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posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 29, 2011 10:20

Contact is perhaps the least understood concept in the riding world, and unfortunately perhaps the most (for lack of a better word) abused.  The following explanation is the beginning of a journey of understanding...

Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth.  The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider’s driving aids and ‘seek’ a contact with the rider’s hand, thus ‘going onto’ the contact.  As they say in Germany, ‘the horse seeks the contact and the rider provides it’.

A correct steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each of the gaits.  The poll should always be the highest point of the neck, except when the horse is being ridden forwards and downwards, i.e., in an extended outline.  THE CONTACT SHOULD NEVER BE ACHIEVED THROUGH A BACKWARD ACTION OF THE HANDS.  It should result from the correctly delivered forward thrust of the hind legs.  The horse should go forward confidently onto the contact in response to the rider’s driving aids.

Taking a contact gradually evolves into being on the bit, which entails flexion at the poll.  This should not be considered as an aim in itself:  the horse should come onto the bit as a consequence and byproduct of correct schooling.  When working with young horses at the basic stage of training, or when performing ‘loosening’ work with older horses, the trainer should avoid trying to ‘get the horse onto the bit’ prematurely.  If this is achieved by use of the hands alone, it detracts from the looseness and the activity of the hind legs and so defeats the object of the training.