View Full Version : Connection/contact - HELP me please!
27th Feb 2002, 04:03 PM
I feel really stupid for asking this question... I've been riding for long enough now that I should know the answer!
My riding instructor says (and I know she's right) that I always have too light a contact with any horse I ride. I have been riding for over 10 years now, from the kids' group lessons, through private lessons, loaning horses, etc... but I can't remember ever having been shown how strong your contact should be.
I know that you should always be able to feel your horse's mouth and that to achieve an outline, you play with your fingers on each rein in turn until you get a response... but I just can't seem to get it right. Everyone else can do it, why can't I work it out? It feels to me that I must be hurting the horse's mouth if I take a tighter hold, but I know I've just got a wrong perception of how much contact I should take.
I realise it's better to have too light a contact than too strong, but at present, all my hard work in creating impulsion is being wasted because it's going out the front door, so to speak!
When I do try to have my reins shorter, I feel as though I'm being pulled forward because my arms are further forward. I have only really had one lesson (at another riding school) where I achieved the right contact and a good outline, and that felt wonderful and so much easier! So I know my riding is good enough and my leg aids are right, if only I can get this contact problem sorted.
What kind of contact should I be feeling? How can I tell when it's right, and what's more, how can I keep it there? I can achieve a good outline in halt, keep it for what seems like a matter of moments in walk, and then it just goes. Surely it can't be a constant battle? (And before you say it might be the horse, it's not - she goes beautifully for everyone else!)
I'm sorry, I must sound so stupid - can anyone help?
27th Feb 2002, 04:43 PM
Not only is contact hard to "feel," the amount of contact that is right varies for each horse/rider combination!
You shouldn't have slack in your reins, and you shoud have a direct line from your elbow to the bit. From there, it's one of those things you have to test, get advice from the ground (someone with a different perpective), and just *feel* for yourself.
If your intructor says that you need a firmer contact, then you should take up the rein but _don't_ lean forward. Keep your shoulders back. You should "feel" the horse's mouth at the end of the reins.
Many horses carry their heads low given the opportunity. If you shorten your rein and it feelsyou are pulling on te horse's mouth too much, try to give him a bit of a haf halt (slight tug on the reins, slight squeeze with the ankles) to get him to lift his head. Once he is carrying his head properly, you won't feel like you're in a tug-of-war anymore.
Usually a horse will carry his head higher the faster you're going, so your reins need to be shorter to trot, even shorter to canter, and VERY short to jump.
27th Feb 2002, 11:04 PM
Something my instructor said, that helped me understand where she's coming from, "I can't teach you feel, because feel is different for every rider. I can tell you when to ask yourself, What does this feel like?, What am I doing, and how can I get this feel to come back to me?."
If it doesn't make sense, she was trying to say that when she see's that I have achieved the correct outline, etc, she'll ask me (assuming I get that light feel in my hands) what this feels like to me, and when I feel this feel, I know I am doing right, so I want this feel back and with me always when I ride (if any of that makes sense)....:o I'm sorry, I've probably confused you twenty times over! :rolleyes: I just thought I'd share some insight!
When you close your hands on the reins, don't make a fist; instead hold the rein firmly between the side of your index finger and thumb, and relax your hand with your other finger tips gently resting on your palms, free to close and open, easily on the reins. Hard to explain...ideally, your correct feel should feel like nothing is in your hands. Make sure you keep your shoulders back, and back straight. Sorry to be no further help! Good luck! This is a hard one to get (feel), and I'm still not 100% there, yet!
28th Feb 2002, 12:41 AM
Another important factor is how you hold the riens. You want your thumbs up top, with the main contact held between your thumb and index finger, your lower fingers around the rien but relaxed, and its these (combined with everything else) that help to give an elastic contact. Its your lower fingers that 'talk' to the horse, and suggest what you want to do. By going from relaxed fingers lightly embracing the rien, to a closed hand, your contact has quite alot of leeway without altering the length of the rien. And if you know a headstrong native type who still doesn't listen you can close your hand and turn your thumbs towards each other giving an even stronger aid.
As to the actual feel of the contact to take will definitely vary from horse to horse, I normally set off with longish reins, very light contact and push the horse towards them with my legs, staying very relaxed and letting the horse move me and wait for them to seek my hand - with my youngster forward with a relaxed stride on a soft contact is all I want. She responds imediately to my seat and a gentle squeeze on the rien.
With my headstrong native friend, asking her towards the bit means trot or jog, I use lots of seat and half halts to stop loosing her impulsion out the front door, she will lean on my hands given the chance, so with her I squeeze the riens alternately ( I don't mean sawing her mouth) if that doesn't work I sit up and slightly back, relaxing my weight as far down into the saddle as I can, really open up my shoulders and close my hands, thumbs together, and at the same time closing my seat and sending my wieght down through my legs, then relaxing and repeating if I have to. So that she can identify that my whole body is saying 'slow down'. On my releases I'm asking her to take the rien, she does eventually, but with her we start with a soft rien that she normally abuses, go to a firm/give firm/give contact using my weight and seat, then when she's ready we have a nice contact and we have fun.
I totally agree that the correct feel of contact is not taught. I really had my eyes opened when I was taught to long rien, keeping the horse on an even contact, using the riens on the horses side instead of your legs, I have always been weak on my outside rien, allowing it to drop. Do this long reining and the evidence is right in front of you, you lose the shoulders, quickly followed by the bum with a horse bent only at the kneck pleading with you for some guidance.
Remember to be relaxed in your shoulders, elbows and wrists aswell as everywhere else, use your legs and seat. Think of your aids as a never ending circle. Legs - seat - hands in that order.
Hope my ramblings help
28th Feb 2002, 12:24 PM
Thanks everyone... it makes me feel better that it's not an easy thing to know - and I guess if it's different for everyone, then many instructors must find it hard to teach it. It's no excuse though!
I'll definitely try the keeping my lower fingers looser - a previous instructor kept telling me to close all my fingers around the reins more, and that confused me because it gave me no leeway at all, or so it felt like.
I think it's just going to be a question of practice!
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