Why ‘Forward’ is Essential for Contact

Why ‘Forward’ is Essential for Contact

Why ‘Forward’ is Essential for Contact

Why 'Forward' is Essential for Contact

What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-

  • Realise that contact is a result of other things
  • Understand what ‘forwardness’ is and why it is so important
  • See the role you play in the forward and the contact
  • See how it should be present in every element of the ride, even halt

Contact.  You know how important it is to your overall conversation with your horse.  However, for many riders, contact can be elusive!  It comes and goes without any real impact being made from it.

Time and again I see riders in the arena, sawing the mouth off their poor horse in a desperate misguided attempt to achieve ‘on the bit’.  However, if ‘on the bit’ is the goal, it is important that we go back to the drawing board first.

It is important that we first understand what is necessary in order for contact to be present between horse and rider. 

In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast you will learn why forwardness is key to creating a consistent contact with your horse.  How, without forwardness, there can’t be a contact.  And without true contact, the conversation will stall. 

Contact Is a Result of Other Things Being Present

I want to deal with this first.  There is a common misconception surrounding contact, which tends to make achieving it all the more difficult for riders.  Contact is not just the reins.  It is not just you holding the reins.  Contact is the result that happens when the other necessary pieces are in place.

When you focus on making sure everything is ‘ready’, the contact will appear as if by magic.  Similarly, if the necessary parts are not in place, contact will remain elusive.  

The first piece that is necessary to have in place in order to achieve true contact, is forwardness.  It is the foundation of it all. However, it is also the piece that is most often overlooked and missing.  If forwardness is missing, contact in the true sense of the word, cannot occur.

What is Forwardness?

Simply put, forwardness is you and your horse moving and thinking with a sense of purpose.  It is both a mental and a physical element in your riding.  Horse and rider must be thinking forward in order to move or actively engage in forwardness. 

Forwardness is the energy inside the container that is you and your horse.  It is the difference between ‘dilly dallying’ and ‘focused’ movement. 

I speak a lot about the importance of having an intention with each ride and each interaction with your horse.  Forwardness is the energy that moves you towards that intention.

Failing to engage in ‘forwardness’ is like forgetting to turn on the engine.  

What is Contact?

Contact is also both physical and mental when it comes to your riding.  Many riders only focus on the physical element.  The reins.  Your hands.  The mouth and bit.  However, in order for true contact to be achieved, the mental element must also be engaged.

Contact is like an unwritten mutual agreement between you and your horse, to move forwards on the journey together.  It is the relationship.  

Contact is not a stand alone event.  It happens because other things are in place and present.  When all the conditions are present, contact will occur naturally.  When it is forced or when one side is not completely happy or confident in the contact, it is not true.

Your Alignment in the Saddle

I have already spoken about forwardness.  It is the foundation for your contact with your horse.  However, from there, the next element you can begin working on is… You!  What are you doing in the saddle?  How are you doing it?  

How is your alignment?  Both physical and mental.  Position and thoughts. If you can remain aligned, contact becomes so much easier for you and your horse. 

Physical alignment is your lines; head, shoulder, hip, heel and elbow to bit.  Mental alignment is having an intention that you allow to guide you throughout the ride.

Relaxation, Rhythm and Suppleness

The next pieces necessary for true contact is the proceeding steps of the traditional training scale.  Relaxation or, said differently, managing the tension for both you and your horse throughout the ride.

Rhythm is the sequence of hoofbeats.  I find that trot is a great place to work with this. It has an energy to it and it also, usually, has a great natural rhythm to it as well.  The forwardness and the rhythm are easier to achieve. Suppleness is also essential.  The ‘loosey gooseyness’ of both horse and rider.

Suppleness is also your approach.  It is a mental as well as physical element to riding.  It is both you and your horses ability to bend and flex, physically and mentally, depending on what shows up.

Consistency is Another Key Element

Once you understand all that is required for contact to be present, you job is to begin showing up consistently.  Your focus on the basics will result in your developing the more intricate aspects of your riding.

If you lead by example, your horse will begin to align with you – and contact will occur!

The goal is to develop both you and your horse enough that the contact is ever present.  Initially it may feel ‘touch and go’, however, over time if you are consistently practicing the basics, you will be able to maintain contact for longer periods.  Even in the halt.

Consistent Contact; Even in Halt

I said earlier that forwardness is essential in everything in riding.  It is the foundation.  However, many riders think that the halt is the exception to this.  It is not!  Forwardness must be present even in the halt.  And this can be seen through the contact when in the halt.

Imagine a horse that is asked to halt without any attention being paid to ‘forwardness’ through the transition.  The horse will usually look hollow.  Collapsed through his body.  This is where you see riders furiously sawing at the mouth, hoping to get him back ‘on the bit’.

Now, imagine a horse that is correctly ridden into the halt.  Even though he is stationary, he is thinking forward.  His core is also engaged.  His body contains the forward energy, which is engaged with the rider through the contact. 

A halt that was achieved through working forward will result in a horse standing with a sense of purpose.  If the halt lacks forwardness, the horse will be almost slouching, hoping for a snooze!

Engaging the Energy

My hope is that, going forward, you begin looking at contact from a slightly different perspective.  Think of getting all the small dominos lined up so that, when activated, you can ‘knock’ the big domino that is contact.

Focus on your intention and allow it to help you create positive energy in your ride. 

This energy will help you to connect and engage all the necessary elements to allow true contact to happen.

Happy Riding


Other posts, episodes and resources that relate to this topic:-

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