Classical Training: A Short Note on Contact and Straightness

Sun, 11/11/2018 - 09:10
Training Your Horse
An even contact is a product of straightness :: Photo © Astrid Appels

There is a misunderstanding that an even contact on both reins is about creating rider symmetry and balance and about having the same rein length on both sides. Can you really a fix contact in isolation by simply working on the rider’s hands and the elasticity of the rein aids? It is a very small part of it but an even contact, like lightness, engagement and suppleness, are actually the products of straightness.

The horse has a sidedness pattern that originates in his brain and is responsible for asymmetries in pushing power of the left and right hind limbs and differences in the contributions of the left and right forelimbs to the elevation of the forehand. 

Dr Hilary Clayton put it so well in a recent interview with her that I just had to elaborate as I feel it’s a huge part of training that is seriously overlooked! 

The horse has a concave and a convex side and due to this imbalance it is our duty as riders to provide the horse with gymnastic exercises (lateral work) that help him to correct and balance out these asymmetries. Only then can we establish an even contact on the reins.  An even contact does not come from the rein or the hand, but from the whole body of the horse.

“The asymmetries we perceive in rein contact actually originate elsewhere in the horse’s body rather than the jaw and this is why the trainer must work on the entire body of the horse in order to achieve an even contact in both reins,” Hilary explained. “It confirms the importance of a back to front approach to training rather than trying to ‘fix’ the contact in isolation.”

Hilary added that while of course there can also be other things like injuries that affect the contact In terms of things related to training this is the most important. 

So many times riders are struggling with an exercise and overlooking the fact that the horse is not straight. 

My horse is always late behind in the flying change from left to right. Are his quarters to the inside? My horse pulls on the left rein because my left hand is stiff. Or is it that the horse is falling out through the left shoulder and so your left hand stiffens against him? 

To correct straightness we must learn to control the shoulder of the horse by controlling the inside hind leg placement and creating a corridor of energy that flows from the back to the front of the horse. Only then can we hope to establish as even contact.

The elasticity and evenness of the contact or connection between the horse’s jaw and the rider’s hand, therefore, comes from a very deep understanding of the horse and his tendencies.

by Sarah Warne - Photo © Astrid Appels

Related Links
Classical Training: How Much Weight Should We Have in the Reins?
Classical Training: Loose Rein Bending and Hyperflexion