Do you have trouble keeping your hands steady? Does your instructor yell at you to keep your hands quiet? Do your hands move up and down as you post? Do you tend to drop one hand lower than the other? Unsteady hands are a major problem for many riders. Here are two suggestions to quickly improve your hand position.
Unsteady hands demonstrate the difficulty relating to our hands as a fixed point in space around which we move. For example if I asked you to walk around a chair in the middle of the room you have unlimited possibilities. I doubt if you would even begin to think of where your hands are as you walk around the chair. But if I told to keep one hand fixed to the chair at all times you would be very aware of your hand and how you moved. Then if I said you have to keep both hands fixed to the back of the chair, you would have even fewer options. Unfortunately we don’t have the chair to hold when we ride.
As humans we can move our arms in many ways. We can move our arms in different directions and each arm can move independently of the other. When we feel insecure we use our arms and hands to grasp whatever is closest, a chair, the reins, etc. Most people extend their arms to increase their stability. Therefore it is natural for a rider to use her arms to help balance herself. Unfortunately those arms are usually attached to reins. Therefore the horse is affected by the rider’s unsteady contact.
As a rider’s balance improves it is easier to keep her hands quiet and low regardless of horse’s movement. Excellent riders have what is called “independent hands” meaning that the rider does not need the hands for balance. Their hands remain steady and quiet even if the horse is jumping. To do this the rider has to relate to the location of the hands as if they were attached to something, like your hand on the chair. The rest of the rider’s body moves in relation to the fixed point of the hands in space generally near the horse’s withers.
The problem is that many riders are unaware that their hands are moving unless someone else tells them. In order to improve your hand position on your own I have two suggestions. 1. Use an Equistrap™ or some type of thin strapping to go around the horse’s neck. Hold the strap with your reins as you normally would. Keep a light tension on the strap. An Equistrap will help to mark your hands in place, like holding the chair. You can pull on the strap to help steady yourself provided your horse is OK with this idea. Fortunately most horses are but check it out from the ground first. If you unconsciously tend to pull one hand back the other will have to go forward making this movement more noticeable. 2. Ride with a short crop or stick between your hands. Hold your reins normally then place the stick under your thumbs. This will help you feel and see when on hand is low or back since the stick will highlight the change in hand position. With one of both of these tools you will be able to sense when your hands are in a good position. Feeling awkward or fighting the stick or the strap means that your hands aren’t independent. Start by using these tools a little each time you ride until it becomes more comfortable. When you no longer notice the equipment switch to using it once/week to check yourself.
Use this Murdoch Minute as a ‘body position self-check’ to steady your hands when you ride. I am sure you horse will appreciate your quiet hands and reward you with his willingness to lower his head and relax. And remember – enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch resides in Washington, VA and is an international riding instructor/clinician. She travels worldwide teaching riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position.