Who Needs Hands?

I was reading an article last weekend in which a rider on one of the training squads, I forget who, was discussing their last lesson where they worked on one handed flying changes to check their straightness.

This is a great idea! I thought, and immediately started thinking about how I can incorporate one handedness into my lessons. Although I don’t think my riders will be riding flying changes one handedness I think it has its uses.

With Otis I had my own practise yesterday, so I could run through the exercises and find any teaching pointers, and get an idea of the level of difficulty so I could choose which lessons to use this.

In my second lesson today I taught a lady who has recently been struggling with her position. For some reason it has deteriorated slightly and she is struggling with her canter seat and consequently the quality of the canter has been lost. Last lesson I lunged her in canter with no hands to get her feeling the canter a bit more.

After she’d warmed up I corrected her seat – following on from last weeks post Driving Aids – which started to make a huge difference, but then I decided to increase her awareness of her leg and seat. In walk I asked her to bridge her reins in her outside hand (yesterday taught me this gave a better result!) and then walk around the outside track, riding some transitions into halt, and then a twenty metre circle at the end. On the left rein this was fairly straightforward and soon the circles were very accurate. So we moved up into trot and my rider found she was more aware of initiating her outside leg and pressing slightly onto the outside seat bone before riding the turn.

So we changed the rein and in walk, with her reins bridged in the left hand, my client started riding a circle. It wasn’t very successful! Her right arm kept lifting to try and take over, whilst her left hand tried crossing over the withers when her left leg didn’t cooperate. The circles were an interesting shape, to say the least, but we slowly got there. So we moved up into trot! On the right rein it took a bit longer for my rider to attune herself to her seat and legs, but when she did it looked great! Correct bend and her horse was softening over his back. 

After I allowed my rider to take back her reins to demonstrate that she was using the reins as a supporting aid, i.e. after the seat and leg has been applied. The trot was much improved in it’s consistency and my rider’s hands were more even and worked as a pair, she did say she was having to think about using her left leg more, which is good as it is obviously a bit lazy.

Next we spent a bit of time without stirrups in the trot, to bring together the effect of the seat and the softness of the arms, with the core muscles working to stabilise my rider.

Finally, we had a look at the canter, and it was all fitting together again; the quality returned with the improved position, so my rider is looking forwards to building in this next time. I want to look at the leg yield in the next couple of weeks too, so that we can continue to focus on the symmetry of the leg aids.

I didn’t mean to use this no hands exercise again today, but when working with one of my teenagers I realised it was very important. Her pony is a jumping pony so doesn’t really understand that he should accept the leg, and tends to shoot off, whilst being very reliant on the hand for steering. So I had them riding one handed circles without stirrups in walk, which proved nigh on impossible for this pony, my rider realised she needed to focus more on the seat and not necessarily the pressure of the leg, but more if the weight distribution and gentle pressure. When I asked the pair to trot my rider bounced, and waved her stuff inside arm, which caused her pony to trot faster and faster! Back to plan B! She started trotting with both reins, and once it was established, she bridged her reins. This was better, and again my rider realised how important the subtle shifts in her seat position were.

The work without stirrups really helped cement this young riders position, so she was sat on her bum, and taking away her reins relaxed her arms and she started to bend her elbow a bit more so that her straight arms didn’t bounce up and down. Her pony even began to respond positively, settling onto a contact and engaging his top line slightly as my riders seat and legs became effective.

Now hopefully this young rider has learnt the correct feel in her arms and down the reins so hopefully next lesson we can build on this. I may be nice and not take her stirrups away for fifty minutes! Her homework is to walk around the arena with bridged reins in her warm up to establish her focus on the seat and aids, and also to help teach her pony to respond to the leg. Once he understands this the whole picture will come together, as shown below.


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