Hands, most of us use them too much from the back of our horse.
When speaking about “working” the horse correctly, there is often one word that is least talked about and causes the most confusion: contact. Top trainers always say: you just have contact with the bit. Yet how one may attempt to achieve contact always varies. Some pull, others sea saw, and then there are the occasional few that just give the reins. So what is correct contact and how should it look like? Read on to find out.
First we should talk about the prerequisites to establishing correct contact. The horse should work from the legs and seat forwards and upwards. So first, we must ensure our horse is reacting from the legs accordingly, which means that they should jump up instantly when we squeeze our calves. The seat should help bring the back up and forwards (this is achieved by sitting deep in the saddle and sitting up). The picture should look like this: the horse should bring his hind legs underneath him and shift his center of gravity to the center, causing the shoulders to raise up. This energy is revivers through the mouth into the hands of the rider, causing the neck to develop a slightly rounded shape. The horse’s head stays on a vertical line which is where the word roundness comes from. Now, here comes the slightly tricky part: knowing how to sue your hands to recycle the energy.
Essentially it should feel like this: the horse takes the bit slightly as you keep pressure in both reins (no slack but not too much tension). Your hands belong to the horse, and you follow the mouth, but to get the rounded shape, you need to occasionally keep your hands still in order to have the horse flex at the poll, dropping the head down. The second he does that you can release the tension slightly. The ultimate goal is to have the horse carry himself in this position (this can be tested by giving the hands or slightly opening the fibers and seeing if the horse remains in the head carriage).
*One other thing to note is that out of the two reins, outside and inside, it is the outside rein that should always have contact. The outside rein is the control rein, and most movements from turns to shoulder in should and can be done with minimum intervention from the inside rein if done correctly (to learn more about the inside rein click here). For more about the outside rein (which connects to the inside leg) click here.
The entire concept does take some time to understand and feel, but it is important to not get too stuck on the hands and remember that the core of your riding comes from the legs and seat. Hence why a horse that is dull to your legs and seat will never be truly “through” or “round.” If you are having issues getting your horse off your leg and seat, ensure that your horse is cleared by the vet and doesn’t have any tack/dental/other issues.