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Advice to relax my arm?

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    Advice to relax my arm?

    I'm riding at a barn a lot and every lesson I hear "Relax the arm!"

    I've ridden with a tense arm for a long time, I have a hard time feeling what is natural (because it feels so unnatural to me). I can work it out somewhat in low pressure riding situations (or fake it, but the riding instructor sees that), but it's still a struggle, and if I start riding in a grid or up to a fence I lose all the feeling again.

    Any ideas would be very helpful!

    You may be holding your reins in a fist -- perhaps that is why your arm is tense. There are lots of fun things to do to free up your hand.

    Ride with both reins in one hand, and do something with the other. On your waist, on the small of your back, in your pocket, on your hat, etc.

    Ride with a double bridge.

    Change your reins to big fat round lead ropes.

    Ride with a whip behind your back and through your elbows.

    Turn your hand over and "drive" your reins with the rein coming out the top of your hand instead of the bottom.

    Put a small palm sized squeaky toy or an egg in your hands with the reins.

    That's all I can think of at the moment, but I know there are more methods to use!
    Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
    Read me: EN ( and HJU (


      Original Poster

      That is a nice thought, but I actually have the habit of opening my fingers to slip the reins, rather than follow in most cases.

      If I ever have kids that want to ride, they aren't going to ride crazy horses like I did . Then when they blame me for not having sticky seats I'll tell them that they can thank me for their relaxed arm .


        The thing about the relaxed arm is that you can have your arm nice and relaxed everywhere but one spot, and that one spot is blocking your communication with the horse. I tend to hold my elbows tight (individually) or keep tension in my rotator cuff. I'd bet you are doing something similar since you say you tend to let the reins slide through your hands.

        Work through your arm as you ride and relax each area - fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, shoulders. Practice off the horse - tighten the muscles in your arm and then without moving your arm, release the tension. Figure out where you tend to hold tension and you'll be able to release those areas without a lot of thought - which helps when riding to a jump.


          My trainer tells me to "noodle arm" if my arms* aren't relaxed. It works for me. I'm able to figure out if I've got uncooked or al dente arms and go from there

          *my lack of relax comes from a lack of mobility in my shoulders, but the noodle arm picture still works
          Pam's Pony Place

          Pam's Pony Ponderings


            Just curious (cause I have the same problem), but do you have relatively short arms? I find that I tend to tense up my arms more than my long-armed cohorts. I always assumed that it was harder for me to follow the horse's neck with my short arms and so I tense up. Of course long-armed people can tense up too...but my theory is that short-armed people are more likely to have this problem!


              Original Poster

              I do have short arms. I'm short all together 5'4", and I'm not a lanky 5'4" either.

              I have an easier time with having soft arms on my 15hh horse much easier than the 17.1hh mare I've been riding. I think it might be physically impossible for me to have a vertical back, elbows slightly in front of my sides, and hands slightly ahead of the withers on her, because my limbs just aren't long enough!



                Well the best advice I can offer is to check out "Centered Riding" by Sally Swift (which oddly enough I was just perusing through today). After becoming better acquainted with the centered riding philosophy, as well as talking to my trainer, I've come to the conclusion that it is not bio-mechanically impossible for us "short-armers" to ride correctly (with supple arms and proper equitation) but it is certainly more of a challenge.

                If you look at the book you'll discover that it is a lot more about whole body alignment than just addressing one isolated issue--but it should never-the-less really help you with your problem.


                  think of "juggling" but with very slight ups and downs, just thinking about moving mine helps me unlock them


                    it doesn't look impossible for you to ride with a relaxed arm in your picture.

                    I have longer arms...and can still struggle with this sometimes. For isn't thinking about my arm as much and thinking about holding with my core instead of my arm.

                    I find if I'm trying to hold my horse together (or they start to pull)...I start bracing with my arm. When I anchor my body and engage my core instead...I'm able to relax my arm. I suspect you have more trouble with your larger horse...because they are a larger horse

                    Good's something I've fought with for years.
                    ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                      Originally posted by Amchara View Post
                      I'm riding at a barn a lot and every lesson I hear "Relax the arm!"

                      I've ridden with a tense arm for a long time, I have a hard time feeling what is natural (because it feels so unnatural to me). I can work it out somewhat in low pressure riding situations (or fake it, but the riding instructor sees that), but it's still a struggle, and if I start riding in a grid or up to a fence I lose all the feeling again.

                      Any ideas would be very helpful!
                      rotate your thumbs out so that your palms are facing up.
                      This relaxes the shoulders and biceps from a biomedical standpoint.
                      When you think about over rotating your thumb out usually you end up just in the right spot because the thumb will slowly makes it's way back to "thumbs up" as you ride along. Then you have to repeat throughout the ride.

                      Also, try holding a driving rein every once in a while.
                      I do this if the horse is particularly heavy on a rein as to not get into a pulling match.
                      Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!


                        I'm working on relaxing my arms and am getting much better. My mantra is "elbow macaroni." Cooked macaroni that is--- loose and flexible. If my elbow is relaxed my arm is relaxed.


                          (I'm a shortie too :P 5'2") I have the same issue though my trainer calls out to me "zombie arms!" And I have noticed that on bigger horses its much more difficult as I feel if I don't have my hands forward, my reins don't have enough tension/contact.

                          However, my trainer prefers me to have relaxed arms in the right spot with my body than have them right around the withers and constantly tells me to just let them fall where they fall, and sometimes that means they don't even clear my saddle pommel (especially if the saddle is a bit big for me in the lesson).

                          What I do to relax my arms is to rotate my shoulders around which puts my arms relaxed back into place. It also helps to prevent me from having "duck wings"
                          Telling a worrier to relax is counterproductive. Then we worry about relaxing.


                            Originally posted by purplnurpl View Post
                            rotate your thumbs out so that your palms are facing up.
                            This relaxes the shoulders and biceps from a biomedical standpoint.
                            When you think about over rotating your thumb out usually you end up just in the right spot because the thumb will slowly makes it's way back to "thumbs up" as you ride along. Then you have to repeat throughout the ride.

                            Also, try holding a driving rein every once in a while.
                            I do this if the horse is particularly heavy on a rein as to not get into a pulling match.

                            This! I had the opportunity to ride Amerika today. My arms/hands have been a work in progress. Learning how to tweak them body part by body part. In the lesson today, the instructor had me hold my thumbs up/out in the air, and it helped let go a lot of my forearm tension. My shoulders/biceps all seemed to let go and fall in place and I was able to work on keeping elbows close by my side. Every time I felt my thumbs creep down towards the reins, I would circle them. This helped me so much!


                              Me too, me too!!
                              I am short--5'2", short waisted, short legged, short armed, and have many years of bad habits.
                              While I ride a big horse (17.2) I have the same problem on smaller horses, so I can't blame just the horse size.
                              I lock my elbows. And I have body awareness /coordination problem so telling me to relax a particular body part does me absolutely no good!!
                              Keeping my elbows at my side invariably means I then PULL, and lock my elbows even more. If I keep my elbows at my side though it then looks like my hands are in my lap due to my short arms :-( So I feel like I can't win and I get frustrated.
                              BUT I don't open my fingers. I hold those reins for dear life to be sure that pulling match keeps going ;-) So, I like the suggestion of holding a small squeeky toy (I will pass on the egg for right now though).

                              One thing that has helped me of late too is the concept of riding a bungee cord while also kicking up into to the bungee cords (reins). Elastic inserts however didn't help. I just pulled harder against them :-( But the mental picture, and mental feel, of bungee cords as reins worked for me. As long as I remembered to kick up into the bungee cords. And funny thing, Mare liked it too.

                              Now, off to find an appropriate sized squeeky toy!


                                I'm 5'9" and fairly lanky, but I also tense my arms up something fierce. For me, I think it's a reaction to my own horse, who has a HUGE head and neck and knows how to use it to his advantage, and is very, very heavy on the reins. Obviously we're working on getting him lighter all around, but in the meantime, I have to repeat a few mantras:

                                1) Relax elbows. I find that even *thinking* "relax your elbows!" helps.
                                2) Keep firm but not stiff through the wrists.
                                3) Relax shoulders by dropping shoulderblades and doing the sack-of-flour routine.
                                4) Resist any and all temptation to fight fire with fire: when he bears down, I have to remain secure in my core instead of responding with my hands and arms.

                                It's all still very much a work in progress but it is simultaneously gratifying and humiliating to feel him give almost instantly when I have relaxed my elbows.
                                life + horses
                                Bel Joeor Metier