If you have spent any time riding horses you've probably heard the expressions, "gentle hands," "quiet hands," or "kind hands." They're one of the hallmarks of a good horseback rider, and with good reasons. When the rider isn't constantly yanking on the reins, the horse is relaxed and more willing to take direction. Also, if you're showing competitively, rough hands will cost you points. So what does it take to develop "good hands"?
It Begins with Balance
You know the rule of ear,shoulder,hip,heel alignment. If you're taking horse riding lessons in Fort Worth, Dallas, or elsewhere, you probably learned this fairly early on. Until you achieve this practice, your natural inclination is going to be to want to use your hands to control the horse. Instead,Try this - stand on the ground with your feet slightly apart, and bend your knees. Then lift your heels up as high as you can. Observe that it's becoming very difficult to maintain your balance, and notice the point at which you start using your arms to try to maintain upright. This is the same thing that happens when you're not properly balanced in the saddle.
If you're going to be gentle on the reins, your joints and muscles have to be relaxed. If you're tensing your shoulders in the trot, for example, you're bouncing. Your shoulder joints are locking up, and again, you're out of alignment, and you're going to begin to use your hands to stabilize. Also make sure your upper arms are relaxed and your elbows are bent. Your lower arm should make a straight line between the corner of the horse's mouth and your elbow. This prevents you from riding with your wrists instead of with your elbows and shoulders, which clearly would give you more stability.
Maintain Good Posture
Don't slump in the saddle and round your shoulders. Remember how your mom was always telling you to sit up straight? Probably the instructor you take horseback riding lessons from says the same thing. Slumping causes your ribcage to collapse onto your spine. You want to lift your sternum and allow separation between the spine and the ribcage. This allows for movement in your lower body, while your arms and shoulders remain still.
Think of Your Hands as Separate
Of course you know that your hands are separate, you have a right one and a left one. However, a lot of riders have the problem of using their hands as if they were a single unit. If you can use your hands independently of one another, you'll be more coordinated and more aware of how you're using your hands.
It's never too early to start developing good hands. Remember balance, relaxation, posture and coordination, and you and your horse will both benefit.