Do you ride with light, level rein contact? Test the position of your hands with this simple exercise

Every riding horse should be light in the hand and even in the contact of the reins when training. It’s easy, however, for them to start feeling a bit “heavy” in your hand because they fell on the forehand. It’s not a pleasant feeling for either of them and it will prevent your horse from working in real contact and engaging his hind leg. Ultimately this will affect the way your horse works at home and impact your dressage scores or performance in the show ring. It also won’t help you jump.

“There is no reason why a horse should not be light and flexible when working in harness. It’s all in the training,” says Katie Jerram-Hunnable, the show’s lead producer. “Like any horse, if he’s slow on the leg, there are exercises you can do to help him. Don’t accept that your horse is lazy, regardless of breed.

Katie uses a practice whip to help riders engage if they hold the reins in the correct position, consistently.

Are your hands level?

  1. Step up your warm-up as usual, at a walk, trot and canter. This is the time to assess how your horse feels through your hands. Are you pulled forward? Does the weight in the reins seem uneven?
  2. If the answer is yes, take a school whip.
  3. Hold the whisk horizontally under each of your thumbs.
  4. The whip will put your hands in a great position, keeping your thumbs on top where they should be.
  5. Work 10 minutes in all gaits with the practice whip held in this position. It keeps your hands level and consistent, without being fixed, which prevents your horse from becoming uneven or bending over.
  6. Keep watching your hands every few yards as this will provide visual evidence of what is happening through the rein.

This is a great exercise to keep your sleeve up and use it occasionally as a reminder/to check your hand position. Even if you succeed the first time, it is always worth repeating at another time. If you ride more than one horse, try it on each one as well – the way each horse walks can influence how you sit in the saddle.

What if my hands are not level?

If you find you have trouble maintaining light, light contact with the reins, there will be a reason for it. If you have ruled out a problem with your horse as the cause – eg pain, is he comfortable in his mouth, is his tack snug, is he lame? — seek the assistance of an instructor. You may need to mount your horse with more leg to work in the bridle, or perhaps your horse has learned to lean on you because you have a restrictive hand.

There are many reasons why this can happen and although it’s not a quick fix, it’s something you can work on in order to achieve a happier working horse and rider.

Meet the expert: Katie Jerram-Hunnable has won a myriad of supreme titles, including multiple Horse of the Year Show and Royal International championships. She produces and rides horses for The Queen, is an accredited trainer and co-author of two books.

Main image: Please note that this is a stock image and the exercise explained in this article is not illustrated. Credit: Kelsey Media Ltd

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