Putting Love in the Hands
Every time we touch a horse we are communicating. One of the best things an instructor ever said to me was ‘put love in your hands.’ I have never forgotten these powerful words. At first, I didn’t really know what she meant or how to do this, but over time it became clear. I also discovered that one of the points of the heart chakra is in the centre of the palm.
Riders frequently communicate with horses by applying rein pressure with the hands. The way we do this affects the response from the horse enormously. If we suddenly apply pressure, the horse has no idea that it’s coming, so has had no time to prepare for it mentally. The horse can feel suddenly jolted. By considering making the beginning and end of our rein aids a smooth squeezy feel, the horse will respond easier, faster, softer, and more willingly. By softly coming into the rein pressure, the horse has time to prepare, and by doing the same when taking it off ensures the horse doesn’t feel suddenly dropped. This is only a few seconds, but it makes all the difference in the world to the horse.
Once we have squeezed into a rein aid the idea is to stop when a contact is felt. This is the point where we can feel the horse at the other end of the reins. If we continue taking rein it is pulling. I have yet to meet a horse that doesn’t brace against a rider who pulls on the reins. It’s so important to stop once the contact is felt. We can increase this contact if needed, but if we do, again it stops at some point, we never keep on pulling. The contact is essential, without it we are just squeezing a rein, the horse will not feel it.
Then once we have a contact, we can squeeze into that. The feel in the riders hands is like squeezing water from a sponge. A pulsing on and off, again with a sliding in and out of the squeeze, not a sudden jerking on and off. The squeeze needs to be enough to squeeze the water from the sponge bit by bit. If it’s too light no water will come out and if it’s too strong all the water will come out at once. Developing sensitivity in the hands allows us to feel exactly how much squeeze a horse requires to understand what we are asking.
The aim is to give the smallest, lightest rein aid to receive the greatest possible response. In this situation less is more. To achieve this, every single time we apply an aid we start with the smallest effective aid possible. If the horse doesn’t respond we can increase the strength of the aid or add something on, like a voice cue. I like to imagine three steps, number one is ‘excuse me can you do this please’, number two is a bit louder ‘hey did you hear me?’ and number three is ‘ok we’re doing it’. Then the very next time I ask I use the number one aid again. I may need to repeat this pattern a few times, but quickly the horse responds to a number two, then after that the number one. Once this is established, I can just ask with a number one from then on. This is now a situation where I can use the lightest possible rein aid and get a full response from the horse.
By really looking at what we do with our hands, and adopting the stance of asking rather than telling, every horse can be soft and responsive to light aids. Each horse is different, and the same horse is different each day. Being able to turn the mind off and really feel the horse with the hands, allows us to tune in to what the horse requires on that day. And if we have love in our hands, the horse will feel this.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
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