Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, April 19, 2018 09:33 PM
When I talk about reins and contact with my students I hear a most common response - "the contact must be light and the hands must be soft". This is a wonderful ideal that we are all striving for every single ride. However, a lot of times riders only think about how soft they are, how they must give. What about the horse? He must give too. A nice contact is a reciprocal connection. Both parties are responsible for it's creation. If a rider gives all the time the horse will never learn to alternate it's frame and will ALWAYS travel on the forehand. This is one extreme. The other one is a rider never gives and a horse learns to lean and he will still travel on the forehand. Only now he has learned that his rider will support him all the time. No self-carriage.
In dressage we want a horse to go on the bit but not lean on it or run through it. When a horse learns this way of travel his movement becomes more athletic and it starts to build muscles of the top line all the way from a poll to the hindquarters. The push from the hind legs swings through the body to be felt in the contact. The neck has to be arched in order to respond to half-halts. A horse with a neck that is out in front like a stick will not be able to respond to the half-halts, it will lack elasticity and ability to "coil" sending energy back to create expression and lift.
It is also very important that a horse travels straight in that way. Straightness feels as an EVEN contact on both reins regardless of the direction, bend or movement. One rein heavier then the other is a problem. A rein heavily pulled across the horse's neck is a problem. If a horse suddenly feels "sticky" on one rein he is stiff and unbalanced on that side.
I am going to list here a few tools/images to help with creation of a better contact:
  • Think of your reins as sides of a triangle. The base of your triangle is your elbows. The straight line from the bit to elbows is also almost straight when looking down from the top. Take it a step further and extend that line to your seatbones.
  • The triangle always has straight sides and always has even base. Do not bend or let your horse bend the sides of your triangle. Do not twist or distort the base.
  • In turns, triangle slightly shifts to the inside. But it never physically pushes the neck over, it indicates with even contact on both reins. Outside leg comes into the rescue if turning feels sticky and requires stronger contact.
  • If the horse leans it's neck into the inside rein use inside leg to take his neck away from the rein.
  • In order to carry your triangle level think of a big coffee mug with two handles. Carry this mug with both hands and do not spill your coffee. Put as much or as little coffee into your imaginary mug for the feel of a correct contact.
  • Imagine your elbows are growing directly from your hips. Like there is a bony connection between them. If a horse pulls it pulls on that connection, not on the hand. You can imagine your elbows are growing out of your seatbones for a deeper connection.
  • One hand always likes to come closer to the midline of the horse's body. It breaks your triangle. Watch that hand and keep a slightly open rein. Especially, when it is on inside.
  • To encourage flexion turn your wrist ,like a key in a lock, your nails facing upwards for a moment.
  • Hands that are too close to each other create a "bottle neck" for the flow of the energy
  • Ride sometimes holding reins like you are driving a wagon. Reins come from the top between the thumb and the index finder. You will be surprised how different the contact will feel.
Do not try to remember all of the above suggestions. Pick two or three that relates to you the most and try them out on your next ride.
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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