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Training Your Hands

It is 'live' hands we're after, right after pick-up

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - October 20th, 2011 - More with Les

Eight in a series
After reviewing reins last issue, we’ll look at how we use our hands in this column and next.

A key component of this program is that you learn to ride with “life” in your hands. What we mean by this is that you never want to just hang on the bit with steady pressure. Any time you pick up (that is, start to take the slack out of the reins) and feel resistance, you’ll want to immediately start working your hands back and forth on the snaffle, or go to soft bumps if you’re using a direct rein, until the horse stops resisting and yields to your hand. If you try to just pull on the horse, you’re really only training the horse to pull back, and in the long run he’s a lot stronger than you are!

Another important point is that you sure don’t want to start jerking on the horse or being harsh in any way. You just want to make sure make sure you’re letting him know you want him to give to the pressure while not giving him anything solid he can lean against. You want to start moving your hands very softly, giving him a chance to respond to a light cue, and then move your hands faster and maybe a little stronger if you are still getting resistance. The moment you feel the horse soften at all you need to instantly stop the movement and release the pressure on the reins.

So you’re going to have to train yourself at this until you do it subconsciously – that whenever you feel any pressure on your hands, you go to work on them. If you don’t learn to do this, your horse’s stiff neck later on is going to be your own fault: dead weight in the snaffle brought about by dead hands. I don’t really worry about being in time with the step, that’s too slow for me. I’ll go to work back and forth with my hands to warm up the corners of the mouth. My aim is to get the horse to soften his neck, and I can be as assertive or as light as I want, but I’m never pulling the reins tight. That would be counterproductive. I’m just moving them back and forth in his mouth to keep him light.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Although Les still rides and occasionally shows, his focus is giving clinics around the world and developing products for the performance horseman. To learn more about Les and to see his clinic schedule, visit: www.lesvogt.com

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