How do you define light hands?

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well put justice!!
I think that the reason that light hands "can't be taught" is that the vast majority of riders are not even introduced to the possibility that hands can be light.

Granted, some great riders seem to be BORN with light hands (the pictures of the USET Olympic team member Joe Vargas in "Form Over Fences" as a pre-teen showed exceptionally good hands.) But good, light hands CAN be taught. Otherwise I, suffering unknowingly from Multiple Sclerosis since a young age, would NEVER have been able to have a conversation with the horse through the bit. I, lacking ALL physical ability for light hands (and showing it clearly as a beginner when my MS was not as bad) would have been doomed to having ham-fisted blocks of wood as hands forever.

I LEARNED how to have light hands. I was TAUGHT the basics by the Forward Seat instructor Kay Russell (as she yelled "YOU ARE ABUSING YOUR HORSE'S MOUTH!!!), learned more from reading, over and over again, Caprilli, Santini, Littauer, Chamberlin, Dillon,and Kirschner (all FS or US Cavalry), and finally, after decades of having decent contact, learning the refinements of timing from Udo Burger, the great dressage author. After I stopped opposing the thrust of the hind leg with my hand on the same side my hands became LIGHT and remain light. I was TAUGHT the possibility, and LEARNED how to do it, since I had great desire. I was NOT BORN with good, light hands.

Sorry to be so emphatic. I pity horses ridden in 5 pounds of contact. How can those horses ever, ever hope to talk with their riders through the bit?
Good conversation girls.... I don't know exactly but I do know that I don't intend to abuse my horses mouth and my trainer says you should strive for the horse having a good frothy mouth when you get back from the ride or you are a blow it.. :) he also rides with his legs and seat not his hands so I better learn like that... making my horse miserable or abusing his mouth is not where it's at for me... :)
I thoroughly agree that good hands are rare. I really like your re-write! (The first one was pretty good too.)
You have to WANT to have good hands. My deep desire is the only reason I have good hands today.
You have to LISTEN to your horse's mouth to develope good hands. Horses often reward good, light, and resposive hands by "talking" with their tongues. Hard hands never get this communication. Soft, supple fingers do.
You have to WORK at it to develop good hands, following the lead of the horse, who is your teacher (with some help from the human instructors, of course.)
And as Barbara so accurately pointed out, an independent seat can be extremely important, because if your seat is not secure your hands unconsciously stiffen up and become hard.
Sunday the mare I rode, Cider, told me that my hands were just too bad to use the bit I'm riding her in (Wellep lever cheek snaffle), she got really resistant and hard mouthed. I can't blame her, with the great summer heat my MS symptoms get a LOT worse. Sigh. But she has spoken, either she'll share the basic Wellep bit with Mia or I'll have to decide which bitless system she'll like best (I have 5 different systems in her size. Its wonderful to have choices.)
You are so right , Justice, contact with a bit is NOT ours to keep. Cider has told me that until my hands get better (cooler weather) that she is NOT going to give me contact and cooperation, or really obey me when you get down to the essence of what she is saying. Cider has spoken, all I can do is hear her and obey. I hope I please her.
Mia gives me soft contact for around a quarter of the ring at a walk, then she asks for a loose rein. I am no longer allowed to keep contact at the trot (she inverts easily, a lot of Arabs do, and I've gotten some overflexion too. Bad me.) Thank goodness I started off training her on loose reins over a year ago, it really pays off in the summer!
Light hands start with an independent seat. They are the sympathetic and elastic extension of a rider who is always aware that a sensivitve mouth is on the other end of the reins.
Independent seat is absolutely right! To achieve the independent seat, one must have the correct body alignment first, then the core and inner thigh muscles must be very fit and toned in order to support the weight of the rider. When the muscles are strong, they don't have to work hard, therefore stay relaxed so the joints of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers are allowed to stay well oiled, relaxed and able to feel exactly what the horse is doing and feel what to do to help him understand what the rider is asking. Rider fitness is a huge part of the equation! When we ride horses, there are two athletes....the horse and the rider!

This to me is a spot on definition! Not always easy to apply esp. when everything is not in balance as it should be, but this is what we strive for....♥


Light hands are reactive hands. They will give the support each individual horse needs, for each maneuver that is being executed

Light hands are authorative hands. They will give as much direction as each individual horse needs for each maneuver.

Light hands are fast hands. They will change their communication as each individual horse reacts to the previous signal given.

Light hands are wise hands. They will whisper or shout, depending on the needs of the horse.

Light hands are useless by themselves. You got your whole body available to communicate w/ your horse. You might as well use it.
everything starts with energy..... and intent...... your body and fingers are just an extension of your communication with your horse.... this weekend, Oliver and I did an exercise where I was so light with his lead rope that I led him everywhere with an eensy amount of pressure on the lead rope, guiding his head, but using my energy, intent and body language... he was such a good boy.. and he got it and he enjoyed it!! ... now you know I don't ride... and that is because I work on energy and communication and when we got that down I think riding will be easy, with easy hands and a willing horse...... :)
Good, you are developing the feeling of lightness. Come to think of it I think I did something like this with my first horse oh so long ago. Isn't it amazing how light a touch horses can feel? I also find that with the lighter aids I get MORE of my horse's attention.
well of course...... you get more flys with honey than vinegar!! :) they respnd very much to a touch... and the second you touch the lead rope or the reins your energy is going right to them... they are so responsive.... I think people just lug horses around with a heavy hand... I wouldn't like that so I try to be how I would want to be treated.. :) Toby and I practiced too...he is the cutest old bug ever... I don't think anyone was ever light with him...... poor old buddy o mine...


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