Everyone always talks about having the horse ON the aids, not in front or behind them. I want to share with you a great exercise for a softer hand. This will invite your horse ONTO the bit for better communication. It doesn’t matter if you ride Western or English, do the Hunters, Jumpers, or Dressage at any level, or just want to have a better feel on the trails or obstacle courses. In all aspects of riding, your hand is what guides the bit in the horse’s mouth to the place where you want to go.
I always tell my students: “put your eye on the track, let your hands put the bit perpendicular to that track, and have your legs send the horse there.”. On the trail, you should be able to ride with a loose rein and some occasional guiding; you most likely will not need the same connection and feel as when doing upper level dressage, jumping or the hunters.
In English riding, we are taught to hold the reins coming in from the horse’s mouth and running between your ring and little finger, through the palm of your hand and then out around your index finder with your thumb on top of the rein. The ideal line we are seeking is a straight one from the rider’s elbow to the horse’s mouth.
More often than not, I see very stiff wrists, curled to the inside or outside and even tilted…
Real connection comes from softness of the wrist and elasticity in the elbow, allowing you to follow the motion of the horse’s head without interfering, thereby putting him ON the aids – that fluid connection is what lets us communicate through subtle cues. The more advanced the training of rider and horse, the less you will see.
I often encounter riders who have been told to hold a certain position in a certain spot with their hands and they seem to be unable to relax their wrists and learn to follow the motion. If you have trouble staying connected to your horse’s mouth and staying soft with your wrists, try turning the reins upside down and ride with driving reins. In this case, the reins from the horse’s mouth first come in between your index finger and your thumb and go out between the ring and little finger.
While holding the reins like this, if you try to kink your wrists one way or another, itfeels
strange and hard to do. This grip makes you want to separate your hands exactly the right distance and hold them in the right place. You naturally have a straight line from the elbow to the horse’s mouth; you have a better connection and feel to be more in sync with the motion of the horse.
Ride like this for a while and you will feel a much softer hand that invites the horse to be ON the aids. Your communication with the horse is instant, true, and not delayed or cluttered with the pressure of stiff wrists . You should try riding like this in all three gaits, as well as jumping with driving reins.
This exercise will invite your horse to want to come to your hand and ONTO the bit.
Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect only perfect practice does.