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  1. #1
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    Default Spinoff: How should contact feel?

    After the "trainer says I'm ruining the horse/on the bit" thread, I got to thinking about my very very limited dressage experience (1 lesson). And I'm wondering--how should a horse feel when they are on the bit and "through?"

    In the hands, that is. I have got hunters/jumpers working over the back so I know how the swingy round back feels, how they kind of lift up and fill the saddle. But the hunter people like a pretty long rein which has made my dressage rides feel like too much contact by comparison.

    Should you feel just the weight of the rein? If a horse is pursuing the bit will you feel counter pressure from him (not yanking, but pushing into the bit)? Recently I have had rides that felt great where they were using their backs but they were creating tension in the reins by kind of "holding" the bit against my hands. They aren't leaning on my hands, but I do feel almost like they were pushing the bit. Does that even make sense? It's hard to explain.

    I know I have very little experience. I would just like to know how would YOU describe the feel in your hands so that I know what I am feeling for and when to release/reward the horse.



  2. #2
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    Should feel steady and firm like a handshake. Should feel like the horse is reaching out to take the contact, and if allowed, he will take the bit forward and down.

    A lot of people like to say that the reins should feel elastic like bungee cords. I think that this leads to a misapprehension on the part of many riders because what they feel as elasticity is really the horse lengthening and shortening his NECK which you don't want him to do to. You always want him opening the throat latch and reaching down and out with a lengthened relaxed neck.
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller



  3. #3
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    Ah, so it should feel firm in a way. So when people say "light in the bridle" they really mean not leaning, and responsive, yes?



  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by alg0181 View Post
    Ah, so it should feel firm in a way. So when people say "light in the bridle" they really mean not leaning, and responsive, yes?

    Yes. The contact should feel "alive" not dead as it would be when braced against your hand or hanging on you.
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller



  5. #5
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    I would also say that you should be able to get a response when you flex your wrist or squeeze your fingers.
    "I'm holding out for the $100,000 Crossrail Classic in 2012." --mem
    "With all due respect.. may I suggest you take up Croquet?" --belambi
    Proud Member of the Opinionated Redhead Club!



  6. #6
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by alg0181 View Post
    Ah, so it should feel firm in a way. So when people say "light in the bridle" they really mean not leaning, and responsive, yes?
    I generally was told I had pretty good hands, and for me contact was firm enough that I needed to wear gloves or I'd get swelling in my ring fingers. (To be fair, I had the early stages of arthritis in my hands even then, which I imagine is what actually produced the swelling in response to pressure/irritation, but the point being that it wasn't, like, feather-light and barely there.)

    I guess for me, mentally visualizing it, it should feel like a conversation - enough feel on the reins that you're not going 'hello? are you there? did we get cut off?' but not so much that it feels like if you let go or let the reins slip, the horse would fall over on his nose.



  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by BetterOffRed View Post
    I would also say that you should be able to get a response when you flex your wrist or squeeze your fingers.

    Yes, but the response should not just be in the mouth or in the neck! It should go THROUGH to the hind legs. The horse should not just back off the contact.
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller



  8. #8
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    May. 15, 2003
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    Like ballroom dancing. Firm guidance without pulling or pushing to get your partner where you want him! It's a wonderful feeling in both sports!
    Hoppe, Hoppe, Reiter...
    Wenn er faellt dann schreit er...

    Quote Originally Posted by mbm View Post
    forward is like love - you can never have enough



  9. #9
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    the horse should always be pushing into the rein---if you let the reins go the horse should follow the reins down SEEKING the bit. This is NOT hanging. The energy should be going OUTWARDS...this is what I think of as "forward".

    Contact is dynamic-its not static. Static contact creates a dull mouth.
    In my experience each horse feels a little different, but essentially there is a feeling of "something" there that can be easily influenced.

    I read somewhere contact should feel like a fishing rod being carried down a stream-slight pressure but also not heavy/pulling. There should be a feeling of elasticity and energy-the horse should change its contact (momentarily) in response to a Half halt-should get lighter as the shoulders lift.

    Its a tough thing to describe in words!



  10. #10
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    As I said in the other thread..I struggle with this also. I am told I need to shorten my reins and PUSH the horse through! But can it be that simple??? I shorten and push and I get a set jaw and no back up and swinging...I mean don't you need to warm up on LOOSE rein UNTIL the horse is streching, reaching and looking for the contact! And then can't the whole plan go bad if you unconcienciosly have tention in parts of your body or bad balance?? No matter how much you respect the training scale for your horse...if your balanced seat and educated hands aren't established only a saint of a schoolmaster will "assume the position" and forgive our inadiquacies! Right??
    "Success comes in cans, not in cannots!"



  11. #11
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    EasyStreet, I was in the same boat as you, and it's taken quite a few months with my mare to really figure out the concept of an active contact. I do not begin my warm ups on a very loose rein but more of a moderate contact because if given the choice, most of the time during warm up my mare will just plod along - I think that's the thing, you really can't expect any kind of loose or supple warm up if you don't get the motor going. Then, you have to be ready to harness that motor with the contact. Only then can I encourage my mare to really seek the bit and stretch down over her back at any point in our ride.
    This took me a very long time to really figure out and I'm still working on my feel, of course. But I made a lot of progress by simply becoming aware of what my hands were doing in respect to my body. I realized that while I had a contact and was trying to "push" my mare into the contact, I wasn't giving her much of an active ride otherwise. Therefore even though I had her motor going behind, she didn't feel all too comfortable really coming into the contact and relaxing, and the energy would get stuck somewhere in between - usually resulting in a set jaw or stiff back.
    I have made very minor adjustments to my rein length and hand position. What helped me was moving them forward ever so slightly to the withers and keeping them fairly low but following - I also had a bad tendency to want to widen my hands more so than necessary. When I kept my hands in a more neutral position and became aware of keeping the contact active on the inside rein with a steady outside rein, I got much better results.

    Another big thing I am personally working on is giving the inside rein but keeping a steady outside rein - when I say giving I don't mean throwing away, but maybe softening and giving a quick pat on the neck whenever I become aware that I might be bracing or stiffening. Amazing how much more through she becomes during those moments. And it also helps me - because when I re-take the contact after softening, I have given myself a reminder to remain more active and communicative with her.

    When we are really working through, I feel a firm pressure on the reins - but finally not from me pulling back as I first did when I began riding, but rather from Mare seeking the connection. If I let the reins slide out between my fingers, she will take the bit forward and stretch. If I have been riding in a brace manner, she will take the reins forward and curl - big sign that I need to re-examine my contact.
    Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

    A Voice Halted



  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by EasyStreet View Post
    As I said in the other thread..I struggle with this also. I am told I need to shorten my reins and PUSH the horse through! But can it be that simple??? I shorten and push and I get a set jaw and no back up and swinging...I mean don't you need to warm up on LOOSE rein UNTIL the horse is streching, reaching and looking for the contact! And then can't the whole plan go bad if you unconcienciosly have tention in parts of your body or bad balance?? No matter how much you respect the training scale for your horse...if your balanced seat and educated hands aren't established only a saint of a schoolmaster will "assume the position" and forgive our inadiquacies! Right??
    Easy Street, I totally agree with you. This is something I've struggled with over the last couple of years as we try to move up. So, the last 6 months have been about establishing the relaxation. I knew that was the problem but I didn't know how to fix it. Only through establishing the right rhythm and correct balance were we able to get the relaxation. Low and behold the contact came. And then the horse is so much easier to adjust. I can make the strides bigger, shorter. I can change the bend, change the flexion. But the feel in my hands is the same. He's just 'there'- soft and squishy. When I have contact, I just feel like he is filling up the reins, but there isn't that much there- just ounces. I can ask for a longer lower neck and he just follows the bit.
    "I'm holding out for the $100,000 Crossrail Classic in 2012." --mem
    "With all due respect.. may I suggest you take up Croquet?" --belambi
    Proud Member of the Opinionated Redhead Club!



  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by EasyStreet View Post
    I mean don't you need to warm up on LOOSE rein UNTIL the horse is streching, reaching and looking for the contact!
    Most of the time, the answer is NO. The answer is YES on a well trained old horse who is just stiff and needs time to warm up over the back. But if the horse is not well trained or is young, then the horse will just plop around crookedly on the forehand and not use himself behind.

    If you are spending time on a loose rein, most of the time you are wasting it.
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic Horseman View Post
    Most of the time, the answer is NO. The answer is YES on a well trained old horse who is just stiff and needs time to warm up over the back. But if the horse is not well trained or is young, then the horse will just plop around crookedly on the forehand and not use himself behind.

    If you are spending time on a loose rein, most of the time you are wasting it.
    Exactly. You have to manage the horse and show them how to take contact. Most horses think its a lot of work and would rather plop around on the forehand and avoid the bit. Long rein doesn't really teach anything. On a green green horse you need to avoid the bit, but once the horse has the proper muscle there is no reason they can't be asked to come on the bit (slowly, its a gradual process!)



  15. #15
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    Excellent info guys, thank you. The fishing analogy helps, I fish.

    I think that I've been on the right track then. It did feel very firm but again this is coming from a non-dressage person. The horse did feel very forward. Almost like... the horse's head was an extension of my arms. Not bracing firm, but very THERE.

    And when the horse felt this way there was a lot of tension but it was positive, like off-we-GO! Not fighting. Kind of like the way you have to hold a stick shift up a hill. Gas through the clutch, just the right amount of each, to hold the car in place, but still able to zoom off at a moment's notice.

    Crappy analogy but it's what it makes me think of.

    Thanks again, I was worried I was being too heavy, but I think I understand better now.



  16. #16
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    I have 5 horses and each is different, and each can differ depending on their mindset.
    ... _. ._ .._. .._



  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Equibrit View Post
    I have 5 horses and each is different, and each can differ depending on their mindset.
    I agree I have ridden many horses and contact felt different on all of them. It can be anywhere from weightless being able to make changes with a wiggle of a pinky to having to use my core muscles and half halts every stride to keep what I have built.

    My check has always been the back. How does it feel do I have swing, is it lifting, do I feel connection through the saddle. If you have the back and the hind end the front will follow.
    Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.
    -Auntie Mame



  18. #18
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    Wink

    Quote Originally Posted by Equibrit View Post
    I have 5 horses and each is different, and each can differ depending on their mindset.
    Which can vary from movememt to movememt, and day to day.

    As said before, it is not static, it is an ongoing quiet conversation, which your fingers, hands and arms constantly maintain, while your body carries on with its own half of the dance.

    This is where a series of "schoolmasters" is so wonderful.
    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.



  19. #19
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    Contact from your horse should feel elastically responsive to the amount of contact you take up.

    If you offer light contact the horse should offer a light but active response. If you take up more, your horse should too but be willing to lighten up if you do. If you initiate a strong contact (there are times when this is appropriate), the horse's response should be strong without hanging, meaning that if you lighten the contact the horse won't fall on its forehand.

    PS Stretching a horse that hasn't been warmed up is potentially harmful.



  20. #20
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    Thank you all for your input on this topic of contact...hope to be riding the magic carpet soon!!
    "Success comes in cans, not in cannots!"



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