Symmetry in the contact
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, April 3, 2017 05:15 PM
Contact with the reins is one of the concepts that really misunderstood by many riders. The list of contact misconceptions is not small. However, I am going to focus on symmetry of the contact, equal amount of soft, elastic connection in both reins. This is an ideal. At any time on any line, during any movement a rider must strive for equal contact on both reins.
Because there is so much talk about sending a horse to outside rein riders think they must have stronger, steadier contact on outside rein and a very soft contact on inside rein. This turns into a situation where horse is actually leaning on outside rein and rider thinks his/her horse came to outside rein because there is a solid contact in that rein. A horse is on the rein, any rein, not only because it is seeking contact with it but also because it listens to it and adjusts itself if the rider asks for it. The contact must be elastic in both reins. If outside rein feels heavier and also stiffer and inside feels too light in comparison then the horse is leaning into outside shoulder and collapsing his inside side. The difference even little one is actually worth noticing. A rider may get away with it in Training/First levels but by the Second level it will turn into a problem that requires a lot of fixing. So called going back to basics!
One of the most notable exercises where riders make that mistake is shoulder-in. If a rider suspects his/her horse leaning on outside rein there are a few tests that can be done:
  • Ask a horse for transition from trot to walk, or walk to halt inside shoulder-in. If this transition is hard then the horse was leaning.
  • Change shoulder-in into renvers, if it feels stiff and hard to do the horse was leaning. It is a surprisingly hard endeavor to strive for equal contact on both reins due to horse's and rider's natural asymmetries.
  • Ask for counter-flexion on any line. It should be easy to do. If not the horse was leaning
Another problem is asymmetry of a rider. Most riders when they ride think their contact is equal when it is not. Most of us have one arm that is more elastic and giving then another. Partially it is related to handiness, partially it is a balance issue, plus overall asymmetry in muscles strength/tightness. On top of that riders often have uneven reins in length and they do not know that. Use reins with notches on them and see for yourself. I do not trust myself, I always use such reins. My rein length is most uneven on Santo. I must force myself to equal my reins and then work on making the contact equal too. How a rider can know which arm is holding a stronger less elastic contact?
A horse will always be more bend in the neck toward rider's stiff arm. There will be more foam on that side of the mouth. And turns where inside arm is a stiff one always feel like a horse falling slightly out due to too much elasticity in the other arm.
It is not easy to work on this issue because it is hard to feel. Watching your horse's reactions, having a person/instructor on the ground, watching yourself on a video are all good ways to start realizing you have that problem. Next step is to feel when you are uneven in the contact, too tight or too soft on one of the reins, stiff and heavy on the other and then work relentlessly toward equal contact in all gaits, movements, transitions.
It is a surprisingly hard endeavor to strive for equal contact on both reins due to horse's and rider's natural asymmetries.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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