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JustABay
Oct. 13, 2011, 09:22 AM
I am really...I mean REALLY struggling with the whole contact thing. It's new-er to me as a reforming hunter rider, and I feel like it's the only thing I'm being told in my lessons. My trainer is away and I took this opportunity to ride with a very, very BNT...what an eye opener :( It was a real struggle, however very worth it.


I find that I can't "hold" a contact. I want to soften all the time. I have typical flat hunter hands, and I want to brace down with my hands naturally. I feel like when I take a contact, I'm being too heavy with my hands, and I can't for the life of me keep it steady. The horse moves his head, and my reins go flappy again.

I understand the principle, but I can't see to make it happen.

Help?

Reddfox
Oct. 13, 2011, 09:43 AM
hmmm...this is something that I struggled with also as a "reformed" hunter rider.

Things that helped me - think of hands having a soft, lifting feel.

Good contact is dependent on enough energy from behind - driving the horse up into the bridle so that they seek the bit. This isn't any old energy - there is a big difference between energy that is fast and tense and hectic and energy that is pushing from behind in a regular, controlled tempo. The description of "horse moves his head and the reins go flappy" speaks to me of rigid hands held in place as well as not enough energy behind.

The other thing that helped me is that contact is held in the back not in the hands. You need a strong core and back to keep soft hands and arms - then if the horse tests that contact, you hold firm in your back NOT pulling back on the reins. It's an entirely different feel and one that I find does translate well back in H/J land.

netg
Oct. 13, 2011, 10:13 AM
There are a bunch of different images people use. Have there been any that seemed to help you a bit that we can expand on?

A lot of us came over from h/j land and have the same problem. It really is completely normal to struggle with, and even long-time dressage riders sometimes struggle! For me, the hardest part was changing my idea of still hands from "hands which don't move from one spot just above my horse's withers" to "hands which maintain constant contact and move with the horse's head." My horse was a curler when I got him so I had to keep the contact light, but also in learning to use his body he was moving his head a LOT. He still goes through a phase every time he's learning something new where he moves his head around a lot trying to find the right balance point. Having to move my hands to keep a steady contact just felt like my hands were so busy!

One image often used is thinking of pushing a shopping cart down a hill. Technically, you're still pushing it, but it's pulling with a "desire" to go forward. You can let it out or bring it back, but you control it by keeping the contact.

I think of my arms as growing out of my shoulders. My elbows straighten and bend as needed to keep contact, but I maintain the arm carriage through my shoulders. I believe this is just a variation on what Reddfox was saying.

Another image is to think of holding on to a rubber band. "Elastic contact" which is soft but there, no hard walls - but the stretch happens through you, not rubber stretching.

I'm assuming your horse has enough impulsion and understands contact, as it sounds like the instructors are working on trying to get your end of the deal working out?


Have you done any work without reins to make sure you are truly using independent seat and hands? Sometimes h/j riders can fool themselves (ourselves) into thinking they (we) have independent seats, and discover in dressage that it's not so after all.

What helped me really start getting contact was actually holding my hands too high. Since my horse and I both needed work on it, he figured it out from the change in how the bit felt with my hands higher than a straight line, so he felt pressure in the corner of his mouth (which he never minded) vs. on the bars of his mouth. For me, that hand position forced more bend in my elbows to get me out of the common h/j convert straight arms. Now my hands are back down where they should be (most of the time) but I am able to bend my elbows while they're there.

BaroquePony
Oct. 13, 2011, 11:30 AM
The best way to develop good hands is to develop your seat first. That is the foundation that you will need in order to be able to use your hands independently from your seat.

And the trot is the best gait to work on yourself because the horse's head is steady ... no bobbing up and down like at the walk or the canter.

Without learning to develop your seat first everything else will just keep *falling apart*. Steady seat. You should be able to sit the trot and drink a glass of water without spilling it. Then your hands will be useful for everything as if you were standing on the ground.

Your back (spine) will be moving in order to absorb the movement of the horse's springing back (spine). Your *core muscles* (abs and the long muscles that run down each side of your spine) should be doing all of the work. Then your hands (from the shoulder) can work separately from your seat.

alto
Oct. 13, 2011, 11:40 AM
I am really...I mean REALLY struggling with the whole contact thing. It's new-er to me as a reforming hunter rider, and I feel like it's the only thing I'm being told in my lessons. My trainer is away and I took this opportunity to ride with a very, very BNT...what an eye opener :( It was a real struggle, however very worth it.


I find that I can't "hold" a contact. I want to soften all the time. I have typical flat hunter hands, and I want to brace down with my hands naturally. I feel like when I take a contact, I'm being too heavy with my hands, and I can't for the life of me keep it steady. The horse moves his head, and my reins go flappy again.

I understand the principle, but I can't see to make it happen.

Help?

First understand that IT IS NOT EASY!!! watch other riders & you'll see alot of muddly hands :)

Ride a schoolmaster & learn what it feels like when the horse is doing his job: I'm assuming that you are lessoning with your horse, also come over from Hunterland - how does he go when the trainer is on him?

Paddys Mom
Oct. 13, 2011, 11:59 AM
One image often used is thinking of pushing a shopping cart down a hill. Technically, you're still pushing it, but it's pulling with a "desire" to go forward. You can let it out or bring it back, but you control it by keeping the contact.


Oh thank you - I love this analogy! :)
Sincerely,
Another reformed loopy rein rider

suzy
Oct. 13, 2011, 12:19 PM
And the trot is the best gait to work on yourself because the horse's head is steady ... no bobbing up and down like at the walk or the canter.



The horse's head should NOT bob up and down in the walk or the canter. This indicates the rider is being rough or inconsistent with her hands and/or not correctly engaging the horse from behind. The neck should slide forward and back in these two gaits, and the degree of collection will determine how much movement there is in the neck. Bobbing is never correct.

TheHotSensitiveType
Oct. 13, 2011, 12:25 PM
At the beginning of your next lesson, tell your instructor you do not get it, and then ask him/her to take the reins (as in have him/her be the horse) and you take the reins as the rider. This will help you "feel" what contact should feel like; this way your instructor can nearly immediately correct you if you are too firm, too light, to stiff, etc. without causing your horse frustration.

I thought I knew enough about contact until I had a lesson last weekend where the instructor did just this. All I can say is WOW! That is what I was supposed to be doing!

Sunsets
Oct. 13, 2011, 12:38 PM
I had the same issue. After about a year of consistent lessons with the same trainer, I am FINALLY getting it. And you know what? It is all about the seat. Way more than I ever thought until I learned what it felt like to really sit correctly and use my core to influence the horse.

Things that help me:
Thinking about staying consistent – mare might be moving all over the place, but I have to keep my body in the same spot and use my hands to keep the boundary consistent.

Sometimes the boundary might be a rubber band, and sometimes it might be more of a wall (especially in the case of horse bulging on one shoulder)

Not pulling, but holding. Use the upper abs and pecs.

When I feel my hands and arms getting stiff, I think “marshmelbows”. Totally stupid, but it works for me!

luv2ride113
Oct. 13, 2011, 12:58 PM
JustABay, thanks for starting this thread. I too struggle with contact and am coming from H/J land. There have been some good replies. I really like the one about the shopping cart. I'm going to try that imagery during my next ride.

kinnip
Oct. 13, 2011, 01:13 PM
When I feel my hands and arms getting stiff, I think “marshmelbows”. Totally stupid, but it works for me!

Brilliant!

BaroquePony
Oct. 13, 2011, 01:27 PM
Posted by suzy:

The horse's head should NOT bob up and down in the walk or the canter. This indicates the rider is being rough or inconsistent with her hands and/or not correctly engaging the horse from behind. The neck should slide forward and back in these two gaits, and the degree of collection will determine how much movement there is in the neck. Bobbing is never correct.

I should have known I couldn't use a fast, sloppy description here BUT, I really didn't feel like describing the 4 beat ocillation of the horse's head at the walk (up and to the side, down and to the other side) or the 3 beat canter rythymn.

Bobbing up and down was shorter and last I knew would still be acceptable for the purpose/intent of the discussion.

Let me simplify the point I was trying to make when I *glossed* over all the gait and rythymn and cadence stuff.

To the OPer. Fix your seat first. If you are having this kind of trouble with keeping a contact, I can almost guarentee that you have not ridden under an instructor yet that has shown you how to use your torso properly in order to be able to effectively and efficiently use your aids.

Seat first and the rest will follow (with a few pointers along the way).

mp
Oct. 13, 2011, 01:32 PM
Thinking about staying consistent – mare might be moving all over the place, but I have to keep my body in the same spot and use my hands to keep the boundary consistent.

Sometimes the boundary might be a rubber band, and sometimes it might be more of a wall (especially in the case of horse bulging on one shoulder)



Very well put.

Here's what made it click for me --as a rider, you cannot make "contact" happen. You can only set up the framework that makes it possible and let the horse find it.

And the framework is your whole body, but most especially, as you noted, your seat.

Oberon13
Oct. 13, 2011, 03:02 PM
When I feel my hands and arms getting stiff, I think “marshmelbows”. Totally stupid, but it works for me!

:yes::lol:
I think "spongy elbows" and even let them bob a little at my sides as my release. That way, a half halt can be just my triceps, shoulders and a "press outward" feeling through the elbow (not really putting my elbows out like a chicken...it's just a feeling). Then I can follow the horse's motion softly and keep the rein consistent (rather than lose/tight/lose/tight every other stride).

Love it!

Creating the contact for me is all about remember that I provide resistance...sure, there are times where I am quite "active" to correct something. But, for the most part, I simply provide passive resistance to what the horse is creating. That energy to resist comes from behind me (my shoulders, my triceps) then it works its way down to my abs (half halt). I also think of my abs as pushing out towards my belt buckle...not sucking in.

JustABay
Oct. 13, 2011, 03:46 PM
LOVE the shopping cart analogy! I will definitely use that one next time I ride.

I'm still riding in my jumping saddle, as my coach has said not to rush into buying one, and I really can't afford one right now anyways. I have tried out most of the other dressage saddles in the barn, but none have fit my guy (or me) well enough that I'd want to ride in them consistently. I feel like the jumping saddle is a bit of the problem - it wants to keep me forward with a shorter leg, and if I lengthen my stirrups it puts me in a horrible position and I fight against it.

I've really been working on getting my guy moving forward into the contact, he's a tense soul to begin with and prefers a super soft (or no) contact. His main form of resistance is to shorten his step and invert, and if I kick forward he just gets higher and shorter. The magic fix so far has been to put him on a circle, bend him in, steady outside rein and push him out to it with the inside leg. This gets him to soften 99% of the time. He also won't tolerate too much contact during the warmup or he will invert and shorten and then it's a pain to get him soft and relaxed again. Yes, saddle fits, teeth done, back checked, massages and chiro monthly, and there is zero pain.

My issues are keeping my hands from getting low and brace-y, and to keep them following his head, but I feel like as soon as he inverts or sucks back behind my leg, I lose everything. This has really been frustrating for me! My trainer is away for a few weeks so we will have to have a good discussion when she gets back. She has done the rein thing with me, and I get it, but old habits die hard and when he inverts, I just want to drop and widen my hands and then it gets ugly.

I'm trying to immerse myself as much as possible, I've bought the Sally Swift and Mary Wanless books, and I have gone to watch a ton of dressage clinics...I really want to "get this" so that I can move on! I guess a decade in the hunters effed my riding more than I thought :(

wildlifer
Oct. 13, 2011, 04:00 PM
Don't worry you are not alone. Many many many are the struggles with contact and it's not just reformed hunters. It's a hard concept to explain because it's such a thing of feel and degrees. My dressage trainer likes to use a bridle on the ground (not on horse). She will hold the bit in one hand and be the horse while you work the reins. It helped me understand what feel I was going for and allowed her to direct me without having my horse go through the slow and painful "feeling it out" process.

SpotznStripes
Oct. 13, 2011, 04:28 PM
Well just remember, its a good thing if your horse prefers a soft contact - ideally it should feel as if you were riding him with a thread for a bridle. You still want to be able to have a "conversation" with him but think whispering, not yelling. Just because you are now doing dressage shouldn't mean you are riding with "more" contact, just more consistent contact.

Sunsets
Oct. 13, 2011, 04:33 PM
It's going to take some time, too. You need to re-establish a base from which you ride, and your horse needs to figure out how this new balance thing is working now that you are asking him to do something correctly. Inverting, sucking back - these things happen. Just keep quietly holding your position and requesting that he move into the contact. It's his issue to sort out. Don't let him guilt you into looping the reins. (Some horses are very good at this). Again, the stronger your seat gets, the easier it's going to be to get him moving.

Make sure, however, that you are correctly asking him from back to front, and not fussing overly much with the front end. A trainer or even a person with a good eye on the ground is required for this.

MelantheLLC
Oct. 13, 2011, 08:17 PM
I'm still riding in my jumping saddle, as my coach has said not to rush into buying one, and I really can't afford one right now anyways. I have tried out most of the other dressage saddles in the barn, but none have fit my guy (or me) well enough that I'd want to ride in them consistently. I feel like the jumping saddle is a bit of the problem - it wants to keep me forward with a shorter leg, and if I lengthen my stirrups it puts me in a horrible position and I fight against it.

I've really been working on getting my guy moving forward into the contact, he's a tense soul to begin with and prefers a super soft (or no) contact. His main form of resistance is to shorten his step and invert, and if I kick forward he just gets higher and shorter. The magic fix so far has been to put him on a circle, bend him in, steady outside rein and push him out to it with the inside leg. This gets him to soften 99% of the time. He also won't tolerate too much contact during the warmup or he will invert and shorten and then it's a pain to get him soft and relaxed again. Yes, saddle fits, teeth done, back checked, massages and chiro monthly, and there is zero pain.

My issues are keeping my hands from getting low and brace-y, and to keep them following his head, but I feel like as soon as he inverts or sucks back behind my leg, I lose everything. (

Your "magic fix" is entirely correct. As both of you become more confirmed in all of this "dressage stuff," he will actually begin to figure out how to lift his back under you and balance himself, and then the whole contact issue will become much less frustrating for both of you, until he loses his balance, throws his head up, and you both have to rebalance and figure it out again.

I was fortunate to have a few lessons long ago with Jane Bartle (Christopher Bartle's sister) and she said one thing that has stuck with me forever: "Whenever something is going wrong, look at it as an opportunity to figure out how to make it go right." IE, no matter how you improve, you and your horse will always have moments of losing balance and having to regain connection (think of it as 'connection' rather than 'contact'). Once you learn how to be soft, connected and balanced on a 20m circle, you will be challenged to be balanced on a 10m circle, on serpentines, and later in flying changes, and then in tempis, and on and on.

Like others have said, the issue of contact doesn't start in your hands or his mouth. It starts in his back and hindquarters. If a horse is already moving in balance and collection, 'contact' is just there.

Really study the training scale as it relates to your guy. It starts with rhythm at the bottom, then relaxation, THEN connection. If he's tense, you are still below the bottom, so before you worry about connection, you have to find the way to relax him and get him moving rhythmically forward.

Sometimes the way to do this is to practice transitions within a few strides. Start to walk, with just as much contact as you can take without him throwing his head. Take a few strides, then with a little squeeze, just enough to get a halt, halt, but go forward immediately, with just enough leg to get the walk. (If you aren't getting a reaction from a light leg, then work on that first, no rein at all. Ask with your leg, and if he doesn't move off, do whatever it takes to get a step--preferably quick whip taps instead of kicking--and STOP your leg pressure the moment he steps off. Give him a BIG moment of relaxation, because he took a freakin' step. Whew. Repeat, until he knows what the moment he moves, you release your leg pressure.)

Repeat this until he is really happy about it, thoroughly understands it. You and he want to understand one another in a situation in which his balance isn't really challenged. As you repeat the soft aids, you'll be able to get a softer, spongier feel in the rein, and a quicker, lighter reaction from your leg. As this happens, he will tend to relax over his topline and drop his head. What you feel in your hands then is connection. That comes from him listening to your leg, and being ready to step off from it, and halt from the light rein aid.

The more you even think about his head, or care where it is, the harder it will all remain. (Ask me how I know!) Train yourself to think, every time he throws his head, "re-balance forward into outside rein." The last thing you want to worry about his where his head is--his head is just a signal to you that he's lost his balance, and you don't want to give him your hands to balance ON; you want to teach him that he can balance himself as he pushes honestly forward.

The saddle issue is really bigger than your trainer is letting on. As long as you are fighting the balance of the saddle, you really can't use your core correctly. (I'm in the midst of a saddle hunt and this is abundantly clear to me atm, moving from one saddle to another, or rebalancing the same saddle.)

mbm
Oct. 13, 2011, 09:12 PM
I am really...I mean REALLY struggling with the whole contact thing. It's new-er to me as a reforming hunter rider, and I feel like it's the only thing I'm being told in my lessons. My trainer is away and I took this opportunity to ride with a very, very BNT...what an eye opener :( It was a real struggle, however very worth it.


I find that I can't "hold" a contact. I want to soften all the time. I have typical flat hunter hands, and I want to brace down with my hands naturally. I feel like when I take a contact, I'm being too heavy with my hands, and I can't for the life of me keep it steady. The horse moves his head, and my reins go flappy again.

I understand the principle, but I can't see to make it happen.

Help?


i haven't read any of the other replies because i want to answer this as i think about it :)

first, learning to have good hands does take time - it isnt something everyone gets, let alone is good at - so give yourself a break if this is a new concept.

second: dont think of it as CONTACT instead think of it as a connection between your seat and the horse mediated by your hands.

third and maybe most importantly: the horse is the one that creates that connection and it is up to us to keep it.

also, horses prefer a nice even, consistent feel rather than a inconsistent one that snaps and pops.

to get to the place where you can have a good connection i would practice riding with an EVEN, forward thinking feel.. at this stage it doesn't matter where the horses head is, just take up a soft feel and see if you can follow everywhere the horse goes without changing the feel. this will take time to learn. :)

to get a better idea of this you can put your reins in one hand, or put them under the bucking strap then to your hands, etc. this will allow your hands to be very quiet as you learn connection.

there is a huge amount more to learn but before you can proceed you need to be able to just have a nice steady consistent feel. from there you can learn to ride with a forward feeling, active connection that allows the horse to work at its best.

but one step at a time :)

KPF
Oct. 13, 2011, 09:14 PM
This is a timely thread for me, too. I've also recently made the switch from hunters to dressage. I've had my new horse for about 6 months and feel like I've made good progress with contact at the trot. I finally had a lightbulb moment with the whole inside leg to outside rein thing, which makes a huge difference... duh. :winkgrin:

However, my horse is unbalanced in the canter (I also can get discombobulated at the canter) and he throws his head up. I don't have this problem at all at the walk or trot. Trainer (who gives me lessons once a week) has the same problem with him, so I'm pretty certain it's not just pilot error. Since I know I'm relatively clueless, I mainly just w/t when riding on my own because I figure good trot work has to help the canter when I DO decide to work on it.

So, MelantheLLC-- when you say "rebalance forward into outside rein"-- can you be a little more specific? What exactly do I want to do when I pick up canter and he throws his head? (OP, I'm hoping this will help you too!) Right now I just try to ignore it, keep my hands soft and following and use leg to keep the forward.

(P.S. I have to admit, after reading PaulaEdwina's recent threads, I'm a little skeered to even post in this forum as a dressage newbie! :eek: Please be gentle.:))

mbm
Oct. 13, 2011, 09:44 PM
KPF, if the horse is unbalanced at canter my first question would be is he balanced at canter on the lunge? if not then i would lunge him without sidereins in a 20 meter circle allowing him to learn to balance on a circle first without the rider, then once he can canter well both directions without falling in or out you can start riding him at canter on 20 meter circles. if he throws his head up i would just ignore it but i would add more leg and be sure you have him bending correctly.


as for the general question about contact - what really helped me was watching people with very good hands.... because no matter what someone says it is really seeing that will help.

with this in mind, here is a link to a set of videos the German FN put on - i am linking to just the first because it deals with the lower levels, but you can really SEE the texture of the contact these riders have.... you can see that teh contact is forward thinking, never pulling etc.

http://wwww.clipmyhorse.de/en/archive/show/78/2697/

and finally, while i agree that a good hand needs to follow the horse, once you get past a certain point in the horses education, you no longer what to do that - you want to set the "boundaries/frame/context" (what ever word you like) that tells the horse to work as you want. for me this was a very important lesson to learn. but it comes after you learn to follow the horses head evenly at all times :)

MelantheLLC
Oct. 13, 2011, 10:28 PM
Aww, KPF, I'd like to say we don't bite, but frankly some of us do. ;) I just ignore 'em.

The OP explained what I meant rather well:


The magic fix so far has been to put him on a circle, bend him in, steady outside rein and push him out to it with the inside leg. This gets him to soften 99% of the time.

I added the word forward because all of this happens from the engine behind. It's the difference between pedaling a bicycle ahead and letting it coast around a corner downhill (falling in). Forward is a tricky word in dressage, because horse and rider so easily just think it means speed. No. It means power from behind.

I'm not a trainer, and I don't play one on TV, or even on COTH, so as to why your boy is unbalanced and throwing his head in the canter, your trainer is the best resource. My first guess would be that your horse is still just fairly weak, and it's hard for him to push into that canter in a balanced way (if you are discombobulated, that's not helping him, as you probably know)--so what he's likely doing is just falling and scrambling into it any way he can.

If that's the case (check w/trainer) then anything that helps strengthen his hind quarters, hill work, etc, is good, but the most practical thing is just to do a lot of canter transitions. One exercise I've found effective with a TB that really was kind of a stiff old guy, was to trot the long sides and canter the short sides. I repeated this about 5-6 times in a row, until the horse anticipated it. Then we'd go off and do something else, or just long rein and rest at a walk, come back and repeat it.

What this did was two things--one, it created an automatic tendency to flex to the inside and strike off in correct balance, because I would start the canter just before the corner, and two, because the horse knew it was coming, he kept his body ready to make the transitions, both upward and downward. Anticipating the rather quick downward transition meant he had to stay balanced in the canter, and the short length of time in canter meant he didn't have work at it very long. So this helped him build up strength to push off without a lot of psychological questions in his mind--he knew exactly where he was going to canter and where he was going to trot. This helped him relax and not fight the whole process. And that relaxation IN ITSELF helped him to keep him balance in the canter, because he used his hindquarters to power, instead of tensing his back.

(This was a small arena, so maybe if you want to try this in a large one, don't use the entire long side--trot the long side enough that he's straight, then, always at the same place, prep for the canter as you prepare to turn across the arena.)

Another exercise would be to do a 10-12 meter circle, a step of shoulder-fore (or shoulder-in if you can do that), and canter. Another would be to trot the long side, do a 8-10 m half-circle, leg-yield back to the track, straighten and canter.

All of these are asking for engagement from behind from the horse, and they require the rider to stay vertically balanced too. It's very very easy to be tilting or collapsing to one side or the other on a curved line, and this really interferes with the horse and makes things a lot harder for him than many of us realize. Just try getting on hands and knees and playing horsie with a 4 year old swaying around up there.

It's my personal belief that a lot of horses don't really "get" what we want. They're off in their own world, trying not to fall down with this person on their back, not an easy task when they're built like a barrel on stilts. So they tense their whole bodies, especially their backs, and throw up their heads, and when we try to pull their heads back down, they just fight, and they have their reasons!

So, one reason that the whole "outside rein" thing works is because when the horse is honestly bent "around the inside leg" and contacting the outside rein, they are not able to hold their back and neck in a straight tense line. They really do have to use their hindquarters to do the work instead of being a straight line (like a motorcycle) falling into the circle. Even though they use that falling momentum as a crutch for their weakness behind, it feels scary to them because they are out of balance, and so there's a psychological component to the head throwing too, I believe.

When you feel this happen, the change from falling into the gait to powering into the gait, it is a very clear transformation. Unfortunately it's one of those things that until you DO feel it happen, remains fairly cloudy and easy to misunderstand.

Personally, I think a lot of frequent transitions can help both horse and rider start to get that feel of the power from the behind, and then the curved lines (circles) start to channel the power into actual balance. If I'm not getting a bit too esoteric here...

Dressage IS kinda fussy, isn't it? ;)

SnicklefritzG
Oct. 13, 2011, 10:35 PM
^^^ Awesome post. Thank you!
I know I'll put that to good use with my own TB

mbm
Oct. 13, 2011, 11:46 PM
it is a good post, except that for most of us, riding with an EVEN feel on both reins is more conductive to progressing to a point where a horse can stand on the outside rein. this means giving on the heavier rein....

and, unfortunately, since riders hear "outside rein" all the time they tend to use too much of it.

so, before a horse can use the outside rein it needs to learn to go evenly into both reins.

i do agree with riding on circles and using the circle to do a lot of the work.

i am not too sure about doing rapid fire transitions on a unbalanced horse. my suggestion would be to use lunging as already mentioned, then once the horse can balance on the lunge, transition to riding but instead of rapid firing transitions, get into the canter , then canter until the canter is good, then trasition to trot, trot until the trot is good, transition to canter, etc.

mostly because you wont get a good canter unless the trot preceding it is good etc.

young and untrained horses are unbalanced, uneven, uneducated etc. progressive training is the best way to go :)

dragonharte8
Oct. 14, 2011, 12:19 AM
so, before a horse can use the outside rein it needs to learn to go evenly into both reins.

MBM makes a very important statement here for both rider and horse.
The key word is evenly...which will create balance for the rider and thus balance for the horse. I teach my clients to ride the horse like a bike which requires equal contact of the hands in a turn. Once the horse and rider are able to balance the contact evenly then the rider can begin to teach the outside rein.

alto
Oct. 14, 2011, 04:29 AM
http://wwww.clipmyhorse.de/en/archive/show/78/2697/



Thanks for the video link :yes: :yes: :yes:

ReeseTheBeast
Oct. 14, 2011, 07:29 AM
I'm also from HJ land, and have taken a number of lessons from a friend of mine, who has a heavy background in dressage.

She was *forever* chiding me about the length of my reins, which were always on the buckle. But to me, anything else just felt too tight, or like I was pulling on his mouth too hard... that's how I'd been taught for 17+ years!

For me and Reese, it was a long time in reschooling both of us in not just picking up contact, but maintaining it... I'm infamous for "throwing my contact away" once he actually reaches down for the bit. As a hunter rider, I was never used to feeling a horse being truly "on the bit," and I would reflexively think I was hauling on his mouth whenever I'd feel that pressure in my hands- so I'd let go. Being re-trained to understand that the pressure in my hands is actually "right" was difficult.

To complicate matters, Reese is built slightly down hill, and is rather long in the body; so we were both happier with that loopy rein. Not to mention, any time I would try to take contact, he'd fight me about it- tossing his head, inverting, giraffing, general pain-in-the-assing, etc.

The friend I took these 'informal dressage' lessons with explained that no, taking contact wasn't going to hurt him (he had me trained very well!); and to just ignore his antics as I continued to maintain that contact (shorter reins, yet soft on his mouth) and ask him to move forward from behind.

And I'll confess- ignoring his antics was REALLY hard for me to do, because I'm a die-hard perfectionist and anything that doesn't go 'exactly right' tends upset my concentration to the point of totally falling apart.

I digress. :)


Make sure, however, that you are correctly asking him from back to front, and not fussing overly much with the front end. A trainer or even a person with a good eye on the ground is required for this.

I definitely second, third, and fourth this! :yes:

One bad habit I picked up through this process of learning contact, was being too fussy with his face without making sure he had adequate impulsion from behind. So I would basically be asking him to 'frame up' when there was no energy coming from behind. All that got me was a horse in a false frame (rounded in the neck, disengaged through the body) and the slowest trot you've ever seen in your life. It took many, many, MANY corrections and "friendly reminders" from my friend to establish that impulsion from behind, *before* taking up that contact and asking him to really, legitimately work with it.

I also wanted to mention that once we got a hang of things, I would find myself frustrated when Reese would break out of the canter and into the trot, or hold this lovely frame and maintain amazing impulsion at the trot, only to have him completely fall apart after a few minutes... I wasn't realizing or understanding that he was using muscles that were brand-new to him... and that he wasn't fit yet to maintain this type of true work for long periods of time. So we worked in shorter sets, gradually increasing the time we'd spend at the trot and at the canter; with frequent breaks and a lot of 'long and low' to get him stretching out at the beginning and end of our rides.

So I'm not an expert in this by any means (I still have my "on the buckle" days, when no one is looking :winkgrin:); but I just wanted to share that you are not alone, OP!

And to those of you who *are* actual experts who have posted suggestions and explanations, THANK YOU!!! Not just for sharing your knowledge, but for being so nice about it (I'm scared of the COTH Dressage Forum, too!! :lol:)

KPF
Oct. 14, 2011, 09:52 AM
Thanks for the tips!

mbm, his canter sucks on the lunge too. Actually, the few times I've longed him at the canter, he's taken off and torn away from me almost every time (and he's generally fairly lazy). I also have noticed that he does the head tossing thing when he canters in the pasture. I'm thinking his neck may be out a little bit and have a chiro appointment scheduled for next week. I do think it's at least partially a balance issue as well but want to give him the benefit of the doubt that it may be a physical issue.

We have been working on getting a few *good* strides of canter (w/o head tossing) and then going right back to trot, and that seems to be going pretty well. Right now, my trainer has me try to canter on the straight sides to avoid him having to balance in a turn.

This horse hadn't been worked much for a year or so when I bought him so he's definitely needing to build muscle. Just for kicks (and since y'all are playing nice, lol) here's a sale video-- this was made about a year before I bought him when he was in more consistent work, and the head tossing isn't there:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMH4e4zvpMA

(And no, I don't expect that he has GP or PSG potential :lol:)

I think our current trot work is actually better than that in this video, he was wanting to curl and go on the forehand when I first got him and we've mostly worked through that. We do still have moments where he wants to skip into canter rather than go forward and round at the trot but generally after a few minutes of trotting, he gives it up.

OP, sorry if I'm hijacking-- I think our issues are very similar, so hopefully we can learn from each other! This dressage stuff is hard! :winkgrin:

BaroquePony
Oct. 14, 2011, 11:10 AM
KPF, you have a cute horse and he seems quite willing. From the sales video he looks quite *flabby* in the hindquarters :yes:. He is not being ridden *actively* by the rider in the video. The rider has set his head more or less but has no clue what-so-ever about riding the horse from back to front.

:)

I would say that rider has no "seat", so to speak.

mbm
Oct. 14, 2011, 11:17 AM
Dear KPF - that is a very cute horse :)

ok, everything i am going to say next is just standard dressage theory which you can read up on in a multitude of books.... and what i am going to say is meant to be helpful. :)

first, this cute horse is stiff as a board and not going anywhere in his energy. i can see why he would start throwing his head. is this you riding?

if this were my horse, here is what i would do:

a) put the horse on the lunge line .(if you and he know how to dbl lunge even better) and if needed get a helper to help.... you need to get him thinking much more energetically forward. start at the trot and ask him to trot actively - no poking along.... he will be unbalanced, he will fall in and pull out (if he pulls away, lunge in the corner of the arena and use jumps for the other side.... if you still cant hold him put a bridle on him with the line over the top of his poll.

so you want to ask him to trot actively forward. have your assistant be in teh circle wiht you holding the whip and just swish it behind his hind legs low down....

be sure to stand in ONE place and not move around. this is critical .this will teach the horse how to bend.

so work on this - maybe 3 days a week starting off on his "bad" side, then going to his good side, then back to his bad side.

no side reins.

goal: more activity and energy!

once he can be more in balance and with more energy at trot start adding in canter - repeat. he is will and fall in etc. but eventually if this is done correctly he will learn to balance and bend and this is what you want.

once he can do all this without a rider put a rider up and continue to lunge work until he can do it again as you want then go off the lunge.

remember that you need to teach him progressively.... step by step. horses will do as we ask as long as we are clear in what we ask, allow them time to learn and build their bodies and dont ask them to do something they cant physically do.

i also think that being unbalanced in a physical thing and is exactly what dressage is for. you dont need chiro - you need a good trainer :)

BaroquePony
Oct. 14, 2011, 11:22 AM
this cute horse is stiff as a board

:yes:

KPF
Oct. 14, 2011, 11:51 AM
Thanks for the compliments on my boy, I do love him even if he frustrates the heck outta me sometimes. :) I don't aspire to do anything other than piddle around at home, I have no desire to compete.

mbm-- no, not me riding-- this video was taken a full year before I bought him. I don't have any video with me because I never have anyone around when I ride except when my trainer is there.

He is still somewhat stiff but I do think the trot is much better now-- I've gotten to watch trainer on him a few times recently and to me, it's much improved. More energetic and he's coming thru behind and lifting his back. He's a lot more supple at the trot now than when I first got him. I'll be the first to say that I'm a fairly sucky dressage rider, but I do manage to ride back to front most of the time at w/t.:winkgrin:

At the trot on the lunge, he goes around decently. The canter is where it all falls apart. I think I really need to enlist an experienced "lunger" to help me as trainer doesn't really longe and I do tend to walk rather than stay in one spot. I haven't had a horse I needed to lunge in years so I've forgotten proper technique! (and to clarify, my trainer really isn't a "dressage trainer"-- she's an ammy eventer who helps me out.)

I've also toyed with the idea of sending him off for 30 or 60 days somewhere this winter to get him going better. I only have an outdoor and no lights, plus I work full time, so soon I'll be down to only being able to ride once or twice a week. Which means come spring I'll be starting from scratch again with him. Sigh. I know we'd both benefit, but there are few dressage barns that offer training in my immediate area. I thought about letting a h/j pro work with him but don't know if that'd help us in the long run.

OK, now I have totally hijacked, sorry OP!!! :sadsmile:

BaroquePony
Oct. 14, 2011, 11:57 AM
You can teach your horse to bend in the aisle of the barn. And you can begin teaching your horse all of the bending aids in the aisle of the barn. Both sides. Every time you handle your horse.

On the ground, I use one knuckle as is it were a very blunt spur. I use my knuckle both *on the girth* and *behind the girth*. This becomes the foundation of using my aids on the horse. There is no confusion because the aids are the same on the ground as they are under sadddle.

Valentina_32926
Oct. 14, 2011, 03:46 PM
I am really...I mean REALLY struggling with the whole contact thing. It's new-er to me as a reforming hunter rider, and I feel like it's the only thing I'm being told in my lessons. My trainer is away and I took this opportunity to ride with a very, very BNT...what an eye opener :( It was a real struggle, however very worth it.


I find that I can't "hold" a contact. I want to soften all the time. I have typical flat hunter hands, and I want to brace down with my hands naturally. I feel like when I take a contact, I'm being too heavy with my hands, and I can't for the life of me keep it steady. The horse moves his head, and my reins go flappy again.

I understand the principle, but I can't see to make it happen.

Help?

First when we start riding dressage you hear "squeeze/release" and "give" - which is fine if you know exactly what is meant. When they say "squeeze/release" they mean squeeze/stop squeezing but do NOT open your fingers. The "give" comes from moving your elbows forward and back (to the waist) or opening elbows (like when rising in the trot). Always keep a steady contact with the outside rein and "give" periodically with the inside rein by moving the inside elbow forward far enough to pat horse on neck.

Another thing I see with green dressage riders is they try to stay still. This because when you look at the best riders they appear to be totally still. In reality the riders do this by constantly moving parts of their bodies - like their elbows. The horses head moves up and down, the rider must compensate for this witheir their elbows/hips etc OR they end up pulling on horses mouth when horses head goes down or loosing contact when horses comes up.

When you rider smaller turns you need to adjust the reins to allow for a short turn radius. Green dressage riders hear give and tend to throw away contact instead of moving outside shoulder forward to allow for the turn radius.

Hope this has provided a few examples of why you are loosing contact when you thought you were following directions! :winkgrin:

airhorse
Oct. 14, 2011, 04:18 PM
Think more about emotional and mental contact than physical contact...

Just another tidbit lost in the sands of time and translation.

MelantheLLC
Oct. 14, 2011, 04:22 PM
i am not too sure about doing rapid fire transitions on a unbalanced horse.

Just to clarify, I didn't suggest "rapid-fire" transitions. :lol:

Between my two (very long) posts, I think it's fairly clear what I was describing, so I won't add more. Even though I'd just love to write a treatise on half-halts. :D

IdahoRider
Oct. 14, 2011, 04:47 PM
One image often used is thinking of pushing a shopping cart down a hill. Technically, you're still pushing it, but it's pulling with a "desire" to go forward. You can let it out or bring it back, but you control it by keeping the contact.

This analogy was of such a huge benefit to me last year that it literally changed the way I rode. I made a quantum leap forward.
Sheilah

netg
Oct. 14, 2011, 05:15 PM
I don't think anyone has explicitly said "MAKE SURE YOUR FINGERS ARE CLOSED ON THE REINS" yet?

Dressage riders may actually squeeze and release some in their hands, but at least to me coming over to dressage it felt more like holding reins in a tight, locked fist, then staying soft in the elbows to keep my hands soft. I had to basically feel like the reins were fuzed to my hands.

That's not how it feels now, but to give the horse somewhere to make contact, until I got used to it, that was how it felt to me.

BaroquePony
Oct. 14, 2011, 07:20 PM
Your elbows should hang in a soft manner straight down from the shoulder, but there should be a very slight backward pull on your elbows (going/slight tugging straight to the rear/back), which comes from your shoulder blades (the big flat bones on your back up by your collarbone.

Your hands should form a good square fist that is strong but soft at the same time. Do not let the reins slide through your fingers, but allow your elbow-shoulder hinge to keep that backward tug as a "counter-weight" to the bit.

mvp
Oct. 14, 2011, 08:11 PM
The dressagers talking to you about keeping your hands closed are *telling you* where the contact comes from. Honey, it's in your arms.... but also in your torso and seat.

In Hunter World, we follow with our arms, too and we *should* ride with our hands the way dressagers do-- relaxed fists (just enough tension to hold the reins) and thumb on top.

In Dressage World, the rein really "stops" at the elbow and the rider's body begins there. So you maintain contact-- stiff or following as you choose-- with your whole arm and shoulder girdle. (You can also change what your horse feels in his mouth my tensing your forearm, even if you don't move it).

In any case, then you remember that your shoulder blades are held onto your body with a whole bunch of other muscles that you can learn to "find" (get awareness of and then contract or relax).

So all the talk about your hands themselves is superficial. It can make many people tense there.... but also in their upper arms. I like to ask myself "Can I make a tight fist on these reins? What does my upper arm feel like when I do that? Can I have a tight fist and a loose upper arm?" That's the beginning of separating out these body parts.

The "keep contact" command can also be confusing because the only way we can think to do that is to pull back... or shorten our reins... or kick the horse up into the bridle so that he "fills up" the reins.

Yeah, well, there's a pair of soft horse lips on the other end and horses become a whole lot more willing to put them up into that pressure if it is feeling and responsive. It takes a long time to learn how to create arms that have this kind of feel to them.

As a good hunter rider, you probably have more of it than you think. Maybe you need some exercises that will allow you to feel what you already have. I'll tell you how I might start, but that's another long topic.

kinnip
Oct. 14, 2011, 08:27 PM
Nice post mvp. When I'm feeling uncoordinated, I like to think of the contact coming through my elbows and across my diaphragm. Anything below the elbows is part of the rein and has the same consistency, or quality. For my visualization, the structure is similar to a western hackamore, with my elbows being the points of the shank and my diaphragm region being the stabilizing bar in between. It's both a simple and difficult concept. You just have to find the 'trick' that works for you.

mvp
Oct. 14, 2011, 09:03 PM
Nice post mvp. When I'm feeling uncoordinated, I like to think of the contact coming through my elbows and across my diaphragm. Anything below the elbows is part of the rein and has the same consistency, or quality. For my visualization, the structure is similar to a western hackamore, with my elbows being the points of the shank and my diaphragm region being the stabilizing bar in between. It's both a simple and difficult concept. You just have to find the 'trick' that works for you.

That's a good visual you have there. And you know that it's what works for you.

That's a really big deal: We can talk all day about the image that works for us, but it's intensely personal. It's about each rider learning what combo of words and images help her locate, feel and then reliably modify a part of her body she didn't know how to "dial up" before.

The only other thing I can suggest, beside what I'd do to teach someone to feel this, is to remind you that you have the horse right there to give you biofeedback. Don't be afraid to exaggerate what your trainer is asking you to do. She needs to see contrast so that she (and the horse) can correct you.

I do think you might have a hard time working on this at the canter if that's already not an easy gait for your horse.

kinnip
Oct. 14, 2011, 09:06 PM
Amen

FlashGordon
Oct. 14, 2011, 09:09 PM
Ride a schoolmaster & learn what it feels like when the horse is doing his job

This, if at all possible.

I started as a kid with a dressage instructor, quite by accident. Switched to hunters after that and as an adult, spent a lot of time riding hot, green horses that needed a very light touch. I didn't really understand contact until I had access to a real schoolmaster. And then it was like a lightbulb going on. The horse is now deceased :sadsmile: but in my head I can still visualize and feel some of our better moments.

Now I've got a green bean and I'm fretting a little bit about getting to the point where I need to put it all together again. It's awhile down the road but still. I am the queen of chucking the reins at a horse and riding off my seat completely.

Mvp that post was great, thanks for that.

Kyzteke
Oct. 16, 2011, 06:31 AM
So, MelantheLLC-- when you say "rebalance forward into outside rein"-- can you be a little more specific? What exactly do I want to do when I pick up canter and he throws his head? (OP, I'm hoping this will help you too!) Right now I just try to ignore it, keep my hands soft and following and use leg to keep the forward.

(P.S. I have to admit, after reading PaulaEdwina's recent threads, I'm a little skeered to even post in this forum as a dressage newbie! :eek: Please be gentle.:))

Threads are as different as Night & Day. The OP didn't ask for advice and then argue with everyone who gives it.

LOTS of great info here....very informative and useful thread. So many imaginative answers, so you have plenty of "methods" to learn for your Horseman's Toolbox.

And, knowing almost ZERO about Hunters, I am surprised there is so much difference in the arm positions & contact. Are you guys saying Hunter riders don't ride with contact or is it just done differently?

TemJeito
Oct. 16, 2011, 06:58 AM
All this technical advice is making me dizzy :lol: But I think this is key:


As a good hunter rider, you probably have more of it than you think. Maybe you need some exercises that will allow you to feel what you already have. I'll tell you how I might start, but that's another long topic.

I rode hunters (and some jumpers) most of my life before transitioning to dressage on my former show hunter. It was a struggle, and my first dressage instructor made me feel five inches tall. But, in hindsight, here are some things I've learned. I DID already ride with contact. Really, there is no way you can jump a 3'6" course on the buckle. Strangely, I also intuitively understood inside leg to outside rein. Making turns around a course that's exactly what I used :winkgrin: The thing is my first dressage instructor tried to convince I was hopeless and had to forget everything I already knew. I probably wasted three good years before realizing this person wasn't even a very good dressage instructor :(

It's true that in dressage you use your seat and upper body differently. But things like the weight of the reins, the amount of contact, or the degree of collection are going to depend on the horse. There's no universal rule. Ultimately, I think it's 90% about feel. Those riders who can get any horse on the bit are the ones with exquisite feel. But learning dressage (and I'm still learning) is about retraining muscles and fighting muscle memory that instinctively wants to go back to the old ways. And, when we're learning to do new things with our body, it's easy to sacrifice "feel" because everything feels different than we are used to. (This is actually true about other sports as well.) As far as I know, the only solution for that is practice. And more practice. For that, riding a schoolmaster is enormously helpful.

RodeoHunter
Oct. 16, 2011, 11:09 AM
I'm also a H/J rider trying to learn to ride more effectively on the flat and this thread has been extremely helpful. I second Discobold's post above - I think we know more thank we think we do. I find that when jumping a course I don't even have to think about having a good connection because it just happens naturally......but on the flat I struggle to create energy and then even sometimes when I do create it, I don't know what to do with it. :lol:

kinnip
Oct. 16, 2011, 12:21 PM
Nice post Discobold. Sometimes when we look to achieving a feel using a very particular vocabulary, we lose what we already had, but didn't have the words to describe. This is why the best instructors are open minded and able to use whatever imagery or vocabulary speaks best to the rider in front of them.

JustABay
Oct. 16, 2011, 03:52 PM
Some really, really great posts here - thanks everyone!

As a hunter (for me anyways) the name of the game was SOFT. Soft hands, soft contact, soft horse. Which meant (for my guy) the slightest touch of the reins and then leave him alone. I think he's as frustrated as I am! :lol: Other people's experiences may differ from mine, but that is how I was taught to ride a hunter and it's been very hard to let go of that.

I have been using a lot of visuals given here which have really helped out a lot, and I wrote down what was said in my lesson with BNT and have been working on that too.

BNT said that I need to commit more - as in, take the contact, push the horse forward into it and MEAN IT. I tend to get wishy washy and soften too early, and am afraid to rock the boat too much. I'm scared that I'm asking to hard with my hands, or that if I keep holding and pushing him, he'll have a meltdown. It's really been a struggle especially with my coach gone. :(

I'm trying to track down a schoolmaster to ride, however all the people who have them are not allowing anyone else to ride them (or maybe just me, I dunno :confused: )

One last question....

When I want to soften and give, I have been told 2 conflicting things; One is to soften and give the inside rein forward to the horse, the other is to never give the rein away, just soften the aid and scratch the wither or verbally say "good boy". Just wondering what the school of thought on that one is?

kinnip
Oct. 16, 2011, 04:01 PM
You can soften just by loosening your fingers, no movement of the hand is necessary. Scratching and patting a horse who earned it is never a bad plan.

Mayflower Farm
Oct. 16, 2011, 07:24 PM
Here's a completely different visual that I like. Imagine you are holding a small child's hand. He's just learning to walk, so you are gentle, holding his hand softly, but you are there if he needs you. If he loses balance, your grip will strengthen and the contact get stronger. When he regains his balance, the contact goes back to that soft, supportive feel. Sounds lovely, lol. Then imagine the havoc you create if you pull at the wrong time, you could pull the poor thing right off his feet or at least mess up his balance as a minimum. He's also not going to be very happy with you, nor trust you again immediately.

I think that's why the riders with great feel do it so beautifuly, they just have that sense of timing and feel.

It's a gift to ride a horse who is soft and trusting in the contact, yet willingly goes onto the bit and so helpful because you really do remember that feel, it's such an "ah ha" moment.

When someone is frustrated with their horse and the contact, I ask them how many times they (the rider) have done it wrong, then ask them again to think about why the horse should give them everything right away when by chance they get it right one time! They are forgiving creatures (thankfully) but sometimes I think the trust has to be earned, it's not always as simple as just doing it right one time ( as my horse so helpully reminds me ) :D

kinnip
Oct. 16, 2011, 07:40 PM
Here's a completely different visual that I like. Imagine you are holding a small child's hand. He's just learning to walk, so you are gentle, holding his hand softly, but you are there if he needs you. If he loses balance, your grip will strengthen and the contact get stronger. When he regains his balance, the contact goes back to that soft, supportive feel. Sounds lovely, lol. Then imagine the havoc you create if you pull at the wrong time, you could pull the poor thing right off his feet or at least mess up his balance as a minimum. He's also not going to be very happy with you, nor trust you again immediately.

I think that's why the riders with great feel do it so beautifuly, they just have that sense of timing and feel.

It's a gift to ride a horse who is soft and trusting in the contact, yet willingly goes onto the bit and so helpful because you really do remember that feel, it's such an "ah ha" moment.

When someone is frustrated with their horse and the contact, I ask them how many times they (the rider) have done it wrong, then ask them again to think about why the horse should give them everything right away when by chance they get it right one time! They are forgiving creatures (thankfully) but sometimes I think the trust has to be earned, it's not always as simple as just doing it right one time ( as my horse so helpully reminds me ) :D

Spot on.

Petstorejunkie
Oct. 16, 2011, 07:43 PM
One last question....

When I want to soften and give, I have been told 2 conflicting things; One is to soften and give the inside rein forward to the horse, the other is to never give the rein away, just soften the aid and scratch the wither or verbally say "good boy". Just wondering what the school of thought on that one is?

A lot of people have this misconception, including lots of dressage riders (just watch, a few heads will explode momentarily).
The release, reward, the give, the whatever you want to call it for the horse is something the horse induces by yielding into the space you've given them. YOU DO NOT CHANGE, the horse does. If YOU change your position (meaning you release rein forward, scratch a wither, whatever) you've changed it from being a reward to a request for a different action.
So let's put this into a real life scenario. If I'm using increased contact on my inside rein to ask for more inside jaw flexion, I've created a "comfort parameter" for the horse. In asking, the communication I'm sending is "you are outside of the comfort zone, please come into the comfort zone by flexing your inside jaw" when the horse flexes his inside jaw, I don't continue with increased contact (meaning I don't keep that same level of contact feel), rather I hold my position in space and he's now in the comfort zone with the desired result. I've held my position, and ridden the horse forward into what I wanted him to change.
If I were to give forward with my hand, what I'd be communicating was "oh, sorry dude, I actually wanted your jaw out there" and he'd seek the bit FDO.
This takes a high degree of body awareness to do. It's the difference between following hands and educated hands.

kinnip
Oct. 16, 2011, 07:52 PM
When I want to soften and give, I have been told 2 conflicting things; One is to soften and give the inside rein forward to the horse, the other is to never give the rein away, just soften the aid and scratch the wither or verbally say "good boy". Just wondering what the school of thought on that one is?

I think part of the issue here is that there is a difference between softening and giving. PSJ is correct about giving the rein. It is a different aid. Using a fixed hand can be very effective, but IME, only when paired with a softening. This doesn't entail giving, but relaxing the fingers and perhaps the hint of a push forward with the diaphragm.

MelantheLLC
Oct. 16, 2011, 08:23 PM
It's just a guess, but I suspect maybe you are giving before the horse has engaged his hindquarters. This may be what the BNT was telling you. Because if you give when he gives his jaw, but before he's pushing from behind, then you have just "set his head."

It could be kinda ugly for a bit. He has to learn that he can lift his back, and that takes your leg/whip encouraging him first. Have you ever done tummy lift exercises with your horse? That's what you want him to do under you, lift himself up and push forward. Then he moves forward into your soft hands, and the contact will be spongy and friendly because he isn't bracing his neck or jaw, and you aren't pulling.

I'd still suggest that you practice transitions. (Speaking of the OP now, not the canter issue above). Many horses do lift their backs for the first 1-2 steps of an upward transition, and repeating the transition every few steps (even from halt to walk) you can get a feel for it, AS LONG AS you are getting an energetic response from the horse to go forward off your leg, and to stop with a light squeeze and seat aid. You want him revved, to be thinking "I"m gonna trot, I'm gonna trot" out of the halt, but you walk forward instead.

If it's hard to get him thinking like that from a halt, then you know where the root of your "contact" problem lies. ;) You don't really have an engine yet.

From walk to trot it can be a very clear feeling, as they lift into it. Many of them quickly lose their balance, but those first couple of steps are often quite good.

Thank you for this thread, btw, OP. I was thinking about it while riding today. Kept me honest! ;)

mbm
Oct. 16, 2011, 09:34 PM
boy, i sure can relate to the idea that learning to use your hands correctly is hard!~ lol! my biggest asset and also my biggest hurdle , as a rider, is that i am too caring, soft, etc.

I have over the years learned a lot of stuff that i had to unlearn. one of those things i learned that was incorrect is giving at inappropriate times.

it took a lot for me to learn to use my reins in an appropriate dressage manner. what really helped me to do this is the understand that it is not kind to have flopping reins that pop and snap, or that giving the reins at incorrect times is not kind either.

horses want to work in a place where it feels good for them. this means they want to work in balance etc.

ok, re: giving... it depends :) if i am actively asking the horse for something then when they comply i will soften - but that means relax my elbows, my seat etc. i try to only give the reins out for a specific reason.

my trainer likes to say "give and give again" which really means ask, then reward. so if horse is bending, flexing and working as i want i stop actively aiding and i "do nothing" but enjoy the ride - i stay soft and really pay attention to my hands being "forward thinking" etc. this may last a nonsecond or a minute - but the horse will perceive this as a reward and will try to get more of those rewards.

remember that horses learn and work at their best when they are rewarded for what they do well and rarely if ever punished.

you want your contact/connection to be soft, following, really friendly and something the horse *Wants* and that will seek the bit because it knows it helps him be in balance etc.

dont worry - this is the thing that everyone struggles with. it will just take time.

mbm
Oct. 16, 2011, 09:41 PM
i want to add, too something that for me is difficult to put into words, but that is critical to having a horse work correctly....

when a horse is working well, you want them following the bit and wanting to put some pressure there.... this is for many reasons but mostly because it is how you keep the back working correctly the horse by reaching forward with the neck gets the back working.... so think about having the horse always seeking the bit - when the horse responds to your requests correctly - giving is also pushing the bit out a bit more so the horse will open up the topline more....

so you release the tension in your aiding (hands, elbows, seat) this is a reward, and you also give your hands forward a tiny bit to see if the horse will follow that out and open up the throatlatch.

you can see this happening in some of the klimke vids and a lot of the older dressage vids: horses being asked to say - HH and once they comply you can see them reaching forward and opening the throatlatch.

hopefully i am explaining this well. .

dragonharte8
Oct. 16, 2011, 10:27 PM
when a horse is working well, you want them following the bit and wanting to put some pressure there.... this is for many reasons but mostly because it is how you keep the back working correctly the horse by reaching forward with the neck gets the back working.... so think about having the horse always seeking the bit - when the horse responds to your requests correctly - giving is also pushing the bit out a bit more so the horse will open up the topline more...

I highlighted a section, because I would like for you to explain how the neck affects the back. The muscle structure of the neck is connected to the chest, shoulders and withers. So the affect upon the back is only relative to the suppleness of the withers and shoulders.

Duramax
Oct. 16, 2011, 10:58 PM
I highlighted a section, because I would like for you to explain how the neck affects the back. The muscle structure of the neck is connected to the chest, shoulders and withers. So the affect upon the back is only relative to the suppleness of the withers and shoulders.

It has to do with the "circle of muscles." The neck reaching to the contact that mbm described is a result of what the back is doing... which is a result of which what the hind feet are doing. When the horse is engaged the energy that was generated in his hind feet translates into the lifted back that flows into the top of the neck and jaw, is received by the contact and recirculated through the abdominals back into the hind end. If you have an "A" Pony Club manual laying around there is a great illustration on p. 259. :D

After re-reading your post several times I would also like to add that it's more of the back affecting the neck. Was that your point?

mbm
Oct. 16, 2011, 11:40 PM
the point i was trying to make is that you cant ride with a fixed hand... if you DONT give the feel will be static and not elastic... and for the horse to want to follow the bit and give you that feel of always reaching for it - you need to be able to give a tiny bot forward each time you give.

complex feels that i am trying to describe and i cant wrote for anything...

as for the muscles... i dont know the anatomy - i just know what i feel and what is written in the classic book on dressage.

dragonharte8
Oct. 17, 2011, 10:11 AM
[QUOTE=mbm;5900494]the point i was trying to make is that you cant ride with a fixed hand... if you DONT give the feel will be static and not elastic... and for the horse to want to follow the bit and give you that feel of always reaching for it - you need to be able to give a tiny bot forward each time you give. QUOTE]

MBM;
Bravo, this is the basis of contact of the 'connection'.

BaroquePony
Oct. 17, 2011, 10:20 AM
There is the nuchal ligament that runs from the poll all the way down the topside of the neck and then fans out into various attachments all the way down the spine on the top side (dorsal).

I cannot remember the attachments going to the rearend, but when the hindquarters are engaged they lift the spine up, as does the neck when arching correcly. Together they lift the barrel up as if being hung in a sling. Allows an open swinging spine that carries the barrel in a floating/suspended manner/motion.

BaroquePony
Oct. 17, 2011, 10:24 AM
Dr. Aaron Langley, Horse Vet, and I were discussing this several months ago.

You definately can make your horse very sore in the hindquarters or anywhere down the spine by what you are doing to the poll (hands anyone ??).

CFFarm
Oct. 17, 2011, 10:45 AM
This, along with collection seems to be the biggest block people run into when learning dressage, myself included. I think it's easier if one thinks of "connection" other than "contact". Connection seems to bring the thought of the elastic feel from horse to rider into play that is so necessary. The ebb and flow of steadiness instead of a crank or natch of "contact". Helps me.

dragonharte8
Oct. 17, 2011, 11:04 AM
I cannot remember the attachments going to the rearend, but when the hindquarters are engaged they lift the spine up, as does the neck when arching correcly. Together they lift the barrel up as if being hung in a sling..

Please examine an equine anatomy book, like Peter Goody's "Horse Anatomy, A Pictorial Approach to Equine Structure"

The back and hindquarters are not controlled by the nuchial ligament. Ligaments are connective tissues, muscles are motion tissues. The back is raised by the entire group of torso muscles. The hindquarter becomes sore primarily because the back is not raised.

CFFarm
Oct. 17, 2011, 11:18 AM
Please examine an equine anatomy book, like Peter Goody's "Horse Anatomy, A Pictorial Approach to Equine Structure"

The back and hindquarters are not controlled by the nuchial ligament. Ligaments are connective tissues, muscles are motion tissues. The back is raised by the entire group of torso muscles. The hindquarter becomes sore primarily because the back is not raised.

One can get all hung up on anatomy but it's all connected somewhere. When one has a tooth ache or tired feet one's whole being hurts, horse or human.:(

mvp
Oct. 17, 2011, 11:52 AM
Here's a completely different visual that I like. Imagine you are holding a small child's hand. He's just learning to walk, so you are gentle, holding his hand softly, but you are there if he needs you. If he loses balance, your grip will strengthen and the contact get stronger. When he regains his balance, the contact goes back to that soft, supportive feel. Sounds lovely, lol. Then imagine the havoc you create if you pull at the wrong time, you could pull the poor thing right off his feet or at least mess up his balance as a minimum. He's also not going to be very happy with you, nor trust you again immediately.

That's the right image for what the rider is doing. It's a dynamic situation. Also, realize how much you can do to restrain a horse by *not* moving or ceasing to follow. IMO, "not following" should be very momentary.

So to steady or even discipline a kid, you can change all kinds of things from the tension in your hand, to that in your arm. Or you can stop walking and let him "run into" the end of your arm.

I think of riding horses with the rest of my body same way. My hands and leg form the corners of a box. The finished horse should stay under my center of gravity. Actually, I imagine (but really, feel) a point just out in front of my belly button where the horse's balance point "is." There are more words and images that go with this for me.

In any case, if he he doesn't stay there, "in" that point, he runs into some corner or side of the box. The box can be hand or heel at the very edge.

What the young horse doesn't appreciate is that the box is "lined" so to speak. Before he hits hand or heel-- I move in a visible way-- he also "ran into" tension in my hand or arm and thigh or sitting bone. It's up to him to decide what kind of wall he wants to hit. It's also up to him how to figure out how to get back from that uncomfortable wall.

The box is pretty big at first-- for the horse with 90 days or so. He hits those walls very slowly and I'll accept some very poor balance so long as he's going in the direction and gait I want.

For the very advanced horse, it's extremely small. But at that point, he's already trying to stay right under that one central point ahead of my belly button. This is the horse you could ride bridleless.

See? This is the same thing we do with hunters and what we want from them.

Back to the OP's hand issue. It can be hard to learn the difference between following and stopping with your arms (versus your hand) on a horse who has learned to keep his neck very stiff. He doesn't give you much to follow as a dance partner. Just like horses, we need big contrast in order to learn what we should be feeling and doing.

What surprised me as a hunter rider (and one of short arms) was how much my elbows moved when I was doing this right.


This, along with collection seems to be the biggest block people run into when learning dressage, myself included. I think it's easier if one thinks of "connection" other than "contact". Connection seems to bring the thought of the elastic feel from horse to rider into play that is so necessary. The ebb and flow of steadiness instead of a crank or natch of "contact". Helps me.

Contact versus connection helps, too, eh?

BaroquePony
Oct. 17, 2011, 12:58 PM
Right, the nuchal ligament attaches to the withers, dorsal ligament travels down the back to the sacrum and is attached to all the spinal processes.

http://www.paardrijden-aan-de-teugel.be/blog/als-paarden-konden-praten-wreedheden-in-de-dressuurtop/