Hi, I don't come on these boards very often but I've found myself needing a little extra advice. Lately I've been having a hard time keeping my hands still and as a result having an even contact.
Background: Bought a new horse last winter('10), big mover, 16.3, warmblood, coming from a 15.1 horse. New horse is incredibly even, does not have an 'easy side,' but tends to get very light in hand. She has done up to 4th level dressage and scored in the high 60% to 70%. Old horse pulled like a plow horse on both reins that led to bad habits with stiff arms. So, for the past year I've been working on not hanging on the bit and trying to get my elbows more elastic. Now I've stopped hanging but my hands when I ride bounce and jerk and it looks like I'm pulling on my horse's mouth.
Now, once again, the horse is VERY LIGHT in the hands so in my warmup she tends to bob/shake her head and my hands then follow. I've been lunging her to get that early shakiness gone and it has been helping me be able to push her up into the bridle and encourage her to take more weight in the bit. Unfortunately, my hands still move around alot and there seems to be no way for me to keep them still.
I've tried keeping them at her withers before gradually raising them but I somehow manage to still move them there. I would like to do second level on her, I have been doing first level and getting low 60s just on the fact her movement is great, but because I'm not able to hold a steady contact I know it would not be fair to show at a higher level yet. With my trainer, she has 9 legthenings, but with me I can't even ask her to lengthen because she will take uneven steps. In my halts though, my hands are still and she falls into the bridle nicely so I know I can keep my hands still.
I know what still hands look like, and I know mine are far from it and I know what my hands need to do for my dressage to get better. I feel like all I need is just a good explanation on how to keep them still or methods to help them be steadier. My trainer has been very helpful in lessons but I feel since I only have one lesson a week and ride the rest of it on my own, neither of us are seeing the progress we want.
EDIT:I forgot to say this in NOT in the canter, mostly in the trot and sometimes in the walk.
It sounds like you may need to get back to basics while you learn to ride a bigger horse with bigger movement. You could start with riding her on the longe with your reins and stirrups dropped. Once you are confirmed in your seat and balance bring them back. Stay on the longe for a while, however, since you will be able to focus on yourself and not steering your horse.
Make sure you relax through your body since busy hands can be a manifestation of tension. It requires more strength and balance through the torso to ride better horses, and these can take time to develop.
did you ever do that physics exercise with the slinky? where you watch as wave energy transfers down the long spring?
when your pelvis is wrong, that evergy waves out the body whichever way is weakest. in your case it's travelling up your trunk and out your arms.
I'd be willing to bet once you get your hands still, it would boing out your belly, or your head, or your leg would start swinging.
only way to fix it is to fix the pelvis, and the easiest way to do that is on the lunge with a good instructor.
that and patience,.... and wine for frustrations.
First off, I really admire your willingness to admit this. So often people come on and say "my horse is a schoolmaster but keeps moving his head around at the trot, how do I make him stop bouncing his head?". Understanding that your hands are inconsistent is the first step to addressing the problem.
When you are trotting to you feel like you are always a bit behind the motion? It sounds like she is a powerful mover and it makes sense that you might be getting behind the motion and accidentally using your hands for balance. If this is the case then you need to go back and look at your leg and seat position. If your lower leg it getting out in front of you it can put you behind the motion and make it difficult to trot without relying on her mouth for balance.
I know that some posters are pretty tough when it comes to video critiques but in this situation it would be really helpful. People can give you techniques to quiet your hands but if the problem stems from your seat or legs then you aren't addressing the underlying issue.
So if you are feeling bold, I would recommend posting a video or at least a few pictures. You might get a few unnecessarily harsh remakes but as a whole I think you will be amazed by the suggestions offered. There are a lot of experienced riders on this forum who are willing to help out.
This is probably a seat issue more than it is a hands issue.
Especially if the old horse pulled like a plow horse, one side-effect of that is that you may have unintentionally learned to sit by bracing against the reins; when you get on a light horse again that crutch is gone.
So my solution would be to take the stirrups off the saddle pretty much forever from now on, and try to "ride like a reiner" for a while. Teach yourself to be able to ride on the buckle: reins in a loop and doing figure 8s, serpentines, at all three gaits and with transitions. Start with trot-walk transitions on the buckle and move up from there. Don't worry about the frame and engagement, just get the steering and the transitions down with no stirrups and no reins.
Then you will be well on your way to having the seat that allows you to have quiet hands.
I'm in the same position as you. I started dressage lessons this past Fall and still have horribly busy hands at trot. It is mostly because, as another poster has said, I'm getting used to the big movements and sensitivity of a PSG schoolmaster! So my hands move because I pitch forward reacting to the larger movements and feelings of insecurity. I pitch forward and the horse takes this to mean a change of gaits because he is a sensitive dressage horse so he changes his speed so I lose more of my seat. It really is a hot mess (this is how I describe this stage of my training ). I'd wager you're having similar challenges?
It seems to be getting better with time. I have longer intervals in class where I have a good trot and I don't pitch forward and my hands stay quiet. I've noticed that if I feel like I'm behind the vertical I'm actually vertical so I try to remember that feeling and seek it. I also shortened my stirrup a hole.
Learning to sit takes time. Try to imagine that you have eggs or something breakable in your back pockets, and you want to crush them against the saddle with your seat.
Riding without stirrups is invaluable to learning to sit all gaits, as well as maintaining a good seat. Do it often, even when you think you have it mastered.
Personally? I think it's okay to sit with your upper body a little behind vertical as you learn. It will probably make it easier to balance and develop your own muscles for a while. Sitting vertically will come later; don't force it.
Also, and this is just another personal opinion, try riding in a close contact type saddle with minimal padding and blocks. I find it to be easier to adjust myself to the horse instead of being forced into an artificially correct position.
Can you fasten a bucking strap to the d-rings of your saddle? If so, you can hook your little fingers under it while you hold the reins. It'll give you an idea of how much your elbows need to open and close to avoid blocking with the rein.
I have a young horse that's not so tolerant of my not-all-that-steady hands -- he's no big mover either. Here are a few things that help me....
-- Big fat Mattes pad with the mammoth fuzzy in front (rest your hands there)
-- Transitions. It helps the horse stay balanced and keeps you from getting too far off balance. Use the downward transitions to resituate/regroup.
-- Watch this video, esp. what's going on around 1 minute 9 seconds. It makes me believe I can do ANYTHING I want with my hands :-) -- I find just thinking about it makes me smile and loosens me up.
First off, thanks so much for the replies! I appreciate what everyone of you have suggested and they have all given me things to think about. I would love to post a video but I can't figure out how to transfer my videos onto a computer. I try to get someone to record all my lessons so I do have them, and the barn I ride at has mirrors along the walls so I can check myself during and after the ride.
I have done lunge lessons with my horse and they have helped some but my mare gets bored going around in a circle and tries to make it...interesting, for lack of a better word. I typically ride without stirrups everyday, other than my 15 min w/t/c stretching warm up, unless I ride outside or I have a lesson.
When riding I try not to get frustrated with her head, because I know that if I'm riding her correctly behind she while go correct infront. It's just hard not to worry about her head trying to smack me in the face when I cant properly engage my horse from behind because she can't hold anything with my 'excited' contact .
I never thought about my seat being the problem but after all the great posts I can see how. I have a custom saddle for new mare but I've always felt like I've been fighting with it. It's the same saddle I had for the old horse and I LOVED but with the tree fitting my mare so I thought it was just me having to get used her conformation. She has huge shoulders and the other horse was extremely narrow, and already being short(5'2") my leg definitely had to adjust. My trainer has told me before 'don't put your feet out in front of you like a water skier, it makes you brace against her through your hips." I thought I had corrected this but I looked at some recent videos today before my ride and noticed that in posting trot and in sitting trot when I'm not following the motion my back is tipped forward and I never fully sit deep into the saddle and I allow my knee to brace, my elbows leave my side, and THEN my hands begin moving wildly.
So, during my ride today, instead of focusing on keeping my hands quiet I focused on sitting deep each stride and found some improvement! I think my core is alot weaker than I thought it was. Obviously it's not going to going to stop instantly and now it's a habit that I will have to break, but I feel I'm on the right path to really figuring out my horse. That being said, are there anymore tips y'all have to help me achieve this?
This horse is very special to me even in the short time I've owned her. She will undoubtedly be able to take me higher than 4th level when I'm ready to get there, she inherited the talent for sure(her sire won a medal at the olympics). So while she acts like a saint and puts up with my hands, I'll take any advice to make her happy!
You are fighting with your saddle? Okay... take this for what it's worth... Get a new saddle.
I've had a Stubben Tristan (aka Schultheis) for ages and it is an amazing saddle. There are no blocks or anything else to get in your way, and it really allows you to tune your balance in with your horse. Basically, it gets out of the way and lets you get down to business. And once you become proficient in one you won't want to ride in anything else.
They can usually be found used online for pretty cheap.
Also, I would make a deal with myself... no posting the trot until my sitting trot is great. And when I say drop your stirrups, I mean for the entire 45 min to an hour that you ride.
Remember to have good posture while you ride. Keep your shoulders wide and open and your head up "Let those two pointed lights shine," as my old trainer used to say.
Keep her forward. And while you do this with your seat and legs, softly give with your reins. You may want to try shortening your reins so that you don't have more contact, but so your hands and arms are more extended in front of you.
Get a nice soft contact, and then make sure that your pinkies are always in contact with the front of the pommel-for now. You can move a hand out to the side and back, or soften or half halt with your fingers, but you cannot move your hands back, or your pinkies off the saddle. Now if your hands are in a soft contact with your pinkies contacting the saddle, you will only be able to ask your horse with your body and legs. You will also be able to see what the problem is when you take your hands out of the equation.
not a dressage rider but I've been told basically everything comes from your core. Weak core, leads to issues in the shoulders (roundness or tension), which moves down to the elbows, which affects the hands.
I would work on strengthening your core for sure, off the horse. Try pilates, with a good instructor who can put their hands on you to make sure you're learning correctly. I did pilates and it helped my riding immensely, just in keeping me looser, strengthening my stabilizer muscles in my core, and giving me a lot more body awareness.