How to Use Your Hands While Riding

So, you ask, when do we talk about what to do with our hands when riding a horse. It’s when we are finally convinced of the power of our seat bones and legs. The hands are used to communicate with the horse’s mouth, which is at least as a sensitive as our own. Hence, please use your hands slowly and with empathy, lest you make your horse nervous and flinching. Of course a green colt must be ridden a great deal more with the reins and hands than a trained horse until he begins to feel the control of the seat and legs.

The hand can direct, or be active, as when they are turning the horse’s head. The hands can be passive or following, as when the rider with a soft contact follows the undulating, back-and-forth movement of the horse’s head at the walk. Then the hands can be fixed, or immobile, as when doing a half-halt to ask for increased collection. One should rarely (if ever, in some opinions) pull, and never for more than a half second. And if you pull it should be slow, not fast, and immediately followed by a slack in the reins, even if only slight. You can softly close the hand, feeling for the “give” of the jaw, or you can vibrate the reins, like the vibrato of a violinist, to get a response from the horse. Mainly the hand should slowly feel for the mouth, then slowly coax the jaw to relax, then release. Many soft repetitions will eventually get the idea across to the horse much better than few hard jerks. A horse ridden with educated, interactive hands, will be a happy, fluid moving, athletic steed and will be fun to watch, and smooth to ride.

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