Many riders struggle with the concept of forward thinking, soft contact that isn’t a loose rein. This seems especially so when we learn about the connecting aids and the concept of riding the horse from leg to hand. I’ve used the below suggestion with riders who tend to pull back on one or both reins, with riders who have hard time understanding how to encourage the horse to seek the contact forwards or riders with busy hands altogether. It has worked a treat 100% of the time so I am sharing it on here in case it helps you too.
All you need to do to try it is to go food shopping 🙂 You will need to go to one of the bigger markets with trolleys available, load it with decent amount of products (you can always replace it back if you don’t actually want to buy anything!) and take a stroll around the shop…
Your mission is to make the trolley wheel smoothly, dynamically, walking rhythmically yourself, purposefully and straight.
As you attempt to accomplish that mission, make mental notes with answers to the following questions:
1. What’s the best way to keep the trolley straight when in motion?
2. Which side of my body works harder during turns?
3. What happens if I only engage/use one side of my body?
4. What happens when I pull back towards me on the handle?
5. What if I alter my steps?
6. From which part of my body is “the forward pushing” coming from when it feels most effortless?
Let’s assume you went and did the little experiment. Are there any immediate ideas coming to you that might connect the feel you just had with most ordinary object and the complex and emotional process of having forward thinking, soft hand on a living animal? Give yourself a minute or two before you scroll to read further. Your own ideas might be better than mine! Apparently, we learn more effectively when we figure things out ourselves based on helpful clues…
Here are my suggestions:
– learning new feel can be helped by comparing it to similar feel that is easier to experience
– picture the trolley as shoulder/neck and head of your horse
– when taking up the contact, always maintain the “ready to push the trolley forward” feel through your lower and upper arms,
– when riding downwards transitions, keep “the trolley” off your own feet to discourage yourself from pulling your hands towards your own belly…keep it at a distance that allows you to effortlessly move it on again,
– your arms transmit forward energy from your body, if you retract them back you are confusing your horse (with a sensitive horse it doesn’t matter if the rein actually pulls on his/her mouth, they will feel the backward action/energy from you)
– your forwards thinking hand comes from forward thinking body – not so much the legs although they are important too – but from your lower back/pelvis
– to have “forward” hand you don’t need to extend your arms/loosen your reins/drop connection but you can set boundaries of energy that are very alike the ones you set for a trolley full of food! Fixed upper body and shoulders but supple elbows that transmit the go or whoa from your own legs to the trolley…(or a horse).
– every time your horse hollows his back and lifts his neck, visualise the trolley being pushed back into you by another shopper in front of you. If your seat is balanced (i.e. if you are independent of your horse’s back posture and can maintain your own position) it should be possible to stop the head/neck and shoulder of the horse (the trolley) from coming at you. In those moments, visualise stubbornly maintaining your hands in front of you and pushing the energy away from you and forwards.
Let me know if the above image/suggestions were helpful and what your first ideas were…
All the best,
P.S. This experiment is not designed to work “literally” i.e. it is not aimed at achieving certain hand position (since hands on trolley handle sit differently to when we hold the reins correctly), exact body positioning (since we are standing on our feet rather than sitting on our seat bones) etc. It is designed as a fun experiment in discovering how to create energy in our bodies and make things move, how to taste the feel of “letting the neck move away and relax”. If your arms get tense as you direct the trolley, investigate – “push” harder with your legs/hips, focus on where you are going, check and triple check your posture…Happy playing! 🙂