This is a fun way of looking at an “unsteady contact” from a different perspective.
There are times where riders have difficulty maintaining a steady contact with their horse. Often those riders also have unsteady hands to varying degrees, and tend to try and jiggle, or see saw the reins to get their horse “On the bit”.
This is a different way of helping them see how they are influencing that contact. Are they corrupting or caressing it?
Simply saying things like keep you hands quiet and still, is often not enough to create genuine change, as there needs to be a deeper understanding of the riders responsibility in producing the desired feel. It's a bit like the chicken and the egg analogy. We can't speak with the horse using words, and ask them to be quieter in the mouth, but we can encourage the rider to be the one to have ownership and take the first step towards helping the horse seek the contact, as the horse is looking to have a quiet, balanced conversation with the rider.
By turning things around, and looking at the issue from how “we” are influencing the feel on the horses mouth is one of MANY steps to allowing the horse to relax into the contact and let their body loose.
I like to think of the contact as feedback. It’s like a radio station. You are hearing through a set of speakers in the horses mouth. What you hear is directly related to what is happening in the horses whole body. If you imagine that we are wanting to hear classical music, but our hands are playing AC/DC then the rock music will be louder and we can’t hear the horses own music.
For this exercise, I ask the rider to imagine their hands are now the horses mouth, and the horses mouth are now a riders hands. This can be incredibly tough for some to comprehend, and the rider will often need to be reminded that only the rider themselves can influence “the bit” (The one they are holding)
To make this even more animated I often place a bit in the riders hands, and have them hold the rings of the bit with their thumbs as a reminder. I will mention things like “You are the bit. Only you can influence how the bit feels in your hands”
You can then bring the riders awareness to what does the bit actually feel like in their hands? Is it steady, or is it moving around a lot? Remind them that however much the bit in their hands is moving, that much movement is also being transferred to the horses mouth, and how would that feel if the horses mouth were a set of hands. What word would you use to describe it?
Ask the rider to take their awareness to the horses mouth, and ask themselves to be honest and describe how it feels to the riders hands at the horses mouth. What sort of music is he hearing?
I tend to do this mostly in walk and trot, and aren’t too picky on where the rider goes. As long as the horse is not leaving the arena, or getting a bit quick I like to keep it simple. If the rider is more advanced in their training you can then start to incorporate smaller circles, transitions and even lateral work, but that is all up to where the coach see’s appropriate.
Obviously, this discussion takes place whilst looking at the riders position, how the horse is working over his back, engaging his core and hind quarters, and allowing his body to be loose, so please keep in mind, this exercise is only part of solving the problem, and won’t solve the problem in itself, but is a great start.
I know this all sounds confusing to begin with, but once you get your head around it, it is hugely enlightening.
The best part is – once the rider takes some ownership of the contact, ensuring there are no blocks in their own body, and looks at it from a horses point of view, the horse completely relaxes and lets their body loose as they are no longer being corrupted.
It is a hugely rewarding response.
Have fun playing with this concept, and let me know how you go!