12-08-2009, 04:01 PM
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You need to get away from the feeling that contact=pain. Snaffle bits do not hurt when ridden on contact. Soft contact is GOOD!
Now, what is soft contact/soft hands? Many of us grew up with the phrase "soft hands". We learned to ride with our fingers not locked on the reins, thinking this would make our hands softer. In reality, this has the opposite effect.
If fingers don't grip the reins, the reins will work their way through them. Suddenly, you realize that your reins are, once again, too long. Then you have to adjust them shorter, only to have the cycle repeat.
Contact MUST be consistent. Any inconsistency (unless planned ie; half halt) can ruin the lines of communication with your horse. Any unplanned adjustments causes these inconsistencies.
Soft hands GRIP the reins. The softness comes from the elbow and shoulder's ability to follow every movement of the horse's head without the contact pressure changing.
Learn to follow the movement with your arms and shoulders/back, and you will develop soft hands. Then you should trust that contact will help you get the lines of communication you really need for dressage and jumping.