Thursday, November 15, 2012

Contact – so THAT’S what it feels like!

I’ve recently had another aha! moment with my riding – this time it’s all about contact.  I actually am starting to get what it is/feels like now.  It’s only taken me donkeys years of riding to finally understand it; but hey…

Basically, the discovery came when I figured out that I should really be bending my elbows.  Yah, I know – basic stuff, but honestly, if my instructor isn’t telling me to bend my elbows then how am I going to know?

That is, until I do something like take a video of my riding and go “Wow, what straight arms I have!  That’s not good!!”, which is essentially what happened…

And then Joey started to work into the contact and I was like – “Oh, okay - I can actually feel my horse’s mouth… It’s heavy!”  But the thing was I knew it was finally right.  We were getting a give-take connection that was elastic and soft, although it felt weird and ‘heavy’ to me.

You see, I blame it on reading too many pony books when I was growing up, and essentially teaching myself to ride.  They all talked about fantastic riders who “held the reins like strands of silk” or “wonderful light hands” – or in complete contrast “he had beginner’s hammy hands”!   And as a result I got the idea that the lighter and softer – the better.

But that’s not quite the case – I tend to ‘throw’ away contact before/after upwards and downwards transitions so that I don’t “pull” on my horse’s mouth.  That means I’m not providing any support for those transitions either, so my horse pops his head up and asks “Where’d you go?”. 

I also taught Copper to carry his own head which meant that he wasn’t on the bit correctly – he broke at the 4th vertebrae, rather than his poll, tended to be a bit ‘behind’ the bit and didn’t engage fully through his back. 

It still LOOKED pretty, but it wasn’t correct.  We didn’t have any 'throughness’, which is a weird dressage term I tend to understand as being the horse’s flow and energy coming from behind me.  It has to come through unbroken from the rear, across the back, over the neck and down into the bit.  I shouldn’t break it with my seat or hands, and if my horse isn’t fully engaged then we won’t get it either. 

So I have learned that if the horse can’t feel the rider’s hands and receive connection with them, then even though the rider’s seat might be connected effectively, the connection for the front part of the horse (shoulder, neck, head) to communicate with it’s rider is still going to be missing.   Rider’s core, seat & legs = horse’s back, quarters, hind legs.  Rider’s shoulders, arms, wrists/hands = horse’s shoulder, neck and head. 

If the rider provides a steady contact, and an effective seat aid that drives the horse forwards from behind, then the horse will naturally offer to round up and come on the bit by itself.  It sounds simple, and it sort of is, but sometimes it still takes a lot of work to get it right!

I’ll keep at it though, and practice a ton of transitions to help.

See ya,


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