Thumbs up! - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 06-13-2010, 09:57 PM Thread Starter
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Thumbs up!

So for as long as I've been riding, and I'm sure it's the same with most of us, at least english riders, I've been told to keep my thumbs up. And the only explanation I've seen is that it keeps a straight line from bit to elbow.

I've always had a hard time keeping them up, though. It feels so unnatural. I don't quite have literal piano hands aren't exactly horizontal. I keep them pretty much halfway between thumbs up and thumbs directly to the side, if that makes sense. It feels natural and when I try to put them up, I feel like I can't feel the horse's mouth as well and I feel like I can't make the subtle movements like I can with my thumbs turned slightly inward. It might just be in my head, though.

I looked up some videos of upper level dressage and show jumping today to make myself feel better, and I didn't see one that had their thumbs directly up. Maybe this was because of the double reins, but I'm not sure. Also, as far as the direct line goes, I don't see how it breaks the line to rotate your thumbs a little inward. If anything, it actually straightens the rein because if your thumbs are up, it means the rein is flat and horizontal to the ground at the point that it enters your hand. But to be perfectly straight, it should be horizontal to the horse and perpendicular to the ground, which is what happens when I rotate my thumbs a little inward.

I guess my question it okay to ride with my thumbs rotated in a little? Is it only bad if I rotate a complete 90 degrees so my fingernails are facing downward? Does anyone else find it uncomfortable to ride with thumbs straight up?
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post #2 of 9 Old 06-15-2010, 08:44 PM
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I'd like to see this answered, because I ride the same way and am wondering the same thing.
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post #3 of 9 Old 06-16-2010, 07:42 AM
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I ride the same way and my instructor hasn't said anything about it so I'm guessing it is.
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post #4 of 9 Old 06-17-2010, 04:42 PM
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Maybe it's just a habit you've become comfortable in, which is why riding with your thumbs completely up feels odd. To me it feels weird not to ride like that. I've found it gives me a little more finesse with my aids and I feel like my horse can really feel my movement and relaxation more if I have my thumbs up as opposed to piano hands, or even just tilted slightly.

"Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then, always be a unicorn."
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post #5 of 9 Old 06-17-2010, 05:07 PM
Green Broke
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I think this is a good question for Maura, she's always good with this stuff!
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post #6 of 9 Old 06-17-2010, 05:18 PM
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I think (maybe totally wrong on this) that part of it has to do with the conformation of your shoulds, arms, elbows, wrists and hands. Maybe for me and others who ride with slightly tilted hands its unnatural for our hands to be positioned with our thumbs straight up. For me at least, I can't get nearly enough power from my hands if they are straight up and quit frankly it hurts to keep them like that for too long.
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post #7 of 9 Old 06-17-2010, 05:23 PM
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What has helped me is to think "elbows heavier than hands." With your elbows heavier than your hands, your wrists can't be loosey goosey piano wrists.
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post #8 of 9 Old 06-18-2010, 04:53 AM
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I think (maybe totally wrong on this) that part of it has to do with the conformation of your shoulds, arms, elbows, wrists and hands.
Horseyqueen is one to something here. There's no one *right* position, it does depend somewhat on rider's conformation.

Strict thumbs up, with your hand perpendicular to the ground, isn't effective for most riders either. For me, hands at a 30 degree angle, with the thumbs slightly towards each other, works best.

However, the bad news is that "piano hands" - hands rotated so palm faces down - is always a flaw. If you want consolation, it's usually a 'soft' flaw - the rider sacrifices effectiveness for softness by riding this way.

Here's an exercise for anyone with this question to try _

Get a knowledgable friend or instructor to stand on the ground and grasp your reins between the bit and your hands. Have the friend mimic the motion of the horse's head at the walk and at the canter, while you keep contact and follow the motion. Do it with your hands in the text book position. Change to piano hands and pay attention to how that changes the feel and contact.

Experiment with some other position faults - over shorten your reins and straighten your elbow. Carry your hands too high, and then too low. Have the friend continue in the same motion, pay attention to what happens to the contact and the following motion as the position changes.

Now try to apply an aid - squeeze/release your inside rein and see what happens to your feel in all the various positions

Finally, switch places - stand on the ground and "be the horse" while the friend changes hand position and pay attention to how the contact and the feel changes.

The textbook position is the textbook position because it allows for the most efficient following and feel. You can adapt that position for your own conformation (For instance, I am broad shouldered and barrel chested, so I carry my hands farther apart than the text book 4 - 6" to allow my elbow to work correctly. If I move my hands closer together, my elbow pops out and I lose efficiency.) but not to the point where you lose definitive contact.
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post #9 of 9 Old 06-18-2010, 08:52 PM
Green Broke
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The reason you ride with your thumbs on top has nothing to do with a line from bit to elbow. All that means is having a straight wrist with connection to your horse's mouth. You can have that with piano hands. The way I understand it, in this thumbs up position you have a much better ability to have a soft proper following contact on your horse's mouth. The 2 bones in your forearms (radius and ulna?) are parallel. When you ride with piano hands those bones twist. So your arms become more rigid. The last thing you want from your arms when you ride.
All new habits are going to feel awkward and funny. Most people don't naturally want to put their heels down. Doesn't mean that's not correct. Also, sadly looking at the pros isn't always the best place to look for proper form.
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