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Wide hands, Cardinal Sin?

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  • Wide hands, Cardinal Sin?

    I must say my pride was hurt and last weekend was just another reminder I have so much more to learn.

    I am an eventer, and last weekend I took a young horse to a schooling show to move him up to Training Level. (Training Level in eventing involves some lengthening in the trot and canter, basic transitions and a few 15 meter circles.) Anyways, always scoring low 30's even the occasional high 20's with same horse at Novice I was shocked to receive a 5 on my score card for 'Rider'!
    My question though, in bold-upperclass letters were written "wide hands" Not that I disagree that ones hands ought to held right in front of them, but is there any case when widening ones hands to encourage a horse to stay on the bit acceptable?
    I recognize that for our horse to work correctly we have to ride correctly, and perhaps I've mis-used this tool to often and it showed in my score.

    One question I do have, beside the wide hands comment she added that this 'blocks haunches.' Could anyone explain this a little further.

    Does anyone else find themselves doing this? Also any suggestions on where this habit comes from?

    * If it helps here is same pony and I in January, we did not receive this comment. Given a little background on specific horse. Horse is small and a bit lazy to your leg.

  • #2
    Hard to see in the video, but your hands didn't seem wide to me. If you have never had this comment befor, don't change anything until you get this comment again. It is just one persons opinion, on one day, about one ride.


    • #3
      Originally posted by ccr0009 View Post
      I must say my pride was hurt and last weekend was just another reminder I have so much more to learn.
      Interesting ... I was trying to figure out how to admit to being discouraged by criticism with the "right" attitude ... I'm relieved to see that I'm not alone in the quiet struggle

      there any case when widening ones hands to encourage a horse to stay on the bit acceptable?
      Absolutely, but as soon as the horse responds properly, you have to move your hands back to neutral. It's the staying wide that is the problem. I hear it ALL the time, it's a correction, not a position ... and we have to always return to neutral after the correction. (*insert my own personal long-suffering sigh here*)

      One question I do have, beside the wide hands comment she added that this 'blocks haunches.' Could anyone explain this a little further.
      No, I can't. I have been told that it blocks *bend* ... inside hand may go wide to "invite" but the outside hand should stay close to the shoulder to control without blocking. Someone else may have more insight into that comment.

      Does anyone else find themselves doing this? Also any suggestions on where this habit comes from?
      Yes. It works on young horses and just like a nagging leg, riders forget to return to neutral to reinforce the "yes!" ...

      IMO, more forward from behind (tough with lazy to leg) is the better overall fix. And work on reminding yourself that widening is a correction or invitation and once accepted should go away, until needed again.

      AND that's one person's opinion on one day


      • #4
        Wide hands are only bad if they are lowered and held, if you widen your hands in training to keep the horse in contact, they should be slightly higher, so that the horse is not held down, which blocks the haunches.

        The hands should ideally be a straight line from the elbow to the mouth, both from above and for the side. not lowered, not widened, always returning to the ideal position as soon as possible.

        that said, i agree, if this is an isolated comment, do not worry too much about it, although in training, holding the horses head down with widened hands is not going to help in develop uphill balance


        • #5
          In the video, your hand are wide, and unstable. Wide hands seem to be common to event riders who want their horse round,now. Your horse is kind enough to comply, but many develop rigidity in their necks as a result. This will lock up their haunches.
          Taking it day by day!


          • #6
            At this level your riding is fine IMO.

            When working hard to keep a young horse through some of us don't look like perfect graceful riders because we are not on a seasoned horse and cant just "sit pretty".

            To me your seat looks effective and just fine, but you have to take into account that some judges don't really like certain things and let it effect the over all.

            Some judges wont like your style even if there is no particular thing about it. The way the horse is going tells me you are RIDING him instead of passengering the test with a horse above the bit or strung out like so many do at that level wondering why collection is beyond their horse later on.
            ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


            • #7
              Think of it as something to work on. Quieter more centered hands. When I saw your post I thought you were riding a baby greenie, and often a wider hand just helps them get a clue about bending through a corner, but that is not the case here.


              • #8
                Think about what we picture as the ultimate in dressage, the rider in tails with the reins in 1 hand. Widening your hands is the antithesis of that. It makes any aid you apply with that way louder (for lack of a better term) and somewhat harsher. It's like broadcasting that your horse won't listen. And it shuts down the haunches for a number of reasons. It's like driving with your foot on the brake. You can't really half halt from that position. And encourages the horse to drop at the withers. As chisamba points out this becomes more severe when the hands are lowered.

                When riding a green horse that struggles with maintaining contact, this can be challenging. I find that maintain the correct position but rotating my hands slightly out (inside of the wrists up) from the normal thumbs up position often takes up enough slack to encourage the horse back to the bit. It is important to do this immediately when the horse comes off the contact and release (back to thumbs up) when the horse takes up the contact again. It is a much smaller move that doesn't unbalance your position the way wide hands can and it can be adapted eventually to slightly wiggling your pinky to barely vibrate the curb rein when you go a double.

                AllWeatherGal's point about criticism is interesting. It is something I used to struggle with too. Now I am only discourage if there is nothing I can do to fix the problem. For example, in this case, you've been told you are doing something wrong that you can fix! That is good news because you are going to be a better rider when you do
                That is the kind of feedback we want, even if it hard to hear sometimes.
                See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


                • #9
                  It's only one test on one day

                  I scribe for dressage shows and for eventing phases as well as compete in both dsiciplines. I am just as confused by Wide Hands as you, so I've put it down to the judge.

                  In eventing, I have had judges score riders with wide hands 8's and the horses being ridden getting great marks when the frame could only be maintained with wide hands. (while I'm scribing I'm steaming inwardly, "yeah, I could get mine round and down too IF I rode the whole test with my hands over my knees!!") - strangely enough these judges I'm thinking of have USDF letters to their names but don't seem to get booked for dressage shows in my area.

                  In dressage, I've never seen a rider with wide hands get good rider scores nor the horse get good scores when the test is ridden with wide hands, except when I've scribed for the L program and that seems to be rider/trainers who are trying to get rated to be judges.

                  In eventing I may or may not place higher than the rider who rode with wide hands; in dressage shows I will always place higher than the rider with wide hands. When I school, I've also been corrected by Olympic dressage judges who want my hands 4 inches apart and have been schooled by Olympic eventing riders to make my hands really wide "to let my horse's hind leg come through."

                  I guess my tip is: when at a dressage show, keep them hands as close to wither's width as possible. When you're at home training, use wide hands only to allow your horse to develop the hind leg engagement/strength, then put your hands back together softly and open your ribcage/core as to not create a wall that will block the hind leg "throughness."


                  • #10
                    If you really want meaningful feedback, you need better video - I can only see your hands when you are right by the camera - otherwise, you are a small dot on a small gray dot moving around in a rectangular frame. Sorry - I hate cell-phone video, there is no zoom, it is not useful.

                    The few times your hands were visible (I only watched 2 minutes before I got tired of the small dot), they were wide - but I couldn't tell if that was an ongoing position or not.

                    Years ago, a clinician explained to a rider that very wide hands cause the horse's energy to bounce back and forth between the hands instead of forward - he said the hands are like a corridor - you can either channel the energy forward or bounce around wall to wall. Maybe that is what she meant by blocking the haunches?

                    If the overall ride went well then 5 for rider position is pretty harsh. I do often see people really widen their hands to "force" the horse's head down - especially in stretchy circles.


                    • #11
                      First of all pride per se has not place in riding. And too often actual ability to train is ignored, and there are many posed riders with little (positive) effect on the actual training mechanisms. Many riders hold their hands too low (no straight line from elbow to horses mouth...broken downward.. creating hollowing horses), or too narrow (for their horse to find the middle since they are not yet fully trained horses).And width also depends upon the breadth of the rider, straight line to bit is wider than 6" if the rider is less narrow. So, moving on from that. Get over the numbers. Address what you were going for (which we do not know except that it is a greener horse). The point is to have the horse step evenly into both reins, and the judging should be based on whether that is happening.

                      And I agree with All weather...it is not the wide hands per se, but holding any rein effect (high/wide/etc) there ALL the time. Then there is DEGREE of width and heights.

                      There are many parts to your question: Wide hands help the horse 'find the middle' of the "v" of contact. I have no problem suggesting/using this effect TEMPORARILY and without use of the fists/etc.) Wider hinds (width of the hips) can prevent a horse which are trying to run out at fence because the rider is holding both sides of the bit equally. And ideally there is a straight line from elbow to horse's mouth when see from above as well as from the side. The greener the horse the more likely wider might be needed. Such widening will NOT block the stepping through, they will assist it.

                      That said, then we have to ask: low and wide, neutral (straight line from elbow to horse's mouth) or high and wide. Each has an effect. Low and wide enforces (too early) longitudinal flexion and is very agressive onto the bars. Neutral and wide is pretty much just helping the horse find the middle. High and wide can help the horse to seek lower/open (because it acts on the corners of the mouth); but it is used only as a suggestion, and then the rider returns to neutral.

                      Next we get to what you were doing which was helpful and what was problematic. Yes the horse found the center somewhat, good part. Wide is one thing, use of reins another. It is usually combines with an opening inside rein to get the horse into the outside rein effect and straight. Yet, you use an opening outside rein which is incorrect. The MOST problematic was the realllllllly wide hands in walk. That IS blocking the proper use of the quarters (as is the opening outside rein seen in corners.) This was uncomfortable I'm and did NOT follow the bascule/telescoping of the neck in free walk (which is MORE problematic), and has a very negative effective on the quality of the walk). Wide low does not allow the horse to go fdo in the stretch, wide and steering cause problems with the line, wide and high slow the horse . And that is where we saw repeated problems which were causing you to kick the horse forward too often. The steadily too high (broken upward) ends up biting you in the fanny. The horse WAS attempting to seek the hand because you were asking all the time, so it slowed, got stuck, etc etc.

                      The VERY temporary lifting (aka a vertical half halt/demi arret) is meant to be used for a STEP, and then review the reactions of the horse. IF you are going to lift keep the upper arms hanging by the sides, turn the thumbs up/even out.
                      I.D.E.A. yoda


                      • Original Poster

                        I want to thank everyone for their replies. They have been really informative. During the test itself I think I don't trust myself to give as much with my hands, worrying he will come up and I will lose the connection. When in reality, whenever I do move my hands forward he stretches longer as he should. He is a small horse, and by default I ought to be encouraging him to stretch longer and really track up, rather than keeping him behind my leg and superficially round.
                        My riding has lost a lot of it's polish in the past year as I ride to many young and green horses, and don't take enough lessons. (This is changing in 16 days when I move to a working student job! )

                        Yesterday, I really focused on my position, and keeping my hands neatly in front of me. At times, I felt myself get tight through my arms as I think muscle memory crept in to widen them. However, consistently the horse went better.

                        I do apologize for the video quality. (The video is actually 5 months previous, but the only one in my possession to share.) Within the past year the folks, who are part owners in this horse, have gone through 2 video cameras. The iphone is currently a temporary substitution.


                        • #13
                          I'm not even close to being an expert, so take mine however you will

                          Everybody, even/especially judges, have pet peeves, and I think you found this judge's.

                          I do it too, especially at corners or in circles. I'm not quite sure why. Sometimes it feels like by keeping my hands close, it closes up my body and builds tension (like Sally Swift's bow-tie of tension image). When my trainer shouts "open up your chest," I can open my chest, but so too go the shoulders and hands. I just have to make hands close together the new default, and work on creating independence between torso, hips, shoulders, elbows, hands. And seat. And legs. I have a lot to work on

                          Jane Savoie recommends four to six inches, which is a LOT smaller than I thought it was when I crunched down on my hand-width habits. She suggests trying (riding at home, not in shows of course) to hold a stick or crop with your thumbs while riding, or to bridge reins.

                          I know in my own riding, my aids become a lot more effective when I work on keeping them together. Good luck!


                          • #14
                            You might try to subscribe to Dressage Training Online and watch different trainers. You will find lots of useful knowledge shared there.
                            "Where knowledge ends violence begins." B. Ljundquist


                            • #15
                              I did not watch the whole video as most of it was really too far away from the camera to tell a whole bunch. If you stop the action at about 1:34, you can see daylight under your arms almost to your armpits. What this means is that you have taken your whole arm away from the side of your torso, and this makes your seat less effective. What you want to do is just allow your arms to hang straight from the shoulder sockets, and then bend your elbow such that you have the correct line to the bit. Now to achieve the same effect with the bit as you get when you take your arms out, you use your wrists to rotate the thumbs. This keeps your arm stable, but changes the contact in the horse's mouth from the snaffle. To turn, you slightly turn your thumbs in the direction of motion. To stay straight, you keep the thumbs on top. To form the same kind of wall with the bit that you have from widening your arms away from your torso, you turn your thumbs slightly toward the inside, such that they momentarily point to the opposite bit ring. When you turn a thumb inward, it blocks the shoulder to a greater degree, so if you are riding with one thumb always turned inward, you are blocking the horse's diagonal that has that shoulder as its front end. Think about what this means for the halt, and for the reinback later on. By the way, turning your thumb inward slightly also takes your elbows slightly away from your torso, and this is okay. Do not keep your arms tightly held to your torso in order to try to prevent this from happening.

                              You mention that the horse is lazy. This comes because you have a very strong driving seat, but the reins are too short to allow the horse to reach enough into the bit to match the push from your seat. He cannot extend to the fullest stride of his ability because of this restriction from the bit.