Riding with soft hands is an awesome goal, and your horse will thank you for it, writes trainer Jane Savoie.
In this tip, I’m going to give you two physical and also some mental exercises.
Here are the physical exercises.
1. Tie two reins or ropes or even two pieces of baling twine to a sturdy fence. Hold the ropes as if they’re reins. Take up a contact of at least 10 pounds in each hand. Then, adjust the weight of the reins by softening your arms. Go from 10 pounds to 5 pounds back to 10 pounds and then to 2 pounds. Once you get this feeling of adjusting the weight of the reins, you can transfer the same technique to your riding when you feel yourself getting too strong.
2. The next exercise is a progressive relaxation exercise. Progressive relaxation means that the more tightly you hold a muscle, the more deeply it relaxes when you let go.
So let’s tire out those strong hands. With your fingers curled around the reins, clench your hands into fists. Increase the tension until your hands are shaking. Then relax and, anchor the feeling of deep relaxation by saying out loud, “Let go.” Do this several times.
Soon, you’ll be able to recreate the relaxed feeling without having to tighten your hands first. You’ll just have to say your trigger words, “Let go”, and the feeling of relaxation will wash over your hands.
Now let’s focus on some mental training exercises. We’ll do this through the use of imagery.
1. Imagine that instead of holding the reins, you’re holding a baby bird in each fist. You don’t want to hold the bird too tightly or you’ll crush him. The important thing is to make your mental picture very vivid. What kind of bird is it? What colour? Do its feathers feel like soft down? Is it chirping a little?
2. Pretend you’re holding a raw egg in each hand. If you squeeze too tightly, you’re going to have a real mess!
3. Imagine you’re riding without a bridle. There’s only a silk thread from your hands to your horse’s mouth. Your horse responds to the lightest touch.
4. Imagine the bit is a razor blade. You need to have a delicate touch, or you’ll cut your horse’s mouth.
These images should get you started. The best mental picture, however, is a very personal one. So find the “soft hands” image that resonates with you. Then, visualise the picture both on and off of your horse regularly.