Contact can often look effortless for some horses and riders. And yet, for many other riders, consistent contact can seem like an enigma. Any efforts at consistency tend to lead to heaviness. Or a complete lack of any contact! So where is this fine line between consistent, quality contact and washing lines?
In order to develop contact with your horse, I feel that you must first understand what a ‘good’ contact is. This can often be confusing for many riders, so let’s start there…
What’s Needed for Consistent Contact?
Contact, for many riders, has to do with the reins. And, yes, the reins do play a part in the contact conversation. However, a good quality consistent contact is more than just the two strips of leather between your hand and your horse’s mouth.
Contact is really the result of a lot of other things successfully working together first in your riding. Relaxation, rhythm, and suppleness are the obvious ones.
As you begin to put all of the parts of your training together, over a period of time, you will see that contact begins to happen. And this can be the challenge initially, maintaining contact. Because, as you know, maintaining all of the other steps of the training scale that occurred before it, can also be a challenge! Especially when a bigger question is asked.
Along with the obvious prerequisites for good consistent contact, are some more overlooked necessities. Things like your position, timing, and aids. And then your horse’s acceptance, and ability to take responsibility also need to be present.
How It All Works Together
Imagine being in a good position to ask a well-timed question and then allow the answer to happen. There is the right amount of energy entering the channel that you and your horse create together (the container). Your horse is responsive and wants to work with you.
You can feel the energy being created in his hindquarters and travel underneath you, along his back. As it does so, you can feel the lightness of the shoulders, head, and neck. The energy connects through to the ‘contact’ and then is harnessed to be reused again going forward.
The self-carriage you feel from both yourself and your horse is a key element to true, sustainable contact. This self-carriage will only develop over time through correct and consistent practice. And this is a responsibility that both you and your horse share. Each of you committed to carrying yourself so that the other ‘team member’ can do what they must do in order for you to both works together. That is true contact.
True contact is an agreement that you both mutually respect and work towards sustaining as you develop together as a team. It’s the connection between horse and rider.
You can begin working towards this today by making sure that you are consistent with these three elements in your riding. This will allow your horse to begin working in a more consistent way as well.
1. Hold with Thumbs, Not Fingers…
It often amazes me how many riders have never been shown how to hold the reins properly. They simply grab them with their hands and off they go. I’ve seen reins being held ‘backward’. Reins that are only connecting with the very tips of the rider’s index finger and thumb, almost yoga-like. And I’ve seen other riders with their thumb wrapped around white knuckle fingers in an attempt to ‘keep’ the rein.
While there are many ways to ‘use’ the rein, there really is only one effective way to hold it. And that is by passing it over the index finger and then ‘pinching it’ or ‘pressing it’ with the pad of your thumb.
The knuckles of your thumbs will be slightly bent, like a ‘roof’. And it is the thumb that holds the rein in place in your hand, not your fingers. By holding the reins this way, your fingers are instantly free to be used as a variation of the rein aids. A squeeze. Maybe a wiggle. Often a vibration. All are able to happen because they are not holding the rein. Your thumb is.
2. Your Hand is Not Yours…
This can sound like an odd one! But if you can begin to see everything below your elbow a little differently, it will help you and your horse create a softer, more consistent contact. I’ve already mentioned that self-carriage is one of the prerequisites for creating good quality, sustainable contact. And this applies just as much to the rider as it does to the horse.
By focusing on bending your elbows and carrying your hands, you allow a straight line to exist from each elbow to your horse’s mouth. These are the true ‘reins’. Your elbows, all the way to your horse’s mouth. A straight channel.
This is the all-important second line that creates a position where you can be effective and allowing when riding your horse. When you drop your hands too low, this line will become a v shape. If you lift your hands too high, the line will become an upside-down V. Both will create a ‘break’ in the flow of the energy, which will result in energy either falling out or becoming blocked.
3. Engage Your Other Aids
It pains me to continue to see horses’ mouths being sawed left and right by misguided riders trying to get horses ‘on the bit’. If contact truly is an agreement, a mutually beneficial agreement, then sawing your horse’s mouth so that he moves away from the pressure (pain) cannot be part of it.
Remember, contact is the RESULT of other things being present and having an influence. Contact is not your horse running around with his head ‘tucked in’ or your horse being ‘in a frame’.
One of the biggest parts riders misses when it comes to creating sustainable, consistent contact is the fact that energy must be both present and be replaced with new energy as it is being used. Meaning your horse must be going forwards. Forward does not just mean moving. It means thinking, being engaged, and moving with purpose.
There is an essential relationship between your legs, seat, and hands that needs to be created and maintained as a rider. It will also need regular ‘upgrades’ and ‘tweaks’ as you develop.
Failing to take your legs and seat into account when it comes to successfully creating consistent contact will result in a heavy, dull, and lifeless pulling on the horse’s mouth. This is not true contact.
Creating Consistent Contact
As you begin working on this with your horse the next time you ride, remember that contact must be developed over time. Both you and your horse must have the necessary strength and development physically and mentally in order to maintain true contact.
There are numerous audio horse riding lessons available to you inside of Connection that you can use to create this with your horse. Get started working on this today by joining HERE
- Training Scale Part 3 – Contact While Riding
- How to Improve Working Contact While Out Hacking
- Why Forward is Essential for Contact
- Putting All the Pieces Together When Training Your Horse
- Retraining Your Horse Versus Training Your Horse
- 5 Reasons You May Be Stuck when Training or Retraining your Horse
- The Training Scale for You and Your Horse