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Help - 'backwards thinking' hands

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    Help - 'backwards thinking' hands

    I have this habit that I am highly conscious of when I'm riding, but can't seem overcome on a permanent basis. My hands 'think backwards'. If I spent the whole ride visuallising pushing the reins forward to the bit, and giving at the right moment, I can be soft, and there's a nice foam in horse's mouth, but a minor distraction will send me back to taking my hands towards my belly button.

    I'm between horses atm - still searching for my next dressage partner after retiring my schoolmaster [PSG] who had a tendency to lean on my hands. I really yearn to address this for the sake of any horse I ride. I don't yank, saw, or pull; its just a reflex that I want to reprogram with a more correct one.

    I was thinking of maybe getting an exercise band, going around my lower back and into my hands so I get a bit a feedback loop positionally. Any other ideas?

    IMO its not helpful to look at your hand seperated from the rest of your body.... if your horse is in front of your leg you will feel the movement which goes through the body..and then you simply follow the movements with your hands which is forward.. So I would put less focus on your hands and more on getting your horse in front of your legs.. Good luck!!!


      It really is just a conscious tiring mental effort yes, you need to think about the whole horse and the whole picture, but if this is your main weak point, focusing isn't entirely inappropriate. I'm interested to see if people come up with creative solutions, but whenever I have some issue (such as my toes pointing out from tight hips and years in a jump saddle) it's just something I have to constantly think about and check in with myself. Eventually it becomes habit to do the correct thing and I think about it less.

      Could you put something around the horse's neck, like a grab strap or something...then when your hands come too far back you meet resistance. I don't know if this would work, but it was the only thing that came to mind at the moment.


        I've struggled with the same issue, OP. My "new" (PSG) horse is also heavy in the hands until/unless I "wake her up" and actively get her in front of my leg in the walk. Think half-steps. I also tend to hold my elbows too far back -- at least with this horse. Now I consciously place my elbows slightly forward of my waist (without making my arms straight, of course) and keep thinking forward & soft towards her mouth. She's happier and easier to ride.

        My coach also advises me to keep my hands low enough that I can "feel" the pommel of the saddle or my saddle pad with my pinkies. Slowly I'm reprogramming my body. In my case, if my elbows are too far back, my shoulder blades kinda lock up, so the problem starts at my shoulders. If they're tight, the rest of the arm will be, too.


          I find it has to do with your core stability. I like to think "carry my own hands" - and I will push them out in front of me further than I think I should, just to make sure. If I can carry them myself, (like holding a tray in front of you), then you are not pulling backwards.
          I also find at other times it has to do with how confident I feel.


            If you're a desk jockey, you might consider how you warm yourself up to ride. Stretches, loosening up those muscles between and under your shoulder blades that might be contributing.

            I have to think tray/tray/tray over and over with each stride, esp. through corners, as if I'm holding a tray of drinks in front of me. You have to learn this habit, just as you learned the current one


              When a horse leans, add leg, and lift your chest, Do nothing with your hands, It is a case of you, carrying, you. Think lift on every stride.

              Upper arms should hang straight down and from the elbows forward your arms have one job, to carry your hands.I'm not saying the arms cannot move or the elbows must be locked in position, but by your sides is your neutral position.
              You will find I think that just allowing your upper body to turn as you circle, your hands will follow while not moving.
              Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

              Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                Originally posted by merrygoround View Post
                When a horse leans, add leg, and lift your chest, Do nothing with your hands, It is a case of you, carrying, you. Think lift on every stride.

                Upper arms should hang straight down and from the elbows forward your arms have one job, to carry your hands.I'm not saying the arms cannot move or the elbows must be locked in position, but by your sides is your neutral position.
                You will find I think that just allowing your upper body to turn as you circle, your hands will follow while not moving.
                This. The upper arms hanging down is key. If you ride with straighter arms more in front of you, backward is the only direction your hands can work. It's fairly normal to instinctively pull/grab, and as someone with t-rex arms I have learned I *must* bend my elbows with upper arms in the correct position to be able to give. It's common sense many people miss out on - if you want your hands to regularly give forward, position them so forward is the direction they can go. If you want them to pull back, put them far in front so they can only pull.
                If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


                  Maybe try riding with a driving rein for a while (rein running up through the hand so it goes over the index finger to the bit). IMO, it's harder to ride with a backward hand with that hold, and it might be enough of a change-up that it will help you reprogram more easily than if you're holding the reins in the usual way. At the moments when my reflexes want to take the hand back, I find usually more leg is needed instead to re-establish connection. Frequently pushing the hand forward for a stretch or lengthening/medium during the ride can also help improve the muscle memory to a forward-thinking default.


                    Original Poster

                    Yes I am a desk jockey; a writer, and get achey shoulders on a regular basis so yes will do some stretches before riding. 'T-rex' arms - love it, yep.
                    I have used the driving hold to get a more following feel on my old horse, and it really works. Funny though, when I actually did have a go at driving carriage with a little hackney a couple of months ago - they use a different hold! And coming from ridden dressage I thought it was quite firm contact!
                    And as everyone says above it the upper arms hanging down, not going out straight that really makes the difference.
                    Just by the by I saw a pic yesterday of a dressage blogger doing this with resistance bands like a neck strap - retraining muscle memory I guess. Thanks ddx


                      I literally had the worst hands ever. I knew not to pull my horses head down, but muscle memory from riding without instruction for years took over. Eventually, my coach made me ride with a neck strap. I put the neck strap in my outside rein hand like an additional rein, and ride the entire ride like this. It was so painful at first, I couldn't do anything. It really makes you use your leg and realize just HOW much you rely on your hands. She recommended 10 rides, but I rode for 3 months like this. It was honestly life changing to my riding. My hands have improved so much and my riding, and my core too.

                      It's definitely worth a try, but you have to be willing to work for it, it wont be easy.
                      Boss Mare Eventing Blog


                        Haven’t tried it, but having used the tray analogy as well, I was interested in the block thing people carry? I can’t remember the name, but it was literally a square the rider carried as they rode. For all of the habits my body clings to, I find a mantra helps. I say it in my head in rhythm with the horse. Like, “thumbs up, fingers close. Thumbs up, fingers closed...”. It both helps with cadence and whatever bad habit...


                          Yes, the Equicube can help you think about your hands. The challenge is that it is around 4 lbs., so the rider has to concentrate on not letting their hands go down. It is great to get the rider's attention on their hands and the horses, so far, do not seem to mind me carrying it.

                          The Equicube REALLY helps my back. My riding teacher, from the first time I used it, keeps on praising my back when I carry it. Carrying it also helps me sink down into the saddle.

                          My riding teacher used it in a lesson with one of her dressage students and that lady immediately ordered one to use at home. It really helps a rider's seat when there is no instructor around, carrying it induces the rider to assume a proper position.


                            I like the exercise band idea, if you can get it set up properly. Another suggestion is to pick a few points in the arena where you correct your hands every time you pass. I’ve developed a bad habit of looking down and letting my chest collapse, and in a recent lesson my coach told me to look at the sky and open my chest (without arching my back) every time I passed A, C, B, and E, no matter what else I was doing. I’ve continued that since the lesson 10 days ago and I’m surprised by how much difference it’s made to my posture, even between those points. I’m definitely developing new muscle memory. It’s so much more effective than trying to remember a specific correction throughout the ride, while you’re also trying to do the other million things you have to do.

                            For a mantra or mental image, you might imagine pushing a wheelbarrow. There’s an eventer who uses that image to get riders to stop picking at the mouth and ride forward to the jumps. I like it because to me it implies using your hands as a forward-thinking connection between your body and the horse’s.

                            Carrying a tray is another common image but to me it doesn’t have the same suggestion of “forward.”
                            Building and Managing the Small Horse Farm:


                              I don't know if this would help you - but if you have one hand that is more inclined to come back than the other (inside hand, outside hand, left or right) then maybe bridging your reins might be something to think about? I had a habit of really wanting to be over-active with the inside rein and when I bridge, the stability of my outside hand limits my ability to FUBAR the inside.

                              The other exercise is one that I resent my trainer ever learning about. I have a monoflap saddle so the keepers on my saddle pad for the billets were never in use (tucked neatly in front of my saddle flap). One day she had me pull them up and instructed me to hold them (and my reins) at the same time. I had to hold contact with the keepers so they never "looped" or lost a feeling of contact with the saddlepad..and also had to keep connection with the horse through the reins. You'd think that the idea would introduce tension ("pulling forward from your hand") but really there is an odd feeling of opening/allowing in the elbows (and a straightness in the wrist) that introduces room for a nicely following hand/connection. If your keepers are otherwise reserved for their actual intended use, you can tie pieces of twine to the d-rings in your saddle and use them the same way.


                                Original Poster

                                Thanks everyone, these are terrif suggestions, will give them all a go. Having forward hands [and an independent seat] is now even more important as I get to know my new horse - a five year old wb mare with a very nice mouth and willing temp. thanks. dxx


                                  The struggle is real. I find it that it's key how you warm up, when the horse may not offer the kind of forward and/or balance right away, and the temptation to "fix it with the hand" is *overwhelming* and I get suckered in if I don't really focus. Once the horse is lifted through the shoulder and moving, the hands seem to take care of themselves. I may or may not be doing it right, but I try to offer steadiness without giving something to lean on, and suppling fingers. As my trainer said, it's what you do with your body that counts, and I have more success when i focus on soft leg, light fluffy seat, and getting my big boy reactive to the inside leg.
                                  Absurdly improbable things are quite as liable to happen in real life as in weak literature. -- Ada Leverson


                                    The struggle is definitely real! I think the human default is to grab the horse's head, even when we are trying not to do that.

                                    An instructor once told me "it's not your hands, it's your elbows". I wish someone had said that to me 20 years earlier!

                                    Work on relaxing your entire arm from the shoulder forward. Relax your elbows.

                                    As another practice exercise, try pulling your elbows as close together in front of you as you can, and hold them there, regardless. Do it mentally and at least partially physically through everything you do. That will take a lot of backward pressure away from your hands.

                                    Also think of riding the horse's body, not his head (or neck, or shoulders). Think of yourself as sitting properly, feeling the horse's hips and forward motion under your seatbones (it should feel that way), and guiding the horse in that way. It relieves some of the feeling of needing the hands to be active.

                                    For some of us, at least, I think this is an ongoing lifetime effort.


                                      I didn't read all the comments so I apologize if this has been said already. I recently watched a video by Amelia Newcomb on this exact issue of backwards thinking hands. She said to loop a spare rein under your horse's neck and carry the reins normally while holding the extra rein.
                                      I do believe the tip was at about the 6 minute mark,


                                        This. Gives you a totally different feel. Hands push forward instead of pulling back.

                                        LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...