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How do you (mentally, physically, existentially?) ride with soft elbows?

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  • #21
    Jane Savoie suggests thinking "washing clothes" (ala a washboard) with hands for walk & canter. She had another analogy for trot, but I forget what it was.


    • #22
      I like to say that everything from the elbows down is a representation of the horse and what you want the horse to be like, and everything from the elbows up belongs to you and is a representation of you.

      So your elbows should stay firmly at your side beause you want your body to stay tall and upright with a supporting core and not leaning forward.

      Your elbows down need to stay soft because you want your horse to stay soft.


      • #23
        Originally posted by NSRider View Post
        I was at a George Morris clinic the other day, and one thing that he said that has resonated with me is:
        "The hands belong to the MOUTH not the WITHER!"

        So, in that reasoning, the hands must follow the mouth and not stay with the wither. I have a HORRIBLE habit of opening my elbows and letting my hands sit/hover just above the wither and not move. One thing I try to do to help this is lift my hands up and really actively FOLLOW the mouth. It feels strange at first, particularly if you're not used to moving your arms at all, but once you start doing it (repeatedly!) it will become natural and you'll feel the even tension it creates on the reins.

        It's a never ending process of going to far soft, or too ridgid and figuring out what best suits your horse and yourself for any particulary situation.
        I was about to post this. I audited a GM clinic last fall, and this stood out to me too. He complained about how hunter/jumper riders in North America generally have a terrible habit of putting their hands on the withers. I'm going to blame riding lessons where we get taught to hold our hands still (like one poster said, still is relative to the horse, not relative to our own bodies). If you lift your hands a few inches above the withers, your shoulders will roll back and your elbows will right away have more swing.

        Do you tend to roll your shoulders forward too? That's me all the way. I have to be very diligent about my hands/elbows/shoulders.
        I've spent most of my life riding horses. The rest I've just wasted.


        • #24
          My instructor says that tension in the arms is a reflection of tension in the legs - so have a quick check there.
          I feel for you, I've been working hard on this the past few years. When I have it right, the muscles in my forearm feel soft/relaxed. Sometimes thinking about that helps.
          The other tidbit from my instructor is that elbows move in a circle at the walk and canter. Adjust size of the circle for the situation (canter, free walk get bigger circles).


          • #25
            What works for me is usually just sitting limp-ish (but upright) at the walk and really asking for a forward walk, like we've got somewhere to be. I try to maintain posture and leg, but everything else just flops. So my hands, arms, and elbows are just kind of swinging along with the horse. This is how the forward walk helps cause it sets you into motion. Sometimes I exaggerate and move my hands forward and back with the horse just so I can loosen them up and get an idea of how I'm supposed to be moving. I usually do all this on a loose rein first, and then as I take up more contact throughout my ride it usually translates. Usually. If it doesn't, I go back to the exaggerated motion until I get it. I also like what other posters have said about keeping your hands off the withers. If I lift my hands out of my crotch but still maintain contact I have no choice but to be soft throughout my whole arm otherwise I'll end up hanging on to my horse's mouth. It kind of felt weird at first because I thought I was really hanging on her mouth, but then I realized that I was following but with more feel on the reins.
            I also had a previous trainer tell me to keep my elbows attached to my sides so that they would move with my upper body, and that my forearm was just an extension of my reins which in turn were an extension of the bit in the horse's mouth. It went a bit over my head until I realized I just had to ride like a T-rex. That changed my riding drastically. Same trainer also told me to keep the reins active in my hands. As in, sponge the reins, roll my fingers, anything to keep the feel on my horse's mouth active. When my hands were always doing something it was hard to keep any part of my arm locked.
            Also, ditto to the poster who said to check your leg. I worked on my leg and suddenly my upper body (arms included) became more adjustable.
            Well damn, that turned into a novel pretty fast. Kudos if you got through the whole thing!
            If i smell like peppermint, I gave my horse treats.
            If I smell like shampoo, I gave my horse a bath.
            If I smell like manure, I tripped.


            • #26
              Originally posted by enjoytheride View Post
              I like to say that everything from the elbows down is a representation of the horse and what you want the horse to be like, and everything from the elbows up belongs to you and is a representation of you. ...
              Your elbows down need to stay soft because you want your horse to stay soft.

              I love this. And I'll offer a couple of mental images to see if they'll help.

              1. Think about your hands holding a tray of hors d'oeuvres that you're offering to your horse. (If you prefer, you can imagine a dessert tray ) In either event, the tray is offered with strong hands (or it will drop) but soft elbows to welcome the horse/ guest to partake. Cocktail napkins are optional.

              2. How about trying to bring in a 20 lb. trout on a 10 lb. test line? You can't let go of the rod (reins), but you have to follow the movement or the line will snap.

              So go fishing with a dessert tray!
              They don't call me frugal for nothing.
              Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


              • #27
                My trainer uses "fluff your elbows" as a catchphrase for this kind of thing. It reminds me of things that are fluffy (clouds, clean towels, etc.) and makes a good visual to help keep the elbows soft.
                No Trouble
                2/2/05 - 7/29/13
                Rest In Peace my quirky brave boy, I will love you forever.


                • #28
                  when you feel yourself becoming tight through the elbow turn your thumbs all the way out so that the belly of your forearm points to the sky. It softens your biceps, pecs and deltoids.

                  Don't be afraid to air out your armpits. Often riders clamp down their armpits.

                  Also, as mentioned above, the walk and canter are "row boat" gaits.
                  Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!


                  • #29
                    I say watch these greats inspiration:





                    They may not have perfect form (I take my style as a mix of Simon and Whitaker) but they are soft. If you notice closely, their elbows and arms are elastic when their core (hips and waist) are elastic, even when their legs are all over.


                    • #30
                      fwiw, I used to hear a lot in lessons about letting my elbows swing or soften or follow..

                      I had ( and possibly still have) no kinesthetic awareness of my elbows - but I found that if every time the instructor said "swing" or "follow" w my elbows, if I swung or followed with my hips, I would then hear. "Good! Good!"

                      Since then I've figured out if our elbows AND hips/seat are still in relation to the horse, we end up w cramped or stilted gaits. But if we allow our pelvis and back to be swung by our horses' backs, we allow the head and neck to go through their balancing motion and we look like we're sitting "quietly."

                      It takes a lot of small motion in a lot of joints to make a "quiet rider."