Knitting versus old-fashioned coffee grinder
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, January 28, 2013 07:24 PM
Lately I have been working a lot with many riders on contact and action of the hands. And I came up with an idea of comparing riders hands to two different actions absolutely not related to riding. One of them is action of knitting and the other one is action of turning a handle of old-fashioned coffee grinder
This happens to a rider who uses wrists movements to communicate with a horse's mouth. The wrists will bend inside, up, down, outward and each wrist will move independently from the other. Watching such hands gives an impression of the rider "knitting" with the hands. This knitting action makes hands very busy and actually stiff because as soon as there a traction on the reins the delicate wrist muscles must oppose the force which can be significant at times. This will make rider's half-halts very inefficient and weak because the connection terminates at the wrist and does not go all the way down into the seat.
What horse feels on the other end of the reins is very unpleasant sensation. The contact is jerky, it is constantly disappearing and then snapped back in action. The rein often will appear "ringing". It is hard for a horse to trust and accept such contact. He will most likely develop a stiff mouth and unsteady head position.
Old-fashioned coffee grinder
Comparing hand actions in the saddle to turning a handle of old-fashioned coffee grinder is a bit less obvious then knitting. There are two types of grinders. Some have their wheels in horizontal plane, some in vertical. In both situations when you turn the handle you usually move the whole lower arm with your wrist straight and steady. This requires you to bend the elbow joint not the wrist joint. And the whole lower arm goes either up and down or left and right in a circular motion. This is very similar to what riders need to do with their hands when they are working the reins. Instead of bending the wrists riders need to bend or straighten elbows to change the position of the wrist. For example, action of the hand to use an indirect rein would be bending the elbow and bringing the hand closer to the belly button, not bending the wrist inwards or upwards. The following citation comes from a classical French master, one of the founders of FEI, General Decarpentry, from his book "Academic Equitation" this is description of a half-halt:
"This action is somewhat similar to the action used to lift up a heavy flagstone lying at the foot of some stairs in order to put it down on a step above, without damaging in any way the surface of the step or making a noise." (There was a note : It is necessary to make it clear that the comparison between the half-halt and the act of lifting up a heavy flagstone does not apply to the vigor required by such feat of strength... It does depict strikingly to the slowness of the movement, the curving line followed by the hand, the tightening and very gradual opening of the fingers.) In no situation you can imagine doing such action with only the wrist bending up and down. It is very clear that the whole lower arm is involved in this action.
Remember to keep your wrist straight at all times. Even though fingers are softly closed around the reins the wrist can remain elastic even during half-halts. Elasticity of the wrist comes from the place where wrist connects to the lower arm. There are several small bones with lots of tendon and ligament connection. This structure acts as a rubber donut of a side-rein it gives the hand elasticity even during opposing action of the hand as long as wrist stays straight and fingers do not stiffen. The moment rider bends the wrist this elasticity disappears. It is important to wear gloves precisely because of this. Gloves give a better grip on the reins so rider does not have to close fingers too tightly.
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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