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Need some opinions/examples about how soft one's arms should be...

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  • Need some opinions/examples about how soft one's arms should be...

    Backstory: I've been riding for 12 years now and moved to an H/J barn back in August. I come from a low level eventing and Pony Club (as a kid) background. This is my first time in an H/J barn and I'm loving it. The instruction is much, much better IMO and even though I'm riding considerably less than I used to I'm absorbing 10x more information.

    Anyway...

    Previously, I was a stiff rider. I didn't realize it most of the time because I always felt pretty relaxed, but my back and arms did not flex and move with the horse's motion. In the past month or so my coach has finally gotten me to loosen up. It's helped tremendously, especially over fences. My arms/hands have become soft enough that they just follow the horse over fences. I no longer do much of a crest release. I just... go. I know it's working out well because even if I get left behind my arms just snap out and I don't get heaved out of the saddle.

    The issue now is, my arms are almost TOO soft and following it seems. I ride a senior TB who pulls and leans if you let him get away with it. His halts can get pretty sloppy if you don't stay on him about it. What is happening is that when he leans into a halt, for example, instead of my hands stopping that, they just follow him. My arms/hands have become so bungee cord-like that I am inadvertantly not stopping him from pulling/leaning when I should.

    I've been watching some videos of top H/J riders recently trying to get some examples in my mind and it's making me wonder about my arms and hands. I don't have any video yet of me riding, but I know my arms are pretty springy. They bend and get straighter as the horse moves, especially at the canter. I'm keeping a good connection with the mouth and all, but I'm beginning to question if my arms need to be more still. Is there a certain amount of motion that one should have? Is there a limit? I don't feel uncomfortable the way I am now and I don't feel like I'm forcing it. I'm just relaxed and letting my hads follow the horse's mouth. But am I too relaxed?

  • #2
    If your arms are elastic and following, and you are able to maintain a steady contact without unintended moments of slack in the reins, then consider that a great accomplishment in of itself.

    It sounds to me... that now that you have this wonderful elastic contact, you just need to begin learning how to use this ability effectively as an independent aid.

    To develop your contact into an effective aid you need to understand that you are allowed to use those reins to communicate with your horse in effective ways.

    If your horse is leaning on you and you don't know what to do, then I'll guess your next step will be to work on understanding how to accomplish putting your horse in front of your leg and riding him forward into the bit with engagement. But first have your trainer or some other more experienced rider get on your horse to be sure that your horse is fit and able to cooperatively go in that manner.

    If another rider can get your horse on the bit, and go balanced, and engaged, then you'll know that you're not working against some physical or behavioral issue that may complicate your learning progress.

    I'd think from you're description of your riding ability, that you may be in the perfect moment to begin training at a more sophisticated level. If your current trainer is not able to help you progress with this more advanced level of riding, then you may need to train with someone who can.

    Some lessons with a trainer with a solid understanding if dressage might be a good choice to help you begin understanding the basics of the circle of aids, start you riding from inside leg to outside hand, and developing a feeling of having a horse between your leg and your hand. After having this kind of "connected" riding experience, these questions that you posted about should become answered as you develop these new abilities.

    Hope this makes sense...

    Comment

    • Original Poster

      #3
      Oh, don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't know how to halt a horse correctly or get them ahead of the leg. This horse (who isn't mine, btw, he's a schoolie) is actually very forward moving and very responsive to aids. He WILL come back and stop leaning when you tell him to. It's just he sort of can gradually slide into that leaning state and I don't realize it right away because I just go with it. As soon as I realize he's doing it I can get him back. That's why I'm asking, where is that perfect medium for your hands/arms? The place where they are loose enough that you can follow the mouth, but not so loosey-goosey that you don't notice and can immediately fix a horse that is getting strung out? My coach said that I'm getting too loose, but that it's better to be like that than too stiff.

      I do have a dressage background, actually, coming from Eventing Land and all. The previous coach instructed via classical methods. Flatwork is very important with my current coach and we often spend entire lessons on it. The horse I'm riding most of the time is actually quite good on the flat. He gets quick and flat once we start jumping. I am currently schooling shoulder-in and haunches-in and I can do turns on the haunches and forehand all day long with him.

      I think I'm just getting very loose in general. I also have to really watch my grip on the reins. My grip gets a bit loose and my reins will gradually get longer and longer without me noticing. I'm getting better about monitoring it though. I really just need to find the balance between being relaxed and following but still being aware and in control of those aids.

      Comment


      • #4
        I'm sure your horse would agree that softer is better. Paying attention to how much he's leaning is just a part of your new skill set.
        A proud friend of bar.ka.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Hunter Mom View Post
          I'm sure your horse would agree that softer is better. Paying attention to how much he's leaning is just a part of your new skill set.
          This^

          Comment


          • #6
            I think you're just at that point of your riding development where you're figuring out the concept of true "feel" - how to follow, when to hold when to soften, when to add and subtract leg and how much of each to do at exactly the right moment to keep the horse in balance.

            You may just need to find mental triggers to keep it together now.

            For example, you can remind yourself that soft arms does not equal open fingers, which could be happing in your efforts to follow the horse's mouth.

            Also, I find it helps to think of influencing the horse with my core/hip angle/lower back first, i.e. - stiffen abs/open hip angle to lift and soften lower back/gently close hip angle to soften, with the arms naturally following each of these movements.

            It's probably just about refining your ride with the subtle nuances we all wish we could master!

            Teaching feel is SO difficult, the right pair of eyes on the ground will do wonders for it.
            Proud Member of the "Tidy Rabbit Tinfoil Hat Wearers" clique and the "I'm in my 30's and Hope to be a Good Rider Someday" clique

            Comment


            • #7
              I think what you need to figure out is not how much your arms are moving, but how much weight you have in your rein. A following/elastic elbow is ideal, but you can change the amount of weight you're holding in your hands, but continue to follow the horse's mouth. The weight of the rein changes as situations change through your ride, depending on what you or the horse needs. Changing from a 1lb weight to 5lb to 10lb, back to 1, etc is what you should try and aim for, and the timing of when to go up or down in weight.

              One thing with pulling is a horse can't full if there's nothing to pull against.

              To think of it another way, why would you want your arms more still? Arms/hands that don't follow horse's mouth will create slight changes in tension on the reins with every stride, causing the horse to get hit in the mouth with the bit every time. To think of it in an exagerated way, think of reins going loopy than taunt. Keeping your arms still will cause the loops and tauntness since they won't be following the horse's mouth.

              Hope this helps!
              All that is gold does not glitter;
              Not all those who wander are lost.
              ~J.R.R. Tolkien
              http://theimperfectperfecthorse.blogspot.com/

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                I agree completely. I know that you want steady contact with the mouth because that means clear communication and not agitating the horse. I guess I just get concerned because I see videos of other folks riding and their hands and arms seem very still. Not stiff per se, but not flexing back and forth with the canter.

                (Before I say the following, I really have no idea who anyone "big" is in H/J World. I have no clue who's who and who's good at what, etc. I'm trying to learn some names just so I don't sound like a numbnut in conversation.)

                For example, I watched a couple videos today of Jacob Pope. He's a good guy, right? Anyway, his hands were very, very still. Like the hardly moved between fences. Is this just a certain "style" or due to how the horse moves?

                I'm not trying to stir up negative comments... just trying to understand why people do what they do and what that means for me. At this point, I'm just worried about being a good rider... not following trends or trying to mimick whoever's having their 15 minutes of fame. I prefer the "look" of old school hunters really, even though I don't think I'll be showing hunters much in the future years. I think I'm more of a jumper gal.

                Comment


                • #9
                  You shouldn't see much movement, especially from the hands. Softness and give in the reins comes more from the elbow and, in my experience, from the way the rein is in the hand (clenched tightly versus held in a more relaxed way). A stiff hand/arm is going to be locked at the elbow, which prevents the take-and-give that is available in a soft arm. I've always found that it's easier to be soft with a slightly higher hand (and it took me a long time to really get my arms to loosen up - a VBNR called me "Pipe Arms" for about a year until I figured it out).

                  The best thing about a soft [effective] rider is that you won't notice what they're doing.
                  http://www.youtube.com/user/supershorty628
                  Proudly blogging for The Chronicle of the Horse!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by supershorty628 View Post
                    The best thing about a soft [effective] rider is that you won't notice what they're doing.


                    But you will be able to see the relationship between the riders balance and the horses balance.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      OP Honestly it sounds like you don't have a hands/rein issue so much as you have a seat/plugged in issue.

                      Can you yield the reins forward and have the horse maintain speed/balance from just your seat?

                      The reason you may see some upper level riders appearing to hardly move is that they can control the horse's balance so that the horse comes to them, or is where they want it to be. As opposed to a more novice rider who moves themselves to remain with the horse.

                      It is a question of "who is leading the dance?" Are you following the horse or are you sculpting the horse to your requirements? Riders who appear to 'do nothing' are sophisticated enough that they put the horse where they want it, they do not adjust themselves to be where the horse wants them.
                      "Friend" me !

                      http://www.facebook.com/isabeau.solace

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Originally posted by Isabeau Z Solace View Post
                        OP Honestly it sounds like you don't have a hands/rein issue so much as you have a seat/plugged in issue.

                        Can you yield the reins forward and have the horse maintain speed/balance from just your seat?

                        The reason you may see some upper level riders appearing to hardly move is that they can control the horse's balance so that the horse comes to them, or is where they want it to be. As opposed to a more novice rider who moves themselves to remain with the horse.

                        It is a question of "who is leading the dance?" Are you following the horse or are you sculpting the horse to your requirements? Riders who appear to 'do nothing' are sophisticated enough that they put the horse where they want it, they do not adjust themselves to be where the horse wants them.


                        How do I tell if this is the issue?

                        I seem to be pretty secure in the saddle, if that's what you mean. I don't feel my legs sliding about, especially over fences. I know my left legs jiggles at the trot a bit... but it's getting better as my muscle memory improves in my lower leg. I definitely feel like there's moments between fences when I sort of have to "catch up" with the horse... not thinking fast enough and keeping up I guess.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by alternate_universe View Post
                          How do I tell if this is the issue?

                          I seem to be pretty secure in the saddle, if that's what you mean. I don't feel my legs sliding about, especially over fences. I know my left legs jiggles at the trot a bit... but it's getting better as my muscle memory improves in my lower leg. I definitely feel like there's moments between fences when I sort of have to "catch up" with the horse... not thinking fast enough and keeping up I guess.
                          I'll reiterate my opinion that you may be best served in seeking these answers with the assistance of a capable trainer.

                          An educated rider "knows" when a horse is listening to their aids and responding attentively to them. It's a simple matter of asking, and receiving an obedient response immediately.

                          Think of it as a telephone conversation, it's only a conversation so long as both parties are attentively communicating with one another with mutual comprehension of each others words. The moment that one party to the conversation ceases responding in a comprehensive way, it's no longer a conversation, and it should become obvious to at least one party in the conversation, that the connection of mutual understanding has been broken.

                          So using the above analogy, apply that to riding, and realize that educated riders are having an ongoing continuous conversation with their horses as they ride, and if the horse ceases responding to them, they know it immediately.

                          Additionally,

                          Your questions seem something like reverse engineering to me.

                          Imagine an aspiring artist who wishes to learn to oil paint, by trying to teach themselves oil painting techniques by exclusively viewing the finished artworks of other painters.

                          How could such a person ever efficiently learn of the multitude painting techniques created with the use of each brush type, palette knife techniques, wet on wet blending, etc. etc..

                          The finished artwork that they study may offer clues as to how it was created, but much of what makes it a masterpiece was the ability of the artist to apply artist techniques with precision and talent in a deliberate and methodical manner, using a planned layering of effects. Some of those essential artistic eliminates having been buried deep in the first layers of paint applied, and reworked with overlays of subsequent applications of paint, thus obscuring the complete process of achieving that artistic effect from visual detection.

                          That art student, unless they are some sort of rare genius, would probably be far better off having some formal art education to bring them a level of awareness of the basic and advanced techniques used by master artists to create beautiful oil paintings.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            It sounds to me that you may be over thinking this. It seems that you understand the "concept" of a soft, following arm. I've seen many riders such as yourself that believe that they are "following" when if fact, they are just moving their arms back and forth and in effect, pumping at the horse. You really should be quite still.

                            Many a rider puts way too much emphasis on "what they're doing" and not nearly enough emphasis on feeling what's going on under there! You can't "feel" when you're busy up there or you're "thinking" all the time. Sit still and feel!
                            http://patchworkfarmga.com

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              There are some great video's on Equestriancoach.com that focus on creating feeling in your arms and hands and the by amazing trainers like Val Renihan and Bernie Traurig. While it seems like you understand this concept and are doing in great maybe seeing someone teaching the concept will help you pinpoint what you are doing right and may be missing.

                              http://www.equestriancoach.com/conte...arms-and-hands

                              This video is about the automatic release, which is a much more advanced release, that you should be happy that you've got the hang of. Again I find seeing these concepts taught/demonstrated help me see what I'm doing right or wrong or perhaps in your case over exaggerating???
                              http://www.equestriancoach.com/conte...omatic-release

                              Good Luck!

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