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KIND HANDS....HAPPY HORSE

BY

John O'Leary
Horseman
2003


If I were a horse, I would be very happy if my rider had kind hands but unfortunately, not a huge percentage of riders' do. Perhaps that is why there are so many obviously unhappy horses out there.

I think the single most important attribute in being a great rider, hinges on the quality of your hands. I know that when a horse judges us, it is based upon the kindness of our hands. So hands play probably the most important part of all in differentiating us between good or not so good riders'

I think that the difference between a good rider and an excellent one is simply in the hands. The excellent rider is one that can get on any horse and improve it. One that can get a horse with obvious problems and make the horse go better. That comes from hands. It is the greatest asset a rider can have and you are blessed if you have it.

I used to think that we had to be born with good hands but over the years, thankfully, I have come to learn that we can change and learn to drastically improve our hands. I am blessed with good hands and every horse I ride tells me so. If you have a horse that is stressed, up tight, unhappy, resistant and so on, it would be good for you to go and have a quiet look in the mirror as it may be your hands.

So how can we gain good hands? Well some of us are born with them but the others have to learn the feel. Certain horses can teach or force you but most have to be taught it. This is another area where I have to be seen to be bashing Pony Club. I don't think they teach it and in fact I see them teach the opposite, how to have hard hands.

From very early in riders' careers, they imprint them with the 'bigger bit' approach and whack the old pelham or double bridle on to jam the horse's head into position and submission. They then often teach that the lower you hold your hands the easier it will be to put a horse's head down into something resembling a show outline. They turn out riders' who  ride with their hands below the wither line of the horse, totally stiff straight arms which they have to have in order to reach down that far and a stiffness of the back and hip, looking like there is a carrot up their........posterior. All of this  teaches 'bad hands'

There is a saying....."The Lower the Hands the higher the head carriage"

This is because the lower your hands, the lower your forearms and the straighter the whole arm from Shoulder to hand.  The straighter this angle is the more locked up the elbow, shoulder and wrist joints and therein lies the problem. All finesse, softness and timing is lost and this transfers hard signals to the mouth of the horse rather than finesse. It also ensures the rider's loss of feel and without feel, you ability as a rider is greatly diminished.

Good Dressage riders' tell me that the correct riding position should be roughly where the forearm has the same alignment as the reins, in a direct line to the horse's mouth. When I watch the Olympic Dressage Riders', I see their hands above the wither in all cases.

Take it from me that the picture perfect 'Hack Rider' is rarely an effective one. Not only is the softness of the hands lost but also the suppleness of the hips. That is why horses beneath such riders' often have backs that are hollow and braced against the bump. The shock wave from the motion of the rider is not eliminated via the good shock absorbers of a kind pair of hips.

This then gets perpetuated and copied as such riders' often become the most winning rider in the Pony Club hacking events or at Hack Shows generally. This is because they are mostly judging on beauty or the head of the horse and so all the other kids think that this is how you should ride. They win because they ride with a carrot you know where and are being judged by judges who came from the same school and rarely know the difference. Judging on position. I can assure you that some of the worse going horses are ridden by the prettiest riders. They may appear to go well in the hack ring based on blue ribbons but they do not in the Dressage Arena and this is where good riding and good horses are judged properly.

A horse ridden by a rider with bad hands generally has an upside down neck, a locked jaw, a stiff hollow back, 'sowing machine' paces and a general over all resistance of attitude and unhappiness.

A horse ridden by  a rider with good hands is generally over it's back, soft in the jaw, has flowing much bigger steps, more rhythm and an obvious happiness in it's work.

So where do you learn this? From good Dressage Coaches', not from Riding Schools, Hack Teachers' or 'jo Bloggs' down the street.

If you seriously care about your horse, put in the effort to get 'good hands' Your horse will love you for it and your career will blossom. No matter what your discipline

 

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