From the elbow to the bit I
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, May 14, 2009 09:36 PM
Every equestrian manual has a line that says: "There should be a straight line from the elbow to the bit".
This saying is so common that riders and some trainers do not really pay much attention to it. It is treated almost
like something for beginners and more experienced riders can use their hands in a different ways. I must tell you
I'm discovering through my own riding and teaching that this is one of the most fundamental prerequisites of good hands.
I see so many problems coming from disregarding this simple principle. A few of those problems
are pushing hands too much down and breaking a straight line, bending at the wrists and loosing proper feel and
connection to the mouth.
Pushing Hands Down - This is extremely common mistake, especially, with riders who try to put their
horses on the bit. Some simply push down, some seesaw in a downward direction in attempt to lower horse's head.
When riders simply push down most of the time they achieve quite opposite results.
Their horses raise their heads fighting the bit and stiffening their poll and neck areas. The war of tag is usually won by
a horse who is stronger and more persistent. Riders while pushing their hands down usually loose their balance and lean
forward. Try it yourself. Take a stretchy cord, fasten it to something at the level of your waist and
push ends down with your hands unbending your elbows. You will see that you put yourself in a very awkward position.
All the resistance that stretchy cord creates is carried by your shoulders and upper back. Your arms and hands are
very stiff from effort. You will not be able to communicate with your horse and catch the positive
changes he may offer. Some riders push their hands down from the luck of balance. They simply lean on the reins
to keep their balance and in reality their horses carry them by their neck and poll muscles.
Riders who seesaw do not relay on their hands for balance so much. However, they usually develop such strong
habit of seesawing that their hands constantly move. There is no quiet moment for the horse to take the contact and to
stretch into the bit. Some horses follow the hands actions with their heads and you can see how the head moves
left and right every stride.
Bending at the Wrist Joints - This mistake is less common with dressage riders but more with recreational
English riders. These riders were told sometime in their life to use the wrist to work the rein. And they did that. Consequently
it developed in a habit of constantly holding their wrists in a some sort of flexion or extension. The wrist is not relaxed, not in neutral.
That creates a brake in the circuit of connection from the rider to the bit and from the bit to the rider. The tension usually spreads higher
and goes into the upper arms and shoulders. Rider cannon feel what is going on in the horse's mouth and he/she is usually late
with the response- softening/resisting/correction, etc. Some riders keep their wrists bent and stiff but open their fingers in attempt to be soft.
Next time we will talk why the straight line from the elbow to the bit gives you so much more effective and sympathetic hands.