse possible running forward, dropping their head or throwing their head up. Its also going to be incredibly uncomfortable and not a great experience for your horse. An easy way that works for a lot of riders is to think in terms of each stride the horse takes. So stride 1 is the giving of the rein, stride 2 you're in the give, stride 3 you're in the give, stride 4 you're retaking.
Straightening your arms at shoulder height is another common mistake riders make and the reason why it doesn't work is purely because it maintains the contact with the horses mouth because the distance from your hands to the bit stay the same your hands are just high up in the air instead of back and with you.
The last thing is to make sure your give and retake doesn't go on too long. I think the sweet spot is between 2 and 4 strides, any longer and the horse starts to think you may be asking for a stretch or becomes disconnected.
Using give and retakes in training
Give and retakes are not only good testers of self carriage, balance, suppleness and so on; its also a great training method to encourage all these things too. Small, little give and retakes can encourage your horse to balance themselves, carry their weight on their hindlegs and not rely on the reins to hold themselves up. Likewise it can also be great for the rider, if you find that you struggling to maintain a light contact and can sometimes grab or fix with your hands or arms.