Posts tagged ‘contact’

What is Contact?

Free Translation Widget

One cannot envision contact; so there are no images accompanying this post. One can, however, conceptualize contact. To get the concept, enlist someone else to read these words while you sit on a saddled horse, without stirrups, eyes closed.  Then pick up your stirrups, and listen again, eyes closed. 

Obtaining and maintaining soft contact- that is contact with the leg, seat and reins is a  complex, and, I dare say, crucial concept of equitation. Contact entails, on the part of the rider, an awareness of his calves and –through his boot and saddle flap– a “feel” of the side of the horse. Simultaneously, the rider must be aware of the inside of his thigh, his seat bones, and lower back, and– through the saddle flap, the seat of the saddle, and the pad underneath it– “feel” the horse’s back. Also simultaneously, the rider must be aware of his own shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers, and –through his gloves, reins, and bit– the horse’s neck and head to “feel” of the horse’s mouth. It is all to be connected.

Actually, it is more complicated than that, or vastly simpler, once you understand that what we really want to do is feel, in order to control, the horse’s individual hind legs, prerequisite to controlling the horse’s  back and shoulders. Which is why it is more apt to say that we “put the horse in front of the rider’s leg” than to say that we “put the horse on the bit” as an indication of a more intense, more energized degree of “riding on contact”.

Now, if all of this is complicated for a rider, who is, after all, a human being possessed of intelligence superior to the horse which, partner though it may be, or is becoming, is still an animal, then learning to go “on contact” is immensely more difficult for a horse. The horse must have that identical set of awarenesses, albeit in reverse, and must submit its animal will to its “feel” of, i.e. awareness of stimulation by, a rider. So be sympathetic, and question yourself, first,  if things are not going well.

More specifically, recheck the correctness of your overall position, and your position’s ability to fluidly follow and absorb the motion of the horse, without, in any way, interfering with the balancing gestures of an equine athlete at any stage of development. To do this, it is wise for riders, whether novice or vastly experienced, to develop or refurbish their own seats and “feel” for contact by riding schooled horses alternately with green prospects.

Whether riding a green or schooled horse, the mechanics of putting the horse “on contact” are the same. And perfecting the process of obtaining and maintaining contact with a horse is a lifetime quest…more on this later.

Another ride, another game

Free Translation Widget
It’s way too sloppy out doors to trail ride, darnit. So, again in the big gym, today’s work, with the same advancing medium horse, was quite different.

Using a similarly styled warm-up as previously, it took a little longer to make even contact, and really swing into trot. But when he did, it was big and loose. Canter was immediately wonderfully active, at once buoyant, and uphill.
To take advantage of this, I inscribed many changes of direction using long and short diagonals, serpentines, half circles and half circles in reverse carefully planning them such that, although I did frequent changes of lead, I did them at points along the figure that the horse did not anticipate, and I focused myself on influencing him to be straight and uphill in strides before, during and after the changes. Today, I did not ask for any lateral canter work. We did only canter figures for four or five minutes, during which he maintained his buoyancy.

Then, without a walk interlude, we began trot work that included a very forward, rhythmic, up-tempo shoulder in, which I let collect itself through half-pass, (but never felt to cadence into passage) then long straight lines transitioning from medium to collected and repeat, focusing on the quality of the transitions.

Then a walk interlude with a pair of pirouettes, and a schakule of 3-5-7-9 as described before, followed by a spectrum of walks through which I was conscious of the rhythm but focused on the transitions between the walks and the horse’s taking the reins forward and down smoothly and raising his forehand supply in response to my shortening the reins. This needs more practice…I’ll include more of it in this horse’s work over the next few weeks.

Already partially warmed down by the walk work, but still quite interested in continuing, I resumed trot without stirrups and did the SI-circle-HP down the long walls in the style of Prix St George Test. But felt that the horse had become so buoyant that my sitting without stirrups was more impeding than facilitating his balance. Fact is, I could barely get back to the saddle during HP right. So I picked up the stirrups and repeated in both directions, with improvement.

Pressing on, I again asked for the medium to collected to medium to collected, but added a few steps of piaffe, then medium to collected, to a few more steps of piaffe, the forward into large circled of forward and down trot rising, then walk. Soon dismounting, responding to the head butting and foam flipping by rubbing his head and praising him. Although he was not steamy of breathing hads, I leading the horse about the room for several minutes before returning to the stable.

I am fortunate that all my rides this winter are boxed, traced, and rugged. Tomorrow, I am going on a muscle spasm hunt while giving this horse a thorough massage.

%d bloggers like this: