Do you have good hands when horse riding ?
From a recent survey I did with my friends and clients recently about what subject I should talk about one subject of those I listed as possible topics stood out way ahead of the rest. Namely riders hands and feel on the reins in general so I thought I would give the subject an airing. Here is some information and a few ideas to try out to help you answer the question.
The human hand
There are 27 bones, 29 joints and approximately 123 named ligaments in the human hand and the thing that sets humans apart from almost all other animals is our opposable thumbs, which can work together with our fingers. These are just some of the interesting things about human hands. So when we ride just how many of these joints are actually using, a few, some or maybe all of them? Another fun fact here is that Koala bears also have opposable thumbs, but as of now I haven’t seen a koala riding a horse, but maybe it will happen 😊.
Why is feel on the reins so important?
In the feedback I received on this subject, people were saying the subject is hardly ever discussed and I agree, even though it is a constant theme with me and horse riders. So there are not just the issues surrounding how we hold the reins, there is also the issue as to why it isn’t discussed. I do though want to focus here on how you all hold the reins and the reason I think it is so important to get it right is because there are unquestionably aspects of how we hold the reins connected to horse welfare.
Is poor feel on the reins an equine welfare issue?
So why do I think this is a potential welfare issue ???, simple…because pulling on the reins too hard or unevenly causes horses pain, both short term sharp pain (acute) as well as long term pain (chronic), pain is a pre cursor to injuries too so people should wise up on how they use the reins. There is an argument that the sharp pain of a severe hand pulling the rein in anger or frustration, to give an obvious short burst of pain is bad enough, however, it is the effect of longer term issues which I think it is very important to avoid, perhaps even more so. So a horrible snatching on the reins might cause the horses tongue or gums to bleed, but the more long term issues can be catastrophic for horses from repeated poor and or uneven rein contact. Educate yourself riders.
Are your hands bouncing up and down and doing too much?
If we talk about the whole hand, ask yourself are your hands doing too much? are they steady? I have a grand exercise for riders which I use to get riders to become more aware of the need to keep their hands still when they should, and move when they should also, like when following the horses’ head nod in walk. It’s a simple exercise but try riding with your hands about 18 inches apart and try walk trot and canter, turns and circles, see if you can do this without the reins touching your horses’ neck on either side. This exercise if done right will also relax your arms, shoulders and free up any upper body tension. This will be fun and informative, then when you put your hands in the normal width apart 5- 6 inches you should have more awareness of avoiding fiddling with the reins and not annoying your horse.
Do you pull the reins too hard?
When riders get tense there is often a tendency to pull the reins too hard, the real problem here apart from the obvious discomfort to both horse and rider is that the horse will inevitably flick its head about to avoid the pressure. This head flicking leads to a loss of contact and this can do a number of things, riders can fall off, but horses can pull or twist ligaments and tendons due to the dramatic and sudden loss of balance, I believe a lot of horse injuries are caused by riders with poor contact/feel and the inconsistency this causes. Also it is important to remember if you pull the reins unevenly this can cause your horse severe long term back and pelvic issues. So you can see how important how we hold the reins can be. I always say if you are holding the reins very firmly you probably have bad hands. Also riders must never pull both reins very hard at the same time, this is a real no no.
Try using your fingers to help you understand a lighter feel
When you ride next just experiment with your feel through your fingers. With young horses I often hold the reins just between my thumb and index finger and only wrap more fingers around the rein as I need to. I also recommend you put the reins in one hand and lightly touch the rein with your free hand to see how light you can be to get a desired effect without pulling too much on the reins. This can be very enlightening to riders who pull too much on the reins. You can do this either side so practise riding single handedly with both hands when it is safe. Just keep on experimenting with your feel I know that the horses you ride will be happier if you develop knowing sympathetic hands. When done correctly it is a wonderful thing to have great hands when riding.
Have fun leaning and experimenting, feel on the reins is so important. I do reply to all feedback either by email Brian@equinesolutions.co.uk, Brian John Seddon on Facebook and now Brianequine on Instagram. Thanks for reading this blog and have good days with your horses. I can also be contacted for private consultations and attention on 07398 492689, thank you. Brian