teach me tuesday: good hands

Having good hands is something I aspire to.  I’d like to think that I have soft hands, because even though I tend toward too long of reins I’m quick to slip them or release, and I can follow decently.  Also, I’m a big mane grabber — so at least I’m not balancing on my horse’s mouth.


But what I really want to talk about is how people are taught to ride, and what they do with their hands then.  Because I see an awful lot of riders getting pulled up out of the tack by their hands and I’m like… don’t we all know we’re not supposed to be doing that, right?


Some horses are more sensitive than others, of course.  I think if I’d tried to haul myself over a fence on Murray’s mouth when he was four, five, or six (or honestly, even now) he’d be like UMM EXCUSE ME pretty hard.  But Quincy was just a fucking trooper of a five year old and was happy to drag me over whatever.  He was the best.

So I wonder: how do you think the way we are taught to ride influences our proclivity to haul on our horses’ faces?  I honestly don’t remember a ton of my training as it pertained to hands in the horses immediately prior to Murray, but Murray let me know early and often that he was not comfortable with a constant contact.  Especially not my shitty, incompetent, amateur contact.  He would accept a loose rein or march his ass backwards to the barn and that was that.  So a loose rein it was, and I learned to steer with my legs and seat.

I hear a lot of instructors (including some of my early ones) telling their students to keep a steady pressure or contact on the reins.  Inevitably, you see a lot of nooblets pulling themselves up and down and up and down at the trot on their charming, patient, lovely lesson horses’ mouths.  I also understand the lure of holding on to those reins — without them, you can’t pull your horse up quickly if they do something stupid and before you learn to steer properly they are your steering wheel.  Not everybody likes to ride around on gigantic, unfamiliar beasts all “Jesus take the wheel!”


We know that one can’t have good hands without something of an independent seat, but are we shooting ourselves in the foot by teaching students to ride so much with their hands from early on?  Is there another option?

Based on my experience with Murray, I really feel that it would be better for students to learn to ride with a loop in their reins and still steer, brake, and balance.  Sure, learning in this order has created some problems for me (like a general reluctance to feel pressure on the reins, and an inability to hold up the weight of my own hands), but I think it’s avoided other bigger problems: I don’t balance on my hands (mostly) and I don’t throw my entire body forward over the fences in an attempt to not hit my horse in the mouth (mostly; I do it for other reasons though).

So why do we teach our students to hold the reins in such a way that they end up balancing on their horses’ mouths?  Every student is going to balance on her horse’s mouth to learn to post at first, but after you find your balance point why keep doing it?  Why let someone balance on their horse’s mouth as they are two-pointing around?  Or am I seeing a hugely biased sample of young amateurs at small shows that are friendly to nooby riders?

2002_riding_n2_2Ok so lots of little kids with long reins in this pic… but we were also walking.

So tell me, how were you taught to hold or keep contact on the reins when you learned to ride?  Is there something I’m missing here because, shut up Nicole, you’ve been riding for ten minutes in a very small geographical location?  Has it changed since you were taught to ride?  Do you see young students riding differently now than when you were a student?  Am I full of shit and it really is better to learn to ride with contact because [valid reasons]?

It just seems to me that there’s a better way, and I wonder why more students and riders aren’t employing it.