The following is an extract from Sylvia Loch's book "The Classical Rider".
"The hands should not move independently of the body once the horse is working forward from behind. When all is as it should be the “give” though the rein comes through a fine easing of the fingers and of the rider’s shoulders and elbow joints when the hand is in place. To a less obvious extent, but equally important, “give” also comes from the suppleness of the rider’s lower back and the subsequent projection of their waist.
"Jiggling to and fro with the hands, as though they have a life of their own, is counter-productive in every way and people who set out to “follow the movement” usually promote far too much movement and disturb the balance of the horse’s neck as well as being a constant irritant to his mouth. […..]
"Sadly, riders have become so steeped in the idea of moving their hands to follow the horse that they are absolutely horrified at the suggestion of bringing the horse together and actually feeling the horse’s mouth at the end of the rein. Riders must be educated to communicate more through their fingers in order to say, “No, I don’t want you on the forehand; this is the contact I wish you to take; please work into this frame,” or “Thank you for coming together, now you may stretch down and forward again.” It is too easy to forget that communication is about interaction. As well as permanent passivity, which can be read by the horse as easy compliance, we are quite entitled to make polite requests.
"In order to accomplish the latter, particularly through the transitions, the rider must learn to take up a fairly exacting contact where the horse can accept the hand without contracting the neck. At the same time, however, there must be sufficient asking or resisting through the fingers and seat to prevent the horse wanting to pass through the hand and drop on to the forehand. It is the ability to combine all these requirements which brings out the true artist in equitation.
"Riders need to be aware that the more one gives, the more the horse will take – and that a properly mouthed horse will, indeed, always try to follow the rider’s hand. The old adage, “You give the hand, and it’s not enough, he’ll take your arm!” could easily be applied to horsemanship.
"It is up to the rider, therefore, to establish the parameters within which the horse is to work. Giving and giving and giving only results in taking and taking and taking and, in the way of rude, uneducated people, the unschooled horse may take to such an extent that he spoils things for himself. If he is not to spend the rest of his life miserably on the forehand, it is for us to show intelligence and establish the guidelines.
"Although initially difficult, this will eventually lead to the horse regaining his natural carriage and grace so that his life can be prolonged in a healthy and useful state. There is no benefit to either horse or rider in remaining forever on the forehand. On the contrary, it generally guarantees early arthritis or breakdown in the horse’s forelimbs and is totally in opposition to nature’s way of organising his natural locomotion."
Often riders don’t understand why their horse won’t go more forward or pick up canter when asked, and the reason is that the rider doesn’t really believe in what they’re asking for, and the horse knows it. If a rider asks for canter but thinks “I don’t really want to,” the horse will read their intentions over their aids. If you want your horse to go forward with positive energy, you must believe this is what you really want.
The following quote from Lt Col A L d’Endrody in his “Give Your Horse a Chance” book elaborates:-
“The mere performance of certain physical actions is not enough in giving signals, as they are only poor and spiritless movements. They have to be enforced by the rider’s will, coupled with his feeling, in order to endow them with live and aiding power.
“The ‘will’ is the rider’s determination to execute his plans. This determination must be firm and resolute, and the signals must clearly reflect this spirit when demanding that a certain task be fulfilled.
“… The rider’s capacity to pass on his ‘will’ and ‘feeing’ to the horse, and accommodate himself to it in using them, is the clue to mastering the art of riding.”
Freelance Horse Riding Instructor and Dressage Trainer for Dressage Lessons and Riding Lessons
in and around Rugby, Warwickshire and the Midlands