Do you wish you had better hands? Is your instructor always telling you to make your hands quiet? Does your horse get resistant when you ask for a turn? Here’s a quick tip to improve your hand position and contact with the horse’s mouth for both western and English riding.
Next time you ride pay attention to your hands. Notice if they are palm up, palm down or somewhere in between. In MM #2 I talked about the elbow and the bones of the forearm, the radias and ulna, which form part of the elbow. These two bones also effect hand position.
Find the point of your elbow. This is one end of your ulna. Trace the ulna down the side of your forearm to where it ends, a boney prominence above the wrist. Place your hand on your elbow again. Gently grip your elbow joint. Place your thumb into the crease of the elbow joint and spread your fingers so they cover the area from the crease of the elbow to the ulna at the elbow. Press your fingers into the muscle firmly but gently.
Now slowly rotate your forearm. Turn your hand so that your palm faces the ceiling and then the floor. You will feel something moving as you turn your hand over. This is the end of the radias (the second bone in your forearm) as it rotates, which is what allows your hand to turn. Trace your radias down to the wrist. The end is the boney prominence on the thumb side of the wrist.
Next, extend your arm out in front of you palm up. Leading with your index finger bring your finger towards your nose. Go slowly. You will notice that as you touch your nose with your finger you will rotate the forearm; the palm will no longer be facing upward.
Extend your arm again. This time bend at the elbow without rotating the forearm. Keep the palm faces upwards as you bend your elbow. If you pay attention you will notice that instead of touching your nose with your index finger your hand will be several inches to the outside of your shoulder. Keep your elbow fully bent and sense the rotation in the forearm as you bring your index finger towards and away from your nose.
The horse also has two bones between the elbow and the wrist (or knee). The ulna forms the point of the elbow but instead of continuing down to the knee as a separate bone, it fuses into the top of the radias forming a single bone. The horse’s radias is permanently fixed in the palm down position and does not rotate, which is a good thing!
When riding your want you the palm of your hand halfway between the palm up (facing the sky) and palm down (facing the ground) positions. This is a neutral position, which affects your ability to keep the shoulders back. When riding western with one hand on the reins, the rotation of the hand changes slightly as you neck rein left and right but it is never completely flat (palm down). When riding with rommel reins the hand remains held very upright with the thumb side towards the sky.
Use this Murdoch Minute as a ‘body position self-check’ before you ask your horse to turn, stop, back up or change gaits. Maintaining a good hand position can help prevent you from pitching forward on speed changes and improve your turning. You might also find that you are more solid in your seat. And remember – enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch is an internationally recognized equestrian instructor and clinician of over 30 years. She is the author of 50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding, 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes, the Ride Like A Natural® DVD Series and the SURE FOOT™ Equine Stability Program. One of the most skillful teachers ever encountered in any equestrian discipline, Wendy’s desire to understand the function of both horse and human, curiosity and love of teaching capitalized on the most current learning theories in order to show riders how to exceed their own expectations.