I'm more of the attitude of do it right or don't do it at all. Instead of dicking around (pardon my language haha) and half doing it, wait until she has enough condition that if you need to work her to truly get that contact, you can. You don't want to be afraid about overworking her if something doesn't go right. Which as we know nothing ever does with horses!!
On the same token, still keep her focus on you when riding and expect a good reaction to go forward from the leg and steering and such. But it's going to be easier to teach her about a contact on a lunge in one fell swoop kind of thing. It's not going to wreck her or teach her bad habits if you never touch the reins. If you're kind of half in a contact, half not, that's what's going to teach her to duck behind the contact. For a while there will be two "states" - free rein and contact. You never want to encourage a floaty, dangly contact even in the beginning. That's what teaches horses to back off the bit and then you get fun behavior issues when you try to teach a correct contact. And it really shouldn't be more than honestly two weeks from starting with the lunging in side reins to having the horse consistently in your contact. It's really interesting that if you set the horse up for success and have a high standard of expectations, how quickly and easily the horse can "rise up" to meet them.
ETA: in both those pictures, the rider is pulling backwards on the reins. That's why the mare is ducking and really bracing through the back. The hands should be resting on the withers (or the saddle pad if you have stubby arms like me) and the rider should be riding up to meet the contact. That is why I say it's far easier in trot because there is more motion, however it does not mean we chase the horse off it's feet either.
They say money doesn't buy happiness -- well happiness doesn't buy horses!
Last edited by ~*~anebel~*~; 12-11-2012 at 10:53 PM.