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Training Tips: Improve Your Hands

It’s easy to forget that our hands are directly connected to a horse’s most delicate area, and because of this we can completely compromise performance, attitude and paces with poor contact. Bad hands are one of the most common rider challenges faced so we’ve provided 5 tips to help reinforce good habits…

  • Inconsistent hands. The most obvious and common problem is an ‘inconsistent’ hand. It’s essential that your hands communicate with the horse’s mouth all the time and the hands follow the bascule of the horse, without interfering. The contact should be consistent all the time. A hand that keeps losing the contact and retaking it provides a constant ‘surprise’ and can create stiffness, bad direction and inconsistent rhythm. Make sure you communicate with your horse’s mouth all the time, imagine riding a bicycle, if you keep taking your hands off the handle bars you lose control of direction and if you hit a bump you wouldn’t be able to correct the direction of the front wheel… not much difference in controlling the horse!
  • Slipping the Reins. Another very common problem is letting the reins slip because your hands are loose and not gripping the reins properly.  Constantly changing them causes inconsistency in the way you communicate with your horse. Bear in mind that gripping is NOT pulling, it’s only giving a secure and consistent contact. A fantastic tool to avoid this, while teaching the rider the benefits of consistency, is reins with loops. These are never to be used to increase strength, but to provide an understanding of ‘feel’, and of what a difference a consistent contact can make. It works wonders on young horses, provided the loops allow you the correct length of the reins
  • Heavy, strong hands are another common problem. Never pull or grip the reins to support a lack of balance! If you can’t hold yourself in the saddle without holding the reins your balance is not good enough. When safe to do so practice riding without reins as much as you can, and work hard at it, as it will pay off! You should be able to trot, canter, do sitting trot, 2-point position, and jump grids all without the reins
  • Hands on Hips. Another very common mistake is the ‘hands on the hips’ contact. This is the result of reins being too long, once the hands are blocked against them there’s nowhere else they can go and inevitably the shoulders fall forward to compensate, the horse will end up on the forehand then the rider will lose control, balance and rhythm. Here’s a useful tip to prevent this, whatever your discipline: When you are thinking of using your hands, especially to slow down or for a transition, ALWAYS engage your core first, sit up and push your hips in front of your shoulders. The rein action MUST then start from your shoulders, followed by your elbows, and finally your hands. If you imagine this exercise now in front of your computer you will already notice how much bigger the range of movement is, resulting in a softer action on your horse’s mouth. Once you’ve tried this, then try to use your hands only. They will end up on your hips as there’s nowhere else to go
  • Lowering the hands to lower the horse’s head. Always remember the hands and forearm should be an extension of the reins and there should be a straight line from the bit to the elbow to allow for a softer, more direct contact with the horse’s mouth. Lowering the hands will produce a short lived success by lowering the horse’s head and making the horse rounder, but this roundness won’t come from behind and won’t last, as it is simply just pulling the head down and bending the neck. Sit up, give with the legs and take the impulsion created with the hands, then let the horse trust your hands (with all the above tips) and you will end up with a happy horse, working for you!

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If you have any questions on equine supplements, and want to improve your horse’s health, performance, or attitude give our friendly team a call 01672 541 157 for advice. We won’t try and hard sell you anything – we promise.

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Posted in Dressage, Rider Fitness, Riding Tips, Showjumping
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