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Talk to me about "contact". Why am I not getting this?

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  • Talk to me about "contact". Why am I not getting this?

    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?

  • #2
    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.

    Comment


    • #3
      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.
      Originally posted by Silverbridge
      If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

      Comment


      • #4
        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.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by JustABay View Post
          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?

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by netg View Post
            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

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by BaroquePony View Post
              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.

              Comment


              • #8
                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!

                Comment


                • #9
                  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!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    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.
                    You either go to the hospital or you get back on.
                    -George Morris

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Sunsets View Post


                      When I feel my hands and arms getting stiff, I think “marshmelbows”. Totally stupid, but it works for me!
                      Brilliant!
                      "Rock n' roll's not through, yeah, I'm sewing wings on this thing." --Destroyer
                      http://dressagescriblog.wordpress.com/

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        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).

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Sunsets View Post
                          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.
                          __________________________
                          "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
                          the best day in ten years,
                          you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Sunsets View Post
                            When I feel my hands and arms getting stiff, I think “marshmelbows”. Totally stupid, but it works for me!

                            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.

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              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

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                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.
                                Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                We Are Flying Solo

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  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.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    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.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by JustABay View Post
                                      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.)
                                      Ring the bells that still can ring
                                      Forget your perfect offering
                                      There is a crack in everything
                                      That's how the light gets in.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by JustABay View Post
                                        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

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