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Scoutrider 02-22-2010 10:39 PM

Side Reins and Following Hands
 
I'm thinking of purchasing a set of side reins for Scout so that our lunging sessions can become more physically productive for him than as an occasional pre-flight check before I step in the stirrup. I do, however, want to thoroughly research them first, and I had a few questions that Googling hasn't answered, and I'm hoping that you guys can help me out.

Perhaps I'm over-simplifying, but I understand that side reins are intended to essentially simulate perfect hands, and that when adjusted and used correctly help the horse to seek contact and work in a more correct posture on the lunge. In my experience of riding, it has always been stressed to maintain rein contact by following the motion of the horse's gait, maintaining the same feel by allowing neither slack nor greater tension into the rein as the horse moves his head unless the aids require it. At the walk and canter this is achieved with a more forward and back follow, and at the rising trot with a more up and down follow. So, the horse feels the same thing in his mouth at all times. If the rider is stiff and the hands don't move, then as the horse moves his head and neck (esp. in walk and canter) he bumps his mouth against the bit. According to all of the instruction and research in my life of riding, this is not cool and can lead to evasions and work against the horse's seeking contact as he should.

Bringing the side reins back to my rambling, wouldn't the side reins be the same as the rider having her hands pinned in place, not following, and letting slack come and go in the rein as the horse moves each stride? Or is this something that is compensated for with elastic inserts and donuts and a slightly tighter adjustment? But then elastic doesn't have even feel through its stretch... it pulls harder the farther it's stretched. Probably an improvement on a solid leather construction, but still not the steady following hand I've been guided toward for years.

So, I'm curious to hear what you all think. Am I expecting too much of side reins to follow and maintain feel the way I've always been taught? Would I be better served to continue to work on seeking/accepting contact from the saddle? The perennial question: Am I Doing It Wrong?

Maybe I should just quit thinking and defer to the wisdom of centuries of dressage masters. :lol:

Thanks!

MyBoyPuck 02-22-2010 10:51 PM

I'm also interested in what people think about this. I have the side reins with the donuts, but they only give so much, and as you already pointed out, the horse's head stretched out more or less depending on the gait. I think side reins are a good start toward giving the horse a feel for contact, and are probably better than uneducated hands, but at some point the rider is going to develop a feel for contact that will negate having to use them.

~*~anebel~*~ 02-22-2010 11:44 PM

As much as we don't want to "lock" our hands in place, we don't want them wobbling all over the place. If we are constantly pumping with our arms to "follow the motion", then the horse is always allowed to use his neck to pull himself around. In the same way, if our arms are rigid, then the horse still uses his neck and pivots around our hands with it.
We essentially want to end up with a still neck, at least relative to the horse's body, and to do this the contact must be still relative to the horse's body and to do that the hands must be still relative to the horse's body. So, we want the hands not to be still relative to the horse's head, and we don't want them still relative to our bodies. We want them still relative to something that they aren't attached to at all, which is what makes this so difficult. I always recommend bucking straps, grabbing mane and even taking a cotton rope around the base of the horse's neck to keep the rider's hands still relative to the horse's body.
Side reins also do this, which is why I use them all the time. Draw reins act like the hand that is still relative to our body and allow the horse to pivot with his neck. Too loose side reins etc.. act like a hand which is still relative to the horse's mouth and allow him to wiggle his neck everywhere.
Next time you are watching a dressage video, notice the rider's hands and what they are still to and what the horse's neck is doing. I guarantee what the hands are still to and what the neck is doing go hand in hand.

Anyways. To get the hand still to the horse's body, along with actually adding a physical attachment between the two via a bucking strap, etc.. another thing you can do is actually limit how much of the arm is moving. This also helps to stabilize the core. We want to think about the upper arm actually being part of the upper body by pushing the shoulders to the hips and touching the hips with your elbows. This makes it so that there are only two joints left to move with the horse and prevents the hand that follows the horse's mouth AND as your core stabilizes because of your engaged back muscles (from pushing your shoulders down) your hand becomes more independent from your body.

Good luck!

Rule of Reason 02-23-2010 11:00 AM

Following hands are important, but as anabel was explaining, the hands must also restrict. Maybe you've heard the analogy of the tube of toothpaste for the horse's energy. The tube has to be squeezed from the bottom (energy coming from the hindquarters), but if there's no cap on the other end, the toothpaste just squeezes out all over the places and is gone (the horse falls on its forehand). Side reins act as the cap on the tube. So do your restricting hands, but that's where the "perfect" part comes in. In the saddle, unless you're the perfect rider, you're off balance sometimes, just a little or maybe a lot, especially if the horse is dragging your following hands down to the ground with him. Side reins won't go there. They give, but only so much. And the amount of resistance they have is exactly as much as the horse puts into them with his improper carriage. That's why they're perfect when you can't be.

Beling 02-23-2010 02:41 PM

I am reassessing what I first learned when starting riding, and have decided for myself not to use anything mechanically fixed, which I think is "forced", not even a flash noseband. Well, I need the saddle and bridle... but not sidereins.

Allison Finch 02-23-2010 03:06 PM

While side reins probably move less than many people's hands, they are anything but "perfect". When a horse moves, their head moves more than you think. Even though most side reins have some sort of elastic/donut "give", they don't give enough, or at the right time. There are subtle taps on the bit with every stride.

Instead of side reins, I use long reins. That way MY hands are on the reins and I am able to really follow the horse's mouth.

Scoutrider 02-23-2010 05:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Rule of Reason (Post 561292)
Following hands are important, but as anabel was explaining, the hands must also restrict. Maybe you've heard the analogy of the tube of toothpaste for the horse's energy. The tube has to be squeezed from the bottom (energy coming from the hindquarters), but if there's no cap on the other end, the toothpaste just squeezes out all over the places and is gone (the horse falls on its forehand). Side reins act as the cap on the tube. So do your restricting hands, but that's where the "perfect" part comes in. In the saddle, unless you're the perfect rider, you're off balance sometimes, just a little or maybe a lot, especially if the horse is dragging your following hands down to the ground with him. Side reins won't go there. They give, but only so much. And the amount of resistance they have is exactly as much as the horse puts into them with his improper carriage. That's why they're perfect when you can't be.

I have heard the toothpaste analogy before, and what you say makes a lot of sense. To clarify, when I follow, I do have some slight movement from my shoulder joint, but my elbow only shifts a tiny bit; maybe a couple of inches from my hip-bone at a very "stretchy" walk. I'm not pumping my hands forward and back jockey-style. I'm sort of acknowledging that I'm riding a moving animal with a nearly matching motion of my hands, not a sawhorse on a red wagon.

As far as when I am in the saddle, would I be advised to think of my hands the same as I do my seat, following and restricting according to need? Following and allowing good longitudinal stretching, but restricting that stretch before I lose hind-end power and have a front-wheel-drive horse?

Quote:

Originally Posted by Beling (Post 561485)
I am reassessing what I first learned when starting riding, and have decided for myself not to use anything mechanically fixed, which I think is "forced", not even a flash noseband. Well, I need the saddle and bridle... but not sidereins.

I have no desire to force my horse into a frame either, hence my ongoing research into whatever I strap to him before I actually strap it on. I'm really coming at this from a classical dressage perspective, emphasizing what the rider can do to better guide the horse to a better posture rather than gadgets. One of the few things that I see on a classically trained horse aside from a saddle, bridle, and rider are side reins on the lunge. If they are kept in the arsenal by such rider communication-focused trainers, I ought to pay attention. From what I have seen and read, side reins may be an effective guide for Scout to discover how to seek contact on the lunge, something that the NH lunging he is familiar with does not introduce. I do commend you for sticking to your guns; it can certainly be done without side reins, I've seen it many times. :D

Quote:

Originally Posted by Allison Finch (Post 561508)
While side reins probably move less than many people's hands, they are anything but "perfect". When a horse moves, their head moves more than you think. Even though most side reins have some sort of elastic/donut "give", they don't give enough, or at the right time. There are subtle taps on the bit with every stride.

Instead of side reins, I use long reins. That way MY hands are on the reins and I am able to really follow the horse's mouth.

You have hit my concern right on the head! I actually thought of trying long-reining as well as an alternative to the side reins (plus buying another lunge line is cheaper than side reins :lol:). Over spring break I think I'm dusting off my copy of 101 Lunging and Long Lining exercises! :D

Thanks so much, all, for your wonderful responses! You're really clarifying this for me! :D

MyBoyPuck 02-23-2010 08:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ~*~anebel~*~ (Post 561009)
.

We want to think about the upper arm actually being part of the upper body by pushing the shoulders to the hips and touching the hips with your elbows. This makes it so that there are only two joints left to move with the horse and prevents the hand that follows the horse's mouth AND as your core stabilizes because of your engaged back muscles (from pushing your shoulders down) your hand becomes more independent from your body.

Good luck!

Well said anebel! I always try to imagine my hands in an invisible box in front of the pommel. The hands must stay there and I am forced to use the rest of my position to make adjustments. How you said it is a very good description.

Allison Finch 02-23-2010 09:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by MyBoyPuck (Post 561788)
Well said anebel! I always try to imagine my hands in an invisible box in front of the pommel. The hands must stay there and I am forced to use the rest of my position to make adjustments. How you said it is a very good description.

I disagree with the above statement. At least as I understand it to say.

The hands MUSTN'T stay immobile! The horses head is not immobile and if your hands are, they will be snapping the horse's mouth every time the horse takes a step. Good hands have nothing to do with the actual hands. It is the elbows and shoulders ability to absorb all the little movements of the horse's head and maintain the SAME contact that leads to "good hands". Immobile hands, hands being set in one place, only leads to inconsistent contact, IMO.

MyBoyPuck 02-23-2010 10:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Allison Finch (Post 561863)
I disagree with the above statement. At least as I understand it to say.

The hands MUSTN'T stay immobile!

I never intended to imply that my hands do not move. When I spoke of an invisible box, I meant one that only goes so far. It allows for just enough movement to follow my horse's mouth, but no further. I have a habit of letting my horse talk me out of keeping contact and end up with mile long reins. Once I formed my "box" theory, I was able to keep my hands in front of the pommel where they should be and keep the length consistent. It also forced me to use my upper body more correctly. For example, to apply a half halt, instead of squeezing or pulling on the outside rein with my arm, I open my outside shoulder which has the same effect and also momentary plants my seat a little firmer in the saddle. Hope that clears it up.


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