Well, by now, if you've been reading my articles fairly regularly, you might already know that when something is "simple" in horse riding, it isn't necessarily easy! Quieting your hands falls into this category.
What is this simple way? Well, stop using your hands!
It's pretty simple to not use your hands, but it might not be so easy to increase the use of your other aids in lieu of the hands.
If you're anything like me, and you developed the habit of controlling pretty much everything from the horse's mouth long ago, then you know how difficult it can be to reduce your reliance on your hands.
However, I'm here to tell you that it can be done. It is possible to go to your other aids and save your hands for only two things: the end of the half-halt (in order to help with re-balancing the horse) and straightness/flexion.
They also can maintain the horse's straightness, especially in the shoulders, especially when you are on a bend or turn. They also can help with maintaining the flexion of the jaw (usually in the direction you are going).
Other than that...
... the hands should and can sing poetry in the horse's mouth and help him develop confidence and strength within his own movement. (Click here to tweet that if you agree.)
The rest of the body can take over much of the in-movement communication with the horse. And this is where the difficulty comes in for some of us. It takes a quite a lot more coordination and core strength to aid your horse through your seat, legs and body. But with practice and guidance, it can be done. Only then can your horse lighten on his feet and carry you with more comfort and strength. And for the rider, there is a sense of freedom that comes along with the reduced reliance on the hands.
4 Aids to Use in Lieu of the Hands
The rider's seat is the root of all good in horseback riding. Not only does the seat keep your balance and allow you to move in harmony with your horse, but it also sends an almost unlimited amount of communication to your horse.
Because, you see, the seat is the largest area of contact with your horse, and it sits (pun!) literally in the middle of the horse. From there, you have such an opportunity to send almost invisible signals to your horse. And he will likely respond easily just by virtue of the fact that it is easier for him to move from the middle of his body than the front.
The use of weight is an off-shoot of the use of the seat and they work together in tandem. You could ride with a balanced seat that isn't indicating anything in terms of weight, or you can use your weight to your advantage. Let's imagine a turn - if you can weigh your inside seat bone into the turn, you will invariably help your horse turn easier and with better balance. How about a leg yield? Use your weight aid to invite your horse into the direction of the movement.
The legs are critical for clear communication. The inside leg works on bend and keeping the inside shoulder moving straight. The outside leg is responsible for asking the hind end to stay in line with the front end (and not swing out, for example). It also is the main initiator of bends, shoulder-ins/haunches ins, canter departures and turns.
You can also "step into the stirrups" to support your seat aids, or to create a stronger leg if the horse is moving into it. The more educated you and your horse get, the more meaning you can offer through your leg aids.
Especially at the beginning, either for a novice rider or horse, the voice can be a welcome reinforcement of the body aids. If the horse is young or relatively untrained, voice cues might not initially carry much meaning, but they can serve to calm the horse or conversely, add a little "spice" into the horse's movement (if you need increased energy).
Voice cues can be words or sounds, depending on how you want to develop them. You do not have to be loud to be effective. Use consistent voice cues and your horse will in fact be able to understand and predict what you want.
Well, there you have it! Riding with less emphasis on the hands is possible and highly recommended, not only for your pleasure, but for your horse's comfort as well. Although it might take more time than you might initially want to invest, developing your other aids to the point of clarity is well worth the effort.
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions.
This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.
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Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?
Why Would You Bother to “Scoop” Your Seat Bones? Learning to use your seat effectively should take a lifetime to develop, so we will begin with just one basic aspect: how to move the seat bones.
Rarely Considered, Often Neglected: Lunging to Develop the Riding Seat: Riding on the lunge is the best way to begin the search for the effective seat.
9 Amazing Effects From Lifting the Horse’s Back While Riding: What exactly is the result of a lifted back? What does it look and feel like?
14 Ways to Communicate While Riding Your Horse: The difference between other sports and ours is that we must learn to communicate to our teammate in less obvious ways than people do in other sports.