Hand Aid - Riding in Hand
Whenever you manipulate the horse's head with your hands (reins) and/or equipment you are throwing him off balance. Riding a horse through his head is done by incompetent riders. This article will clarify the genuine use of hands in riding and their function in the energy field of the horse. Without a fine hand there is no riding and without a fine seat there are no fine hands.
The jaw connects the rider's hands to the horse's energy and motion. It must not be restrained. If a standard plain noseband is used it must be loose, adjusted so that it only prevents extreme opening of the horse's mouth caused by the lesser rider's hands.
above show what it means to be disconnected from the horse, his movement
and energy: the jaw no longer connects to the
The pics above and below show the basic difference between what it means to not have the horse in hand (top) and to ride in hand (below). This has nothing to do with the amount of weight in the rider's hand-it is about being connected to the horse via the jaw through the poll, the highest point of the forward motion energy.
this picture, the front leg will land where it’s pointing, while in the
picture above the toe will land about one or two feet short of where it is
pointing, and is thus referred to as exaggerated front limb extension/out
of harmony with the energy output of the hind legs. In short, the horse
above is simply "discombobulated" in laymen's terms, off balance
in horseman's terms.
| The primary function of hand
riding, or riding in hand, is done through the horse's jaw. In the horse's
jaw we can feel the entire motion and energy of the horse; as in people,
this can become obvious. Nervous or scared horses stiffen up the jaw, same
The freedom of the jaw is of the essence when riding a horse in hand, and any form of restraint like cavessons and such will limit or completely destroy this function, and the hands just become forceful tools by which we manipulate the horse's head, throwing him off balance to accomplish whatever.
In the article on understanding riding aids we compare the hand aid to the function of the clutch in a car, or better yet a motorcycle. The jaw of the horse is the crucial part because it is like the spring of the clutch. The jaw of the horse must be supple; we are talking about supple mouth, not to be confused with sensitive mouth.
Another term used for a supple mouth is the "resting of the jaw by the horse in the rider's hands" (resting is not leaning; it’s about the jaw, not the head!).
The article on accepting a bit is crucial for the understanding of this article. For the horse to have a supple jaw, it must be free, which means that the ability of the horse to open his mouth must be, and I emphasize, must be, unrestrained! (If a horse is running around when ridden with his mouth open it shows the poor hands of the rider, thus the need for the substitute of various restraints.)
A supple jaw allows the horse to cushion not only the mistakes of the rider's hands, but also the motion of the head caused by the impact of his feet when landing (especially in high speeds) - if in good hands. Through the horse's jaw, the rider can not only collect and release the energy, but he can also dramatically soften the impact of the fore legs, to which of course any horse will respond very positively, to the point that he literally gives himself to the rider, since such a way of going not only feels more secure but also more comfortable and easier (horses like "easier").
All in all, horses can very easily get spoiled by such riding, and often when ridden by another rider not familiar with this way of riding, will refuse to extend fully. Therefore from a practical perspective and in the long run this is not good for the horse in case he changes owners, especially in the racing industry. However, in the old days it was more common, since most jockeys/riders were employed, and one could say owned, by the trainers or owners. Nevertheless, horses genuinely ridden in hand hardly ever break down, unless the rider makes a mistake.
The common mistake made by riding in hand in faster gallops is that the rider helps to collect all the energy he can and then he releases it all, which can cause over-extension of the hind legs and commonly results in injuries to the horse's stifles and at times even to the back. We used to call it "ripping the horse's ass off."
Another mistake in faster gallops is when the rider doesn’t catch the extension in a timely manner and lets the horse so-called "fall on his nose," as we used say, in which case injuries vary, but most commonly results in a bowed tendon during a tired run.
So, one must be careful if he finally reaches the level where he is able to collect and release the energy of the horse in faster gallops, because the balance between collecting and releasing is crucial and any small mistake can put the horse out of service permanently. Hence when riding like this in a race one cannot pay any attention to the competition; all concentration must be on the horse, his energy and movement. After all, winning a race is not about position where one is during the race, but rather is simply about the fastest time over a given distance.
Of course, riding in hand depends on the rider's hands and not less importantly on the acceptance of them by the horse, and thus the acceptance of the bit is the connecting element in the whole array of motion between the rider and the horse in the light seat, as well as the heavy seat in any gait and speed.
Now we know and can see the meaning of the word light seat. During gallop, the light seat not only frees the horse's back and enables a freer motion, but through the hands by adding our energy we can lower the impact of the forelegs, thus the horse sounds and moves lighter; hence, the light seat. In the heavy seat this cannot be implemented; hence, the heavy seat. In the heavy seat one can reduce the impact of the forelegs by adding more collection, but that's about it.
In the heavy seat and faster gallops, the rider cannot assist the horse as in the light seat, because the rider sitting on the horse’s back results in increased pressure on the spine (the horse may buck in a situation like that). Henceforth if we want to run the horse, we need to get our ass out of the saddle to make it more enjoyable (bearable) for both the rider and the horse. People sitting in the horse's backs while chasing them in high speeds are perceived as maniacs by horsemen-riders.
When a horse is tiring, his head tends
to drop lower and the jaws extends. Catching the jaw before it fully
extends, causing the hind end to "catch up" with the front end,
will result in full regeneration (collection) for the next step, thus
preventing the so-called falling apart. In other words, we come to the aid
of the horse just before the final phase of his gallop bound (landing) and
assist the horse in transferring the front weight onto the rear end while
in the air, causing the hind to go under and the head to come up more
easily, while the landing of the front legs is lighter.
During the pushing action, the energy travels from the hind hooves all the way to the poll, then mechanically to the nose. So it goes, back and forth, until the creature tires and finds the reverse part, the collecting part, difficult to repeat. It is here that the rider adds his strength by simply shortening the distance from the poll to the rear, by transferring it directly from the horse’s poll via the jaw (reins) back at the withers. In other words, it’s a sort of shortcut. This of course the horse feels and finds extremely helpful, which is why they get spoiled so easily, and if they’re ever introduced to this they’ll always look for it.
To give some theoretical concept to this function
and use numbers for better understanding: in a very tired, running race horse,
the weight in the hands throughout the hand ride can be about 30 pounds, and it
increases only a pound or two during the collecting phase, but it never gets
below the weight of 30 pounds. This is not easy for the lesser rider, as the
weight would change during the transitions when the hands move back, change and
then go forth and vice versa, out of the rhythm (motion and energy). This is
very often also influenced by the lack of balance in the light seat, since
during the genuine hand ride the rider does not use his hands in a supportive
fashion on the horse's neck or hang on the horse's mouth (jaw).
Though the weight in the hands may be fairly heavy, one works with ounces only, relative to the motion and energy of the horse. In other words, the weight in the rider's hands is not the determining factor between a refined hand and a hard hand, but the fine hand is defined by its relevancy to the motion and energy of the horse. The fine hand of the rider is within it, while the green rider's hands are out it.
The green or lesser riders often think that a light rein contact refers to a fine (soft) hand, mistakenly of course. Today, fine hand riding exists only in words, as those who speak of it, and often claim to be doing it, have no idea about it.
animation shows the "humping" seat of the rider that is typical
in today's dressage. The rider's crotch literally humps the horse's
withers. This is caused by the horse being off balance and on the
forehand, causing the energy of the rear end to be forced upward rather
than forward, so that
the back pushes
the rider out of the rhythm
horse's motion. It is ridiculous and absurd to ride like this. If in
balance the rider's body looks motionless, as if in flowing in the air.
The women these days look like they are humping the horse's withers. There
is no way I could go to such a display without bursting into
uncontrollable laughter. The most comical part about this display is the
addition of their serious and concentrated expressions. I remember when my
kids were little and sitting by the table they’d suddenly display a
serious and concentrated face like some genius scientist just before they
shit in their diaper. This is just as hilarious, except these are grown
people-at least one would like to believe they’re grown people.
| The jockeys today simply
"propel the horses forward" by throwing them off balance via
pushing on their neck with tight reins and putting their own weight more
forward, and the poor creatures have nothing left to do but either run or
fall. Now you can understand why so many horses run off with people or are
hard to hold; the whole off-balance run frightens such horses, often
making them very nervous. Sometimes strong and brave horses find their own
balance and ignore the rider, and run for the game of it and become great.
In the heavy seat and during trot or
gallop the functions of the hands differ, but the principles do not
change. Again we can feel everything through the jaw, providing the horse
is confident and relaxed enough to keep it supple and loose. Riding with
or using any kind of curb bit will stiffen up the jaw and we will feel
very little or nothing at all. Since we cannot feel, we cannot ride, but
then again, if you have never felt something how could you know that there
is something to feel? You cannot describe colors to a man that’s been
blind since birth anymore than you can describe a feeling to a person that
never felt it. Many think they feel, but you can see for your elf. If you
see any kind of noseband (regular nosebands are acceptable if they’re
loose enough), dropped nosebands, figure eights, leaver bits (curb bits),
draw reins, tie downs, etc., there is simply no feeling, no matter what
the riders may say or believe that they feel.
In the heavy seat the function of hands is more or
less a connection between the energy (collection) and its output (release). As
compared in our article to the machines, it is the connection between the
gearbox and the gas/engine, in other words the clutch, the jaw being the spring
of the clutch. In riding terms, the hands connect the seat aid with the leg aid
in a continuous and harmonious function, not with the horse's motion but within
it. That is what it means to genuinely ride a horse.
Extended gallops should not be ridden in the heavy seat due to
the uncomfortable, and at times even painful, interference with the
horse's back. The extended
gallop in dressage is today highly misunderstood; people pay attention to the
length of the stride, rather than to the lightness of landing in a longer frame
due to retained collection balance, which is what it is about. The dressage
people who present this over-exaggerated extended gallop look like fools humping
on the horses as if they had a broomstick stuck up their ass. Absurd!
The demonstrations above and below
exhibit to some point, in somewhat grotesque ways, what would happen with
the horse if the rider were to be fully involved in the hand riding
(see lift phase). As it is, most just rub on the horse's neck and nothing
else. In true hand riding during the light seat and intermediate or fast
gallops the rider's hands never rest on the horse's neck nor do they touch
it. In the true hand riding the stride increases one to four feet while
using up the same amount of energy as when unassisted. In addition, the
true hand riding also enhances the horse's breathing and makes it easier.
One cannot make horses faster, but one can help them to travel lighter and
to conserve more energy, the latter which the horse welcomes readily since
it is his nature anyway. The helping hand riding aid is implemented only
when the entire body of the horse is off the ground when the horse is
collecting his energy. The rest of the time the hand aid function is in
guiding the release (amount) and the direction of the collected
energy; the decent rider manages the horse stride by stride through out
the entire run. You will most likely never get to see that anymore. The
rider in this demo is doing absolutely nothing except looking pretty.
| The most crucial part when riding in
hand, in both seats, all gaits and speeds, is the position of the jaw
relative to the energy field. It must be always connected to the end of
it; any horse that travels on the so-called vertical can no longer be
ridden in hand because the poll often drops below the energy drive
(relative to the build of the horse in that particular area).
Horses can have their heads on the vertical when standing, but once in motion the nose must lead the way, otherwise their balance is limited (interfered with) and the jaw is dead and useless, making riding in hand impossible.
Second, the jaw must never be lower the than the hip, because from the hip the energy goes up and forward, and anything below the hip (from the hip forth) ads to the negative energy of gravitational forces. Once there (your hands/the bit), you can no longer feel the positive energy, and the connection between your seat aid and leg aid is broken, so you end up pulling on the horse's mouth. This then pushes the horse's back up into a crippling position, which the fools of today call ‘rounding’ of the horse's back.
The horse's back can round up in two ways: by putting his head down or by putting his hind end under. It is anatomically impossible for the horse to do both without snapping his back in half, unless the horse is in the air throwing a hell of a buck. Thus, if the bit is below the hip line, the horse is on the forehand; however, if the bit is above the hip line it doesn’t necessary mean that he is collected and balanced. Hence, manipulating the horse's head cannot accomplish some collection of the horse and his riding balance. The horse's head comes up because he tucked his hind end under, which then causes the rounding of the back in an appropriate fashion.
When we are talking about rounded horse, we’re not referring to some shape, as the fools think; we’re simply referring to the collected energy, which has nothing to do with looks. If you hear people talking about looks in reference to horses being rounded, they are the ones that read too much and understand nothing. (Rounded = collecting energy and balance within the horse, not round shapes.) If you wish to see a horse rounded in the genuine natural concept, go and have someone take a stallion near mares and look at him when he gets excited (usually they’ll piaffe) - that’s what rounded means. Then go and look at present dressage and you don't even have to know anything to see the difference.
The major and most noticeable difference is in the position of the head and the jaw. Why are people changing the rules in dressage and other riding sports constantly? Because they are getting worse decade by decade and things like this to them are beginning to sound almost like some far fetched stories or nonsense.
When riding in hand, the horse gives in
the jaw, not in the neck; the latter he keeps to himself. Once the horse
gives in the neck he will never give in the jaw, since the mechanics of
forward propelling motion were "broken up" in the spine (neck).
This type of riding has spread all over the world like some disease, most
likely through women that perceive this "frame" as beautiful
because it resembles the Barbie doll horse of the baby boom generation.
It's a virus that’s completely destroying what's left of decent riding. This (broken mechanics) can be easily noticed in the horse's movement, as the stride of the front legs shortens and the legs come up higher from the ground (climbing), often in an exaggerated front leg extension, which by most of the fools in dressage is perceived as collection, while in the real world of riders it is perceive as humping. The horse looks like he is stumping the ground with his front by exaggerated, false (not from the rear) energy, while the rear moves like a pregnant duck, which causes the humping of the rear, because it simply has no place to go. The front is in the way, because it points into distance that it never reaches.
An example of typical restraining equipment used by today’s incompetent riders to teach the horse to move without moving his essential balance apparatus, his head. Once the horse adjusts and restrains his movement, as well as his expression, any idiot can hide his hard hands while riding such a horse, which is why they’re so popular.
This brutal gadget does the same as
above and in addition, it presses the horse’s poll, his
The humping-like-camels in dressage
is almost a fashion; the poor folks have no idea what is happening, but
looking at these riders’ heads bouncing up and down says it all, because
if your horse moves truly collected and in hand there is hardly any
bouncing and it is like floating on the clouds. Please do not mistake this
for your concept of a "smooth horse," which most likely has to
do with the crippling of the mechanics of the horse, who then moves in a
fashion resembling a man running to the toilet afflicted by a sudden
attack of diarrhea and any bounce could result in the unfortunate
explosion of his ass. This is the fashion in which the western pleasure
horses (and all gaited horses) move, and has nothing to do with a
collection of the horse.
The smooth (to you) but very stiff (to the horse) way going of such horses is perceived by the greenhorns as some accomplishment just because it does not bounce their big or small tender asses.
These horses are, in short, cripples that have lost all the dynamics and elegance of the equine movement. It is disgusting what we can do to beauty and animals. The criteria of beauty are in the eyes of the beholder and not in his ass! The beauty of the horse's motion is in his unrestrained, free movement, and it is bouncy as hell when burdened by the rider if the horse is not balanced/collected; thus a free horse moves much more beautifully than a horse burdened by the rider, no matter how well ridden.
You have more likely heard the term
"setting the horse's head" or "the head set" or
"frame set." This is all nonsense spread by incompetent riders
whose hands are like bricks without feelings. Once when they manage to
"set" the horse's head, or better said once the horse realizes
that he has to carry his head in a particular position, he keeps it there
(adapts), despite what the rider does with his hands.
To kill a man or animal is nothing, to die unafraid is
admirable; to win on a horse is nothing, to be embraced by one is awesome. Your
hands are the way to the horse’s heart, for what is in your touch comes out of
your heart, and at the peak of his strength, cutting thorough the wind at an
awesome speed, is the horse’s free mouth that "speaks" back in the
music that echoes in the man’s heart and the world does not see or hear.
The "art" of riding consist on "having the horse's heart in your hands," for his life and its energy comes from there, and to blend together you need to add yours: your life, your strength, your heart. Look inside your heart and ask: "Will this, my heart, add to the horse's life or am I taking it out of him? Am I taking his life just to satisfy my vanities, or to entertain myself?"
On behalf of the "equus
populus" I would like to say, in conclusion,
please do not ride your horse in a fast gallop, do not run them if you cannot
ride well and/or are too heavy. Look what happens to the racing horses that are
actually in training to do that and in addition carry very light riders (average
115 pounds including the saddle). What about your fat ass and the heavy western
saddle, most likely tacking up around 200 pounds or even more. Not falling off
the horse does not constitute good riding - it merely means staying/hanging on
the horse. If your horse takes you on a fast ride and you are having fun, it
does not necessarily mean that he is having fun, and if he appears anxious as if
he wants to run before he takes off it is most likely that he wants to have this
uncomfortable experience over and done with, because horses comfortable in full
run are never anxious or nervous before, during or after the run, race or
In the heavy seat the hand riding aid is the connection between the seat and leg aid, which through the jaw interconnects harmoniously within the horse's movement, hence your riding is in harmony with the horse.
In the light seat (ridden in gallops only) the hand aid enables the energy of the rider to merge with that of the horse that will then in return give the rider all the strength and speed back into his hands. This is an extremely responsible position, because the well being of the horse and his every step is in the rider's hands. Only a small error can result in permanent injury to the horse in high speeds and at times even to the rider. Without a free jaw, this will never happen, because the horse will not entrust his body to you, since you took his freedom away; instead, he stiffens his jaw, grabs the bit and drags you along with him as a burden to which he naturally (having no choice) adjusted. A fine hand, in contact with the horse's energy, guarantees the horse a freedom of movement, which he then shares with you.
This too is not true hand riding, but the seat is there for it. The rider stands up a little higher in the stirrups, while the lower leg must be in the supportive position to enable energy to come through from the rider's back, legs and hands when collecting the horse, while keeping a balanced seat without the need to use the horse's neck for support as is done by most riders today and also in this case.
A typical "concaved" back caused by the rider manipulating the horse's head, most likely trying to achieve the "erect" neck position via his/her hands. Again, it’s the same mistake as in the pic on the right-riding the horse's head and not his energy. In this case the hind end is forced to the ground, left behind the horse, while the front extension is exaggerated, which is actually liked and admired by most of the fools in related disciplines.
A typical and very popular "Head Fixed & Hunched Back" style of riding, seen today. The horse is extremely off balance with the noticeable dead/strapped jaw. The hind is leaving prematurely during the trot due to the horse being extremely on the forehand. This is the "Olympic Level". How bad will this get?
The hand riding aid cannot be implemented when the stirrups are this shorts, as is in fashion, since the rider's knees are either off the horse, or, if on the horse, the lower leg loses its full supportive function, especially when the rider sits low, but it "looks better" if he does (to whom?). Riders like this drive horses forward by adding their weight more forward, often at the end of the race "sitting on the horse's ears," as it was once referred to by the genuine jockeys/riders.
This is just about the maximum short length of the stirrups if the rider wants to implement genuine hand riding. Most jockeys of today would be embarrassed to have stirrups "this long," because the fools would perceive it as being either unfit or unbalanced. Today's jockeys have no idea what hand riding means; they think it is taking a new hold (shorter reins) and rubbing/pushing the horse's neck or God knows what.
This is the original English style riding. No help what so ever to the horse, sitting on the back and chasing him in any available form. One learns this in three or four days- no expertise required. Next time you say that you are riding English remember this picture. The English learned from foreign countries how to ride their own race horses, though when first introduced they ridiculed it.
Related Articles: The dynamics - The Forward Swing of Cadence
Edited by J. G. May 21st, 2006
Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek