Whatever your preferred discipline, it cannot be denied that good flat work foundations are important. Balanced and fluid paces, responsiveness to the aids and understanding extension and collection are all important factors. To achieve all this, maintaining consistency in your contact is a key factor. But it can be harder than it sounds!
Contact is the means of communicating a rider’s intent to a horse through the hands and reins. Correct contact also allows you contain the energy created by the leg. We make contact with others everyday. Directly, verbally, via social media and more. Keeping the contact with your horse is also exactly that. Having that conversation with them to make them understand your intentions, requests and asks, and keeping them switched on to you.
Contact on the rein
Your fingers should be lightly closed around the reins, with the rein length held by pressing your thumb onto the rein where it passes over your index finger. Arms held loosely by the side of your body with a bend at the elbow allowing flexibility down to the hand and rein.
Look at your hand with the rein in it: is your thumb closed down onto the rein and squeezing it against your index finger? Are the knuckles of your fingers all lined up? They should be in a straight line. If not, you are gripping the reins in the wrong part of your hand.
*Top Tip* – to check the amount of ‘grip’ you should have, imagine you are holding a bird in your hand – strong enough that you are not going to let it escape, but not so strongly that you will crush it!
What the riders say…
We also had some great advice on the subject from International dressage rider Lucy Cliff, of Daneswood Dressage.
“For me consistency is really important. It is an important starting block. The easiest way to work towards more consistency is to stay quiet and to ride forwards into the contact. The more you try to move your hands and the reins, the less consistent the horse will become in the contact.
Once you have a consistent frame and contact you can begin to work on making the horse rounder. What works for one horse won’t work for another so here are various suggestions which you can try at home. Carrying your hands wide and slightly lower than normal will always help but try not to end up with your reins too short as a horse which pulls back and up will find this simply helps them to resist your aid. For some taking a steady contact and then adding downwards pressure while your legs push them into the contact will encourage them to round. The trick is to release the moment you feel them drop a tiny bit and to allow them space to follow the rein. you may have to repeat every stride to begin with.
You can also try…
“If this does not seem effective try adding an inside bend, make sure you keep the outside rein, use the inside leg and then add the downward pressure on both reins and release when he gives. One way that is particularly good and that works well with something less consistent is to place the frame where you want him in walk and then trot on, if he climbs again return to walk or even halt and then re position him and go again. The principle is the same as making them effective off your leg, if they don’t listen you repeat”.
Making sure you have the correct contact and then that it is maintained is well worth spending the time on. Hours in the saddle, lessons with qualified and experienced instructors, and riding a variety of horses will help you to develop more a feel for the way a horse accepts the contact.
If you can keep in mind that this is one of the ways you are keeping the conversation going with your horse, it may help you to understand the importance of the consistency required here to overall improve your horses way of going. If you were verbally chatting with someone to get your instructions across you would not just stop talking half way through and assume they knew what to do!!! Keep it consistent and keep it going!