[Training Scale Series] Part 3 – Contact in Your Riding

[Training Scale Series] Part 3 – Contact in Your Riding

[Training Scale Series] Part 3 – Contact in Your Riding

Contact and connection; hot topics for many riders.  This is often because they can feel quite elusive.  There is confusion regarding what needs to happen in order for contact to occur.  And, how can you tell if the contact is correct and ‘good’?
This post and episode are the third in a series about the training scale.  We have already covered rhythm and suppleness. The next ‘step’ in the scale is contact.

What is Contact?

This is a big question because most riders feel a lot of confusion around contact.  And this confusion impacts most of their riding and lessons.  The numerous different comments, suggestions, ideas, and methods can muddy the waters!  “Soften your contact”, “Stop losing the contact”, “Be more consistent with your contact”, “Ride into the contact”, or “Pick up the contact” are just a few ways contact is discussed in relation to riding. So, what is contact?. Is it the reins?
It is important to understand that contact is not just one thing. It is a lot of things coming together. It occurs as a result of lots of other things happening, simultaneously.
Essentially, in black and white, contact is the connection between your hand and the horse’s mouth down the rein. However, like most things to do with horse riding, it is not that simple.  This is due, in part, to all of the other ‘connections’ that influence the hands, reins, and mouth.
For example, if somebody were to tell you to “soften your contact”, you may not be 100% sure what to do to soften it. It could, perhaps, be a softening through your elbow. But not always! Sometimes it is almost a ‘wiggle’ through your fingers which could be enough to soften it.

Quiet, but Not Fixed…?!

Another aspect of contact that can be quite confusing, is the fact that your contact should be quiet.  And yet, at the same time, it should not be fixed.  In the previous post & episode, I covered suppleness and how it is fluid and ‘loosey goosey’.  This applies to contact as well.
When we think of quiet we tend to think of this as being still.  And yet, I can bet that you realize that when you’re riding with fixed and ‘still’ hands, things probably would not go according to plan!
So quiet, yes… However, we also need to have a certain amount of ‘wiggle room’ through our contact, with the horse.

Contact as a Result

Let’s take things back a couple of steps, and look at contact as a holistic concept with your horse. If we begin to see contact through the filters of relaxation, rhythm, and suppleness, we can see how this applies.
Everything begins with forwardness.  Thinking and moving forward.  From here, we can establish both relaxation (the right amount of tension for the question we have asked) and rhythm.  Building on that, we can then begin to assess how supple the energy and the body are.  Is there a ‘flow’?  Are we allowing this ‘flow’? Is your horse being allowed himself to use himself correctly?
From here, we can begin to work towards true contact.  A little like seeing it as being the ‘next step’.  Contact is where, with this ‘flow’ of energy, you can begin to direct it a little bit more.
It is important to remember that you are not forcing things.

Plugging Holes and Leaks

If there are leaks or weak spots in your ‘flow’, contact is where you can really begin working on plugging and strengthening them.  Imagine water flowing in a river, and the bank of the river had a little hole in it. Obviously, some of the water is going to flow out there, and over time the hole will possibly cause even more problems.
Also, as the water leaks out, it leaves less and less water flowing down the path of the river. Your horse’s energy works in a very similar way.
Over time, as you strengthen the channel that you and your horse create when working together, you will be able to put more energy in without it leaking or bursting out. 

Directing the Energy

Once you begin to work on plugging any energy leaks, you then allow your contact to begin to become about how you are directing that energy. Often, the confusing part for many riders is when they think that they should steer with their hands when riding. But that is not true.
When you are steering and directing that energy, it has to come from your seat and your legs. Basically, you are then feeding it into the hands.
Imagine as you ride, if you were allowing all of this energy to flow (through your seat and legs.  From here, imagine what would happen if you were to shut that flow down with your hands.  Things are going to begin damming up pretty quickly!
Let’s go back to the example of the river; by shutting down your hands, you are making the river a lot narrower. This creates a build-up of water or pressure.  This can cause the water to overflow, and if we apply this to your horse, a similar build-up of energy will occur.  Energy must go somewhere, so you will either begin to produce new leaks, or there may be an explosion of sorts!  A lot of ‘naughty behaviour’ can actually be attributed to this!
It is important to remember that relaxation and suppleness help to balance the contact, to ensure that the energy flows.

Elasticity Through Contact

Another element of ‘good contact’ is the ability to remain ‘elastic’ through your arms and hands as you ride.  This is where suppleness really helps to achieve contact.  It is about the stretchiness; the give and take.
Remember, while contact should be quiet, it should also be moving.
To understand the contact being quiet, imagine a conversation with someone. A good conversation is when two people are involved and there is a natural ebb and flow in the conversation. You almost know when it is your turn to speak. You refrain from jumping in because you know there is a lovely rhythm happening inside of the conversation.
When we ride, we have a conversation with our horse.  Just like when we have a good conversation with a person, there is no shouting or dominating occurring inside of the conversation.  This goes for both rider and horse.  That is the connection, and that is the contact with your horse.

How to Work on Contact

How do we achieve true contact? Let’s start by thinking about the conversation and the ‘channel’ you create when you ride.  Distractions tend to ruin conversations.  So does constantly changing the tone or mood. ‘Fiddling’ with the length of the reins is a distraction that changes the tone.
When you ride, think about setting the length of your reins – and then, as much as possible, leaving them there.  This helps to create a consistent tone and rhythm for your contact conversation with your horse.
Also, imagine that your hands are directly connected to your seat. If your seat is following,  then your hands should be following in sync.  And if you were to apply the half halt, again, your hands work with your seat.  They are led by your seat.
It is always important to remember that the seat comes before the hands.
In order to achieve this ‘syncing’ between your seat and hands, both relaxation and rhythm must be present.  If there is any excess tension through your body, and stiffness, that flow cannot happen.

Creating a Good Conversation

Think about a conversation where there was no rhythm to it.  Or one where there was a lot of tension involved.  When a conversation is or becomes a little bit stiff, it lacks flow.
A good conversation is where people are relaxed.  It also has this lovely understanding between the people involved that each person will respect the other person’s opinion and space. 
If you can take all of this with you into your contact, you can begin to create a great connection between you and your horse.
Happy Riding

Find in the Gaps In Your Horse’s Training

If you are interested in learning more about where you might be missing pieces in your riding, sign up for my new free training “ FIND THE GAPS IN YOUR HORSE’S TRAINING.  This audio training can be listened to, via podcast app, to help you figure out where to begin working with your horse.

You can sign up and get it, for free, HERE

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