Rider's arms
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Sunday, May 8, 2016 08:27 PM
As riders we hear a lot about our hands. How they need to be quiet, soft, elastic, receiving contact, resisting during half-halt, etc. However, hands are attached to the arms and cannot be all of the good things we want them to be if arms do not provide them with stable but supple base. This is one of several important qualities for hands to act independently according to needs of the horse's balance and not rider's balance. And this is what I want to talk about today. How to create that supple but stable base to allow rider's hands to be effective.
Anatomy of the arm:
  • Arms attach to the body through shoulders.
  • Shoulder joint consists of shoulder blade, upper arm and small clavicle bone (the only bone that attaches arm to the body)
  • Shoulder blades can move a lot and mostly stabilized by muscles around them
  • Upper arms and lower arms hinge together through elbow.
  • Hands attach to lower arms through complex wrist joints.
  • Elbow is a hinge type joint that only moves in one plane. Elbow can be bent and straighten, that is all.
  • Shoulders and wrists on the other hand are joints that can move 360 degrees. If you argue that you can keep elbow quiet and move lower arm in circles that is not elbow joint that lets you do it but shoulder joint inside the capsule.
  • Wrists also can be rotated where either palms or top of the hands are facing up. This movement is possible due to two bones in your lower arm rotating one around another. Neither wrist nor elbow joints themselves are involved in that movement.
  • Wrist joint is very complex consisting of many small round bones that allow the wrist to stretch and recoil not unlike a rubber donut on side-reins does.
From above description of anatomy of the arms it is clear how very mobile shoulders and wrists create a challenge for the rider to keep everything quiet and connected. The correct arrangement of joints is shoulders are stable, wrists are quiet and elbows are elastic and supple slightly hinging and unhinging allowing the hands to be quiet in relation to the horse. However, most of the time I see opposite - elbows stiff and sticking out, shoulders loose and unstable and wrists are busy fidgeting and ringing the reins.
In order to improve the situation here are few ideas that are rather down to earth and require commitment and work on part of the rider. One of the most effective ways to get rid of human reflexes using arms for balance is to be lunged without reins and doing exercises with arms to learn to make them independent of rider's overall balance. If you cannot be lunged riding with loose reins in all gaits is the way to see how much you use arms/hands to balance yourself.
To stabilize shoulders:
- Imagine sliding your shoulder blades down into back pockets of your riding pants. This will not only stabilize your shoulders but also widen them.
- Close backs of your armpits. Be careful not to close fronts of armpits because this will tighten your chest.
- If you need to move your hands forward move only arms do not let shoulders go forward.
- Your shoulders are stabilized by muscles on your back like rhomboid, lower trapezius, lats, etc. Shoulders are not stabilized by muscles in front like pectoralis (big chest muscles) or biceps. These muscles must stay supple in order to allow width through the shoulders, unimpeded breathing and supple arms.
- A shoulder of your dominant hand is more mobile than other shoulder. Keep an eye on it. It will move without you even noticing. To keep elbows supple: - Keep elbows very close to your body. Do not squeeze yourself with them but feel them staying on your hips.
- Your elbows can only move back and forth and never outward. Imagine or take a folded towel and hold it under your armpits. Folded newspaper doesn't work well because it is too thin, slippery and heavy and riders tighten up in effort to hold it.
- Keep your hands about 10 cm away from each other and thumbs on top. Turning your thumbs toward each other and bringing hands together will increase the chance for elbows to stick out
- Keep your elbows rather in front of midline of your body than behind it. The further your elbows are back the more they will stick out and upper body will lean forward.
- Push your hands away from yourself like pushing a shopping cart
- Always make sure you have a straight line between the bit and the elbow!
- When your elbows are near the body and the line is straight between elbows and the bit it is easy for the elbow to hinge/unhinge. The contact is a weight in your hands whether light or heavy but still it is a weight. This weight exerts force on your joints. When elbow is aligned properly it can respond to this force instead of locking against it.
- Imagine weight on your elbows so your arms have a bit of inertia in their movement and do not loose the contact.
- When your arm is correctly aligned you can think of relaxing the fronts of your arms for more receiving supple contact.
To keep wrists quiet: - Never bend your wrists (inside, outside, up or down). This will stiffen the wrist joint and eliminate it's rubber-donut elasticity.
- Keep fingers softly closed like holding a small bird inside without letting it fly away, this will allow wrist joints to stay supple.
- Resisting hand implies closed fingers and set elbow, not bending wrist down, or pulling down.
- Squeeze with your fingers like squeezing water out of small sponge in order to resist during half-halt.
- Rotating hand outward to make finger nails face up is a good way of asking for inside flexion without compromising anything else. Also that action will automatically keep your elbow close to the body.
- Rotating hand inward (top of the hand facing up) has a limited range before it starts stiffening the elbow and pushing it out. Be very careful with this action.
- ALL hand movements are SLOW and deliberate within contact without ever losing it.
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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