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Friday, 25 February 2011

It's in Your Hands

Does your horse fall in or out on a turn or circle? Does he tip his head to one side just as you finally get him ‘on the bit’? These problems all stem from one thing. Your hands.

Your hands should be level and the same distance apart as your horse’s mouth. They control everything in front of your saddle. Drop a hand and your horse will drop a shoulder. Move one hand to the side and your horse’s shoulder will to do the same.

Next time you ride bridge your reins or ride with a whip pushed under your thumbs to keep your hands the same distance apart. It won’t take long for you to realise how mobile your hands usually are. Every movement you make affects your horse.

Ride a circle with your hands up and together. Don’t be tempted to open your hands to turn him. The minute you do you’ll allow your horse to move his shoulders apart. Did you know horses don’t have a collar bone? Their shoulders can move independently of each other. When you open your hands you allow your horse to move his shoulders apart. He can fall in or out as he pleases. Keeping your hands together will keep his shoulders together as one unit.

Use your legs when you need to but not every stride. A push here and there is all you need to keep him on track. Riders often do too much to steer their horse. Use your outside leg to push your horse off the track and then just turn your body and look where you want to go. Let him do the rest.

Horse’s which tip their nose to one side can be frustrating but before you blame them have a look at your hands. If one hand is higher than the other then it’s you that’s at fault. This is good news! It means you can sort out the problem.

Your horse mirrors what you do with your hands. Carry your left hand lower than your right and your horse will do the same with his shoulders and his mouth. If the left hand side of his mouth is lower than his right his nose will tip out to the right.

Often this is a well established habit and will need more work than just levelling out your hands. Your horse has got used to holding himself like this so when you lift your hand he’ll lean against it. A common reaction is for the rider to throw away the rein and take it back again. It doesn’t work. This affirms what your horse was thinking. If he resists you remove the pressure. Try the opposite.

Assuming your horse’s head is tipped to the right increase the pressure on your right rein. Your horse is focused on leaning on the left rein and will be surprised to feel you on the right. This will even out the pressure on both sides of his mouth and straighten his head. Now use both legs together and ride forward.

All habits require patience and self discipline to break them. Be consistent and keep an eye on your hands. Keep them up and together to keep everything in front of your saddle in its rightful place.

Be consistent and you’ll win in the end. It takes two to create a habit but only one to break it. Good luck.


  1. Thanks Lorraine, I'm going to get my daughter to try this. She's been really struggling to get and keep her pony on the bit recently (it's not teeth & she goes fine for me), hands move and UPPPP goes the head. Slightly different subject, I know, but you've put what I wanted to explain in really simple terms that I think she'll be able to get her head round. I'll let you know how they get on.

  2. Thanks so much Peta for your comments. This is exactly why I like to write. I really hope it helps. You might like to check out Keep in Touch (January post) which has similar ideas.

    Best of luck.

  3. Loved this piece! Tried it with my Youngster who is not as forgiving of my errors, and it worked a treat, all of a sudden, I had a concentrating horse! Thanks, sometimes it's easy to forget that we've gotten into bad habits as we go along!

  4. Thanks Terri, it's interesting because this piece has had a really good response on Twitter. I think it's struck a chord with a lot of people. I'm glad it's worked for you. There's nothing quite like a young horse to point out all your faults!