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Softening my hands

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  • Softening my hands

    I just got back from a 3 month hiatus from riding. Now I wasn't any where near perfect before that, but it seems as though I've developed a "death grip" so to speak ever since coming back. When ever I try to soften, I end up losing the contact and it all just goes down hill from there. I think a lot of it is fear, my horse get a bit quick, I tense up, which causes my horse to tense up, avoid the bit and get faster.

    I really want to fix this! Does anybody have any exercises that will help me soften up but still keep a good contact with the horse? TIA
    Talking to some people is like folding a fitted sheet.

  • #2
    Steady but consistent contact comes from a supple elbow and your horse properly schooled to your leg to keep them up into the bridle.

    If you have fear, the best thing would be to find a mount that is more suited to you and your comfort level at this time.

    Welcome back to riding and best wishes!
    www.brydellefarm.com ....developing riders, NOT passengers!
    Member of LNHorsemanshipT & Proud of It Clique
    "What gets me up every morning is realizing how much more there is still to learn." -GHM

    Comment


    • #3
      Balance. Work on your leg - heels stretching down, legs wrapped around the girth of the horse, toes "slightly" out but more forward on the flat, calfs softly on the horses sides, soft knees, get in two point and BALANCE. Do it at the walk, do it at the trot and canter....

      The more your lower parts are secure and balanced the better you are able to use your hands (softly)

      AND your horse MUST BE BALANCED TOO. It all works in combination.
      Live in the sunshine.
      Swim in the sea.
      Drink the wild air.

      Comment


      • #4
        Work without stirrups will help strengthen your seat and legs to the point that quiet, virtually unnecessary hands will be the norm. Have a trainer or friend do lunge line work with you, with no reins at all, hands on hips, hands on head, hands on shoulders... until you can trust yourself.

        Comment


        • #5
          Use one rein when your horse gets quick. You don't have to yank or spin or anything, just when you want to pull back, only do it on one rein. Now your horse is bending, and you are in charge, but he still has somewhere to go forward. Forget straight lines as long as he is quick.
          The journey is the destination.

          Comment


          • #6
            What others have said... this is probably more of an elbow/weak base issue than a hand issue. If give came from our hands, it would be acceptable to ride with open fingers : ) Now you definitely need to be aware of how many pounds of pressure you are exerting on the reins with your fingers, and I would say focusing on how much tension you carry in your fingers when you do things like half-halt, etc, is a good way to increase awareness of this (for example, a light half halt could just be a matter of squeezing your fist/fingers for a moment in conjunction with sitting up, etc). When you don't want to exert pressure, your fingers and wrist should be relaxed but closed.

            However, give really comes from your elbows. Once you've worked on your base and really ensured your base is independent of your hands, then it's time to work on your elbows. Two things that I've found to work: flip your hands over on your reins. So instead of the tail of the reins coming through the top of your hand, it will come through the bottom, if this makes sense. It's impossible to exert much pressure or strength on the reins when you're holding them like this. You have no choice but to follow (this is actually a trick that my trainer used to teach me the automatic release . Your elbow is a pivot point, or a lever -- it goes backward and forward. The other trick -- have someone come up to you while you are in the saddle, standing still, holding the reins at the same length you would use for trot/canter. Have them hold the reins below the horses mouth and pull toward them and then release back to you, so it's like a seesaw, back and forth motion (this should have no affect on the horse's mouth, it just pulls your hand back and forth). If you have a death grip and a stiff elbow, it will pull you forward and then leave you with slack in the reins when the reins go back. If you have a soft elbow -- and this is what you can work on -- your hands and elbow will softly follow the forward motion and then move back, forward and back, keeping consistent/light contact with the other person the whole time. Your elbows should give and take like this when you ride and the horse's head/neck moves.
            Gentleman J - "Junior" - My been-there, done-that jumper

            Send Your Love - "Serena" - Aug 10th 2009, Rest in Peace

            Comment


            • #7
              Oh, one other thing! Imagine that you are actually holding on to the bit in the corner of each horses mouth. Heck, put a bit in your mouth for a minute and play with the edges of the bit to understand the action. When you think of it this way, you become much more aware of how each action of your hands/elbow is impacting the corners of your horse's mouth.
              Gentleman J - "Junior" - My been-there, done-that jumper

              Send Your Love - "Serena" - Aug 10th 2009, Rest in Peace

              Comment


              • #8
                another thing to think about when holding the reins is - if you are going to tighten your fingers; use your thumb and index finger tighter, not your ring and pinky finger.
                Live in the sunshine.
                Swim in the sea.
                Drink the wild air.

                Comment


                • #9
                  You could do like I did when I was having trouble doing much without a death grip on the reins:

                  Ride without.

                  My instructor made me do lots of exercises where I'd drop the reins and hold my arms out my sides, or straight up in the air or whatever. She even had me posting and doing two point like that.

                  Of course, if you're worried your horse might run off with you (we ride in a pretty small ring and my horse isn't the kind to go anywhere, really. He tended to just keep motoring around in a circle around my instructor, LOL), you could have someone put you on a lungeline to do it until you got more comfortable.

                  The idea was I had to remind myself that holding on to the reins wouldn't keep him in the saddle. Plus, all the exercises without them helped with my balance and such so I could keep myself better in the saddle and felt more confident about doing so.

                  Once you remind yourself that the reins are simply there for communication with the horse and not as something that you must grip tightly at all costs, then you can work on being soft (and like someone else said, it's more in the elbows/arms than just in your hands).

                  All of that said, I make no claims as to being some great rider and these are still things I struggle with.
                  The Trials and Jubilations of a Twenty-Something Re-rider
                  Happy owner of Kieran the mostly-white-very-large-not-pony.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I've had a similar experience (although I'm not coming back from a hiatus).
                    My trainer has me holding my reins differently so that I can learn the feel and how many pounds I should have in my hands to be effective.
                    I hold them like I'm holding driving reins (hard to explain) but imagine holding the reins of a carraige. This way I can't develop that death grip. I do this for 10-15 minutes and then flip them to a normal rein hold. It has been really helpful with giving me a better overall feel and flex in my elbow.
                    Good luck!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by veebug22 View Post
                      However, give really comes from your elbows. Once you've worked on your base and really ensured your base is independent of your hands, then it's time to work on your elbows. Two things that I've found to work: flip your hands over on your reins. So instead of the tail of the reins coming through the top of your hand, it will come through the bottom, if this makes sense. It's impossible to exert much pressure or strength on the reins when you're holding them like this. You have no choice but to follow (this is actually a trick that my trainer used to teach me the automatic release . Your elbow is a pivot point, or a lever -- it goes backward and forward. The other trick -- have someone come up to you while you are in the saddle, standing still, holding the reins at the same length you would use for trot/canter. Have them hold the reins below the horses mouth and pull toward them and then release back to you, so it's like a seesaw, back and forth motion (this should have no affect on the horse's mouth, it just pulls your hand back and forth). If you have a death grip and a stiff elbow, it will pull you forward and then leave you with slack in the reins when the reins go back. If you have a soft elbow -- and this is what you can work on -- your hands and elbow will softly follow the forward motion and then move back, forward and back, keeping consistent/light contact with the other person the whole time. Your elbows should give and take like this when you ride and the horse's head/neck moves.
                      I was just going to suggest this! And I agree with the others that the stronger your base is, the quieter and softer your hand will be.
                      Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique

                      PONY'TUDE

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I can definitely relate, and it's something I've been working on too. I find that when my trainer says 'soften your hand' I actually need to soften my elbows... it feels like I'm over-exaggerating a moving, fluid elbow, but it does the trick. (I also have to break the bad habit of trying to 'soften my hand' by opening my fingers .)

                        I agree that part of my problem is a weaker base of support, causing me to over-rely on my hands when otherwise I could use my inner thigh and core to balance and slow my horse down more effectively. The other thing I've been trying to think about is to half-halt more firmly so that I get a reaction and then release, rather than a weak half halt that my horse doesn't respond to, that leads to me just hanging on him. Good luck!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by veebug22 View Post
                          dent of your hands, then it's time to work on your elbows. Two things that I've found to work: flip your hands over on your reins. So instead of the tail of the reins coming through the top of your hand, it will come through the bottom, if this makes sense. It's impossible to exert much pressure or strength on the reins when you're holding them like this. You have no choice but to follow (this is actually a trick that my trainer used to teach me the automatic release .

                          This.

                          It's called a "driving rein." I'm pretty sure it's almost impossible to NOT maintain soft, following contact when you're holding your reins this way.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            All the above AND..............

                            Do you know someone with good, soft hands? Your trainer maybe? sit astride on a bale of straw facing that person,who is also sitting astride the bale. hold a rein in your hands, a rein that goes directly to their hands. Then , "ride"{......let them let YOU feel how soft their hands are...how they give rein aids....how they stop the horse...how they give when they are urging the horse foward....how they use their hands for half halts ..... At first YOU will be the horse's mouth....then change places.
                            "Over the Hill?? What Hill, Where?? I don't remember any hill!!!" Favorite Tee Shirt

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              look first to your leg and seat.....

                              In the absence of injury or underlying pathology, capacity to create an elastic arm is IMO directly related to seat stability....aka how you transfer lower leg stability to the hip then torso.
                              Within that is how you put your lower on the horse, saddle and horse width, stirrup length, etc....

                              I'd say set up a list, then work through each one with your instructor.

                              Regards,
                              Medical Mike
                              equestrian medical researcher
                              www.equicision.com

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                In addition to making your elbows elastic and giving, you also need to relax your shoulders. When your horse tosses his head, he is telling you to relax, don't be so tense. When he does this, gently roll your shoulders up and back a few times.

                                I hope this helps! I'm also need to unlearn the habit of opening my fingers in an attempt to be soft.

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