Riding in hand differs greatly from the so-called
riding on contact, the latter being mere supplementation of the first by
inadequate riders who for most part fail to understand various publications on
these issues by some rider-writers. This article will serve to clarify and allow
better understanding of what it means to ride a horse in hand, on contact and on
a loose rein.
Please note: the term "on contact" in this and related articles refers to the general concept and understanding of it by most riders of today.
This horse is fairly collected all on his own while on a loose rein, which he most likely learned by carrying a heavier rider.
There is nothing wrong with either of the pics above. The working horse knows what to do and the rider uses the reins to occasionally guide the horse or ask for a certain response. Working horses usually know their jobs and they hardly need any aids from the rider to get it done. Most will learn to adapt to the rider's weight, some better than others, and get the job done. This is not science! Not interfering with the horse’s mouth during his job is simpler and safer for the horse as well as the rider.
A typical picture of contact- hanging on the horse's mouth, preventing him from doing his job, while burying the spurs deep inside the horse's rib cage. This rider most likely couldn’t do the riding that the riders in the above pictures do, since the reins in this case very obviously serve to keep this man on the horse. Even so, this style is favored by the so-called intellectual people who will undoubtedly provide you with some scientific theory to justify this crap.
Basically, riding in hand is
about directing, regulating and enhancing the output of the horse's energy
during movement. On the other hand, riders riding on the so-called contact
are in reality influencing the horse's movement by interfering with his
motion, thus altering it and in return operating under the delusional
perception that they have some control over the horse. This is primarily
about controlling the horse, and not about riding it.
Riding on contact is very easy to see, often in the tit-milking motion of the rider's hands, which they often ascribe to some taking and giving theory that some fools invented due to their misunderstanding while reading some publication.
First of all, the rider does not take or give anything-the horse takes and gives; after all, you are sitting on him, you fool; what do you want to take and what do you have to give? What you are actually doing in this process is taking the horse's freedom of movement by interfering with it and then giving some of it back via less interference; what hogwash!
First and foremost there is no way to
explain or to teach what one does with his hands when he rides a horse in
hand. It cannot be described, imagined or taught; it can be only
discovered, understood and lived, thus all publications that try to teach
the reader how to use his hands while riding are false, and one is better
off not reading them, lest he ends up confused and never discovers the
true beauty of riding in hand.
Now in the other extreme you get these
fools and genuine idiots in the riding world who come up with things like,
"I do not need a bit to ride my horse" (this is because his/her
horse most likely didn’t
accept the bit, which
again most likely was caused by the rider's lousy hands. There is always
room for acting honorably and nobly when one has a deficiency) or
Riding in hand requires excellent hands by the
rider, and without an equally excellent seat it is impossible, whether riding in the
light or heavy seat.
Hence here we are again-that without a solid seat, a person cannot ever
learn to genuinely ride a horse, because the concept of riding a horse
primarily revolves around the use of hands during motion and all else is
Riding in hand can be truly experienced to its
fullest in the light seat during medium to fast gallops, during which the horse
actually gives himself, his well being, into the rider's hands. This has to be
lived to be understood, and imagination will only create some foolish
In today's world it is very impractical to introduce the
horse to such a level, because in the long run it will become detrimental to
him. Thus the horse should be educated and trained according to the environment
that it has to live in, which is unfortunately hard to bear or to do for any
rider of that level. Most riders that reach this level will simply disappear
somewhere because for them it is as difficult to give up the better thing for
the lesser (trading the dance for labor) as it is for the horse. Some horses
will do it, but almost none will ever perform their best again.
The riding in hand has certain levels before one finally reaches the "dancing" concept, if ever. In short, it is awesome for the horse as well as for the rider.
This little kid is doing better than both of the riders below-that is, if you could ask the horses. Unfortunately someone already strapped the poor pony's mouth shut, hence this child, like so many others, is drawn into the matrix of our fictional concept of realities and most likely will never learn. This pony is actually more collected than both of the horses below.
What is the difference between this picture and the one below? The one on top is unpolished crap and the one below is polished crap. They start like that (above) and end up like this below.
Look at this nightmare! Look at the legs!
This horse is not galloping but trotting!
With three legs off the ground!? Looking for
the reasons why dressage horses go lame? Well, here it is, the primary cause of
lameness in dressage horses. Just imagine the stress on that one foreleg
of this heavy warmblood, in which case the navicular region is
"crunching, girding and squeaking." The warmbloods will
tolerate this mentally more than the finer breeds, hence they are more
popular. The head is fixed (drawn down) and the rider has no idea what is
going on, while the judge scores on the popularity of the rider rather
then on what is presented before his/her eyes.
This will get you the "desired head set" and it will also disable you to feel in your hand the horse, his energy and motion, and strapping his jaw like in the pic below will just add the final finishing touch of a dead jaw properly blending with the rider's dead hands. When fixed like this (like a dog from biting), the horse can no longer express himself and you will never know what is happening under you. However, horses like this are valuable commodity since any fool with money can buy one and win on it despite his inadequate riding and hard hands.
| The principles of riding in hand are pointed out
separately, for I can describe the functions of it, but I cannot tell
you how one will accomplish it. The only rider that could reach this level is the one
who is constantly improving his relationships with horses by learning from
them, is always aware of his own faults, and lets the horses improve
The rider that believes that he is good at what he is doing will never find it, and the rider that wants to find it will miss it due to his blinding desire for it. This "dancing" is very much misunderstood by most of those who speak or write about it, which is demonstrated by their descriptions of it.
As you can see in the article on riding in hand, and articles on riding aids it will all fall in place, for one thing genuine riding has is harmony (the music is in the motion of life and not in sound), but many think that they are in harmony with the horse because they see nothing and feel nothing, let alone understand what is happening between them and the horse.
Since horses are mute, one can interpret their actions any way he likes, and only an unselfish, humble person who has the ability to see who and what he is can begin to grow, not only as a rider, but also as a human being, by letting the horse show him how. In time, unselfish men will see the reflection of their heart in the horse, for all animals are pure in life without "intellect" and hence without corruption. Human intellect actually gets in the way of relating to and understanding horses (article on the training page coming soon).
Riding on contact is fairly common and
very much in fashion in the so-called (incorrect term) “English”
riding. The green rider has a problem with it until he learns to steady
his hands by leaning into the reins, while the horse learns to lean back
into the rider's hands. It is easy to recognize in the horse's movement
and here are some things to be noted as typical, with one or more usually
More obvious things to observe are riders that tend to
lean back because the horse is on the forehand, since he is leaning in the
rider's hands. Horses that give in to the pull (yielding to the bit, not
accepting it) will flex not at the poll but at the neck, and the bit will drop
below the "positive energy line" of motion (below
thus the head won’t be moving harmoniously with the horse's body, appearing
stationary in a so-called fixed position that the greenhorns call the "set
As the multitude of these poor riders has risen in the
last few decades, the judges adjusted their judging to the riders’
incompetence in order to ensure large turnouts at shows and competitions in
enlarge the profits of the governing bodies of the particular
A riding horse needs freedom of motion to be safe and to feel safe and secure, and it is the rider's responsibility to learn how to get inside the motion (within the motion) and not just go with it (being on top of it), as most mediocre riders eventually achieve, believing it be the concept of "being one with the horse." Well, when compared to dancing, these riders are like little girls standing on daddy's toes believing they can dance, and never even knowing what real dancing is about when one combines his energy with another into one motion.
Simple points for understanding:
There is no such term as “light contact” in genuine hand riding, because it is not about the weight in the hands but rather the given situation that presents itself in which the hand riding aid is implemented in an appropriate fashion and weight/strength, which is determined by the horse and not by the rider. In other words, if someone instructs you to take a light contact, he has no idea what he is talking about. In short, if you do not know how to ride in hand, you are better off leaving the horse alone and keeping your hands out of the horse's mouth as much as possible.
In hand riding is exclusively for the finer and more advanced rider, and most riders should stay away from it, since the implementation of an incorrect hand riding aid can cause more sorrow and nuisance to the horse than when left alone. Dressage was a discipline that needed to be ridden in hand; hence, dressage was at one time the college of riding exclusively and only for the very advanced and refined riders.
The term "riding on contact" in correct
publications doesn’t refer to some contact with the horse's mouth via the
reins; it is about the contact with the horse's energy and motion via the
rider's hands, which cannot be accomplished if and when the horse's jaw is not
supple and the poll is not the high point of the positive energy.
Riding in hand = Directing, regulating/managing and enhancing the output of the horse's energy in movement, which is determined by the horse.
Riding on contact = Influencing the horse's movement by interfering with his motion, energy and balance, which is determined by the rider.
Riding on a loose rein (off contact) = Minimal interference with the horse's energy, motion and balance, leaving him on his own to deal with, and adjust to, the situation while carrying the rider. Usually the rider adjusts to the horse and vice versa.
Edited by J. G. May 21st, 2006
Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek