Thursday, April 22, 2010

Science VS tradition: Posture and hand position

As some of you have noticed I have been kind of AWOL this week and last. I have exams so I have been studying and working my butt off. Next Tuesday is my last exam so until then I will be a little less frequent. Back here soon though as I am almost done class for the summer.

This weeks science vs tradition is one not often thought about. Instructors often look it over for a long time and I am sure we have all made one or all of these mistakes in our riding careers.

We look at the proper rider posture as modeled by my good friend Korinne.
Ear, elbow and heel make one complete line as illustrated by the blue line in the first image. She is looking forward where she is going which will lock this in. It does not matter if you ride English, Western or driving. This rule should apply to all riders riding/driving with two reins in regards to hand position. It puts you properly over your center of gravity and will help you not tip forwards or backwards if the horse makes sudden movements or changes gait.

Her hands are low, she is looking where shes going and her heels are down. This creates the ear, elbow, heel strait line. Ideally we would ride like this always but sometimes horses throw you curve balls (or bucks or rears or bolts or teleports). Creating muscle memory with proper posture can help you stay in the saddle better.

When riding with two reins imagine you have an ice cream cone in each hand (or two bottles of beer or two wine glasses if you will) if you tip your hands forward, sideways or upside down your icecream will fall off the cone in your hands, or of course spill out of the bottle or glass. Hehe.

It looks like you could plop a cone in each hand and ride like that without your icecream falling off the top. There could almost be a little more bend at the wrists but everyone has a slight variation. It depends on your bodies make up more than anything of how much your wrists will be bent in order to achieve the proper riding posture.My riding students/people riding with me laugh when I start hollering "DON'T TIP YOUR ICECREAM" or the ever popular "QUIT SPILLING YOUR BEER!" alcohol abuser
So remember, don't tip your cones/spill your beverage.

When you hold your reins/icecream cones like this and your elbows are bent properly you have a strong point to work with. The strongest point in the human body is the elbow. If you have to make a 90 degree angle with your elbow you are making a very strong point. If you need to use a little more oomph in the reins this will help you achieve that. This 90 degree angle and hand ice cream cone posture goes for when your lunging or leading an unruly horse. It gives you a place to brace the tension on the line on rather than have it just rip through your hands.

Here are some common mistakes when it comes to hand posture/arm posture that break the deep seat and ear/elbow/heel line, which you should always have.

Puppy paws or piano hands. Generally riders adapt this when they have an insecure seat. Their heels are not down and they tend to tip forward. A lot of the time their elbows are also strait or in a weak angle. They want to lean forward and tip onto the horses neck when it stops or makes a sudden move.

Holding the reins against the legs or out and down. As you can see this straitens the arms. The rider spreads his or her arms and lets them straiten and go down, forcing the horse into a frame. You have no bend in the elbow and your center of gravity is way off. Not to mention your elbows are way away from your sides. I see a lot of riders doing this and sawing on the reins in an attempt to get their horse to go on the vertical (on the bit). This creates a rigid back in the rider, along with arms and hands. It does not allow you to flow with the horses movement and absorb it but rather fighting against it. A lot of riders also hang on the reins this way instead of using seat balance.

Pulling up towards your shoulders and face when asking for a horse to stop. This is just wrong but I bet every one of us has either done it or seen it happen first hand. It puts off your center of gravity and if the horse decides to put his head down your gonna tip right over it. Plus the horse is gonna throw his head up high and make it even worse to stop him. When asking for a stop/half halt/slow down you should always pull to your hips. This creates that strong 90 degree angle in the elbow and gives you the leverage you need. Not to mention you keep the proper posture.

Strait arms. So your hand posture is great but your back is rigid and your arms like stiff boards. This normally is an attempt for the rider to "give" to the horse. If you exercise proper posture you should be able to give the horse more rein and keep your body in line, not throw your arms forward. This sets you up for tipping forward.

One hand ahead of the other. One arm is strait, the other is correct. This might be a riders habit due to a horse that does not bend properly on one side or a rider that has uneven muscle development. This is going to make you want to tip to one side and may create one sidedness in both rider and horse.

Hands up. Most riders want to hold the reins this way the first time they are on a horses back and that is fine so long as the habit is broken young. It weakens the 90 degree angle and also your fingers are going to be weak all in a row rather than stacked together. Think about pulling a heavy box towards you that is loaded with junk. If your arms can reach around it you want to grab it by the sides and slide it close. Your wrists are weak in this hand position with the palms facing up, which a 1000+ pound horse can plow through.

So weather you have good hand position or bad this can help you identify common hand mistakes. Hopefully paying more attention to your hands wile riding you can help improve your horses comfort, especially if you use a bit and your own riding posture.


Breathe said...

This was very helpful - thank you. I need to work on an "independent seat." My new personal goal.

Kate said...

Nice post - very good photos!

Jame said...

Thank you for this post. It's been so very long since I've had a lesson with a trainer pointing out, "you know, you get no ice cream..." The pictures were especially helpful, as a visual learner I appreciate them! I forget to switch between driving hands & riding hands sometimes, lol.

Sydney said...

Not a lot of trainers, especially jumping and western in general worry about hand position. It's number 1 in my books after heels down of course. I like to use a lot of comparisons to relate riding things to real life things. Like heels down. I ask riders whats the first thing an airplane should have down before it lands or it will crash? They think for a moment then most reply with "the wheels" which is why you need to have your heels down because just like a plane landing without wheels, your gonna crash if you don't keep down your heels.

Sydney said...

PS- Driving and riding hands should be the same, especially if you carry a whip.

allhorsestuff said...

Excellent post Sydney! Especially with the photos.
My sister, when she trains me, also uses the pointer finger method...if you point your pointer should point directly at the mouth-straight down the reins. It reflects your angle of contact to it.
Where your pointer finger the direction of pressure on the mouth(if bitted).

Sydney said...

Totally forgot about that one. That will be a picture for next week's riding.

JeniQ said...

Hi Sydney - THANK YOU!!!! I have "western" hands .. err hand. My posture is good, I'm almost always
ear->shoulder->hip->heel, and heel is down. But my hands SUCK. I just can't seem to hold them "still" in the two handed hold. Western hands do not "follow" the horse, Dressage hands do--- I can't figure that one out either.

I'm much much better but still a long way off.

I'm almost at the point where I'm going to put dixie cups of water in each hand WITH my reins.

Sydney said...

Jeni, what do you mean by "western" hands? Like they stay strait instead of curving with the horses head/neck?
Sounds like it may be your arms and shoulders/back rather than your hands. A lot of riders try and absorb the movement of the horse in their backs and it makes them stiff and in result their hand position suffers.

Anonymous said...

There is a book called Balance in Movement: THe Seat of the Rider written by a German physical therapist that talks about the importance of posture, etc. You might find it interesting, too. Probably nothing new for you, but it is always interesting to get others' perspectives and ways to approah things. Just found your blog. Look forward to reading more!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Interesting pictures. Good post.


Mellimaus said...

Just wanted to thank you for this post...a little late. I don't think my hand position was terrible before, but I'm more aware of it now and I think I ride better...hands to your hips actually makes sense to me now. :) Thank you.

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