Imagine you are sitting in the middle of the analogue clock face above, with your horse’s neck straight in front of you facing 12 and his tail facing 6. Your left leg faces 9 and your right 3.
Start with your elbows bent and your hands carried independently of the horse’s neck/wither. Be careful to keep your arm weight in your upper arms (bicep muscle) so there is none of your arm weight interfering with the contact to the horse’s head. You may have a bit in the horse’s mouth, or you may be riding bitless or in a headcollar. Whatever you normally ride with will suffice, so long as you are safe and both used to that tack.
Ride your horse as usual, doing your normal routine. This exercise works regardless of the type of riding/discipline you follow and location you ride in (such as hacking out, riding in a field/paddock, along the beach or in an arena).
While you are riding take note in which direction the energy/intent in your hands and arms
moves in relation to the clock face.
How many times does your left arm/hand’s energy/intent move towards 10, 11 or 12, how many times towards 4, 5 and 6?
How many times does your right arm/hand’s energy/intent move towards 12, 1 or 2 and how many times towards 8, 7 and 6?
When half halting or halting, how many times do both arms think neutral/still in their normal position and how many times does their energy go towards 6?
How many times does the energy push downwards onto the clock face itself? How many times do your hands remain floating above the clock-face?
Ideally your hands float above the clock-face and your hand energy/intent stays towards the top half of the clock’s numbers and your restraining aid sits in the centre, rather than drawing back towards 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8.
POINTS TO PONDER
We know the horse predominantly balances with his head and neck, while the human is designed to predominantly balance with her arms and hands. Thus, contact and connection between the horse and rider will always provide challenges.
The FEI definition of contact is as follows:
“Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider’s driving aids and ‘seek’ contact with the rider’s hand, thus ‘going into’ the contact. The horse seeks the contact and the rider provides the contact.”
So why do we use words like: ‘take up a contact’, ‘take the reins’, ‘hold the contact’.
If you were to use the verbs ‘take’ and ‘hold’ in a different context, the likely direction of your energy would be towards you (6 o’clock in the clock exercise). Whereas the word ‘provide’ tends to make on think of allowing, or offering in a forward motion.
So how can each of us change the words we use to subliminally help ourselves, and others we talk with, to use our hands and arms in a more forward, elastic manner?