How do you have soft hands and Why?

Hey Dressage Superstars! Today’s question is, “How do you have soft hands and Why?”

This was my biggest challenge when I was learning to ride with my hands! Contact and how my hands should be? What should I be feeling with my hands? What should I do with my hands? How to have a soft hands and hold something when riding? These questions did my head in! 

We need to try and figure this out. I thought I’d do a video on why do we have soft hands? Why would you want to have soft hands, and why is that important?


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To Your Success,

Natasha Althoff

Full Transcript Expand to full transcript

​Hey, Dressage Superstars, Today I’m going to answer the question, how do you have soft hands when you ride and why?

Hey, so soft hands, oh. I’m groaning, because when I was learning to ride hands and contact and how my hands should be, and what I should feel in my hands, and what I should do with my hands, and soft hands, and have holding hands, and hard hands… Did my head in. If that’s how you feel, I’m with you. But we need to mine in this minefield. We need to try and figure this out. I thought I’d do a video on why do we have soft hands? Why would you want to have soft hands, and why is that important? Obviously your hands are connected when they’re holding the reins to the horse’s mouth. If you want your horse’s mouth to be soft, your hands need to be soft. There is no horse with a hard mouth, and the rider had soft hands. If the rider will, the horse will yield to the rider.

That doesn’t mean though that person that has soft hands is not hard with their hands occasionally. If my horse is reactive, like doing this and leaning on the bit or putting his head up or being in any other position that I don’t want him to be? My hands lock on. Think about it. If my horse has got his head where I want him to have it, and he’s soft and supple to both sides, this is literally my hand connection. It’s soft, it’s loose, there’s just nothing in it. Oh, I’ll stay still, hold him for the camera. If he suddenly put his head up or did something, I’m going to close my hand. Obviously it’s easier when we walk.

We’ll get back to the training in a second. I just wanted to remind you if you’re loving this video, and make sure to subscribe and leave me a comment on how this video has helped and your biggest learning so far.

Okay. Obviously it’s easier when you move, because a hand signal just on its own is a little confusing. Oh, hang on, I would do it in hops. Yep. If I’ve gone into my whole transition and I’ve gone and halt in my dressage test. Let’s say he’s putting his head up, don’t do it. I’m going to play with my little fingers, play. Let’s say I wanted him deeper. Good boy, good boy. Uh-uh (negative), we don’t move. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

You can say, every time I use my rein, I give it again. He’s very good, he’s just going to stay there. Friesians just like this position. For everyone that likes to pick on my videos, he’s short at the neck and behind the vertical. Yaha, that’s what Friesians do, even when you have no contact. Yes, so… uh-uh (negative), we’re going to stand still. But every now and then I need to put pressure on his mouth, but you can see how I do it. Uh-uh (negative), we’re not moving. Was everything on this? This is what I call, you can call it piano hands, or fairy floss fingers, or playing with the hands, or roll the bit over his tongue or… Yep, got no other words, that was about five different ones.

That tells the horse, “This is what I want, and now I’m going to allow you to do it.” This is what I want, now I’m going to allow you to do it. This is what I want, now I allow you to do it now. Note, when I open up my fingers to give the horse, it’s so soft and subtle. But the reins never go through my hands. If I completely open my hands, my reigns will move through and I can’t have that. Don’t think I go play with the hands, soften for 10 strides, it never happens. I’m constantly in communication like I am with my husband. Just constantly talking, constantly talking. Hey, hello, hello, hello. What’s going on here? What’s going on here? Ah, I feel this. Can we do this? Yep, okay. When you give to that, I’ll soften there. But because you’ve softened there you’ve blocked here, so I’m going to take on this hand and now I’m going to give.

If your hands are hard, which means you’ve got tight wrists and tight hands, you won’t feel any of that conversation that I just talked about. You won’t feel that your horse is given, you won’t feel that your horse is hard. You won’t feel that your horse is blocked, you won’t feel that your horse is unblocked. Your hands need to be a conduit to feel what is going on with the horse, as well as the rest of your body will feel if he’s putting a leg out a certain way or blocking in his rib cage a certain way, or that you feel that the shoulders aren’t moveable. If you notice when I ride, I’m constantly moving my horse. I move his shoulders, I move his hind legs, I move his shoulders the other way. I test that I can leg go left and leg go right. Because I constantly need to make sure that wherever I want to put the horse I can. If there’s a block, then I have to one block that.

That comes from having soft hands, so that’s why you always want to have soft hands. Go next, ride, and I don’t care if you’re a beginner that’s just learning to walk or a really experienced rider. I want you to say out loud the conversation with your horse. Okay, I’m feeling a bit more pressure on the left, I’m just going to play with the left. Okay, his head came up so now I’m going to play with the right and the left he gave. I don’t feel anything. Whoops, I feel that he dropped his shoulders to the left, I’m going to push him back to the right. Whoops, he’s gone too much to the right so I’m going to use my right hand. Just start vocalizing and verbalizing what you’re feeling and what’s going on and your reaction to it.

It’s really, really useful to tell your coach this, because your coach might go, “You said that he pushed his shoulder to the outside, and you said you fixed it by looking to the outside. That actually won’t fix it, so I’m so glad that you said that’s what you do to fix that because that’s the wrong strategy to fix that, so let’s talk about the right strategy.” So I trust that helps! Enjoy your writing.

So I trust that helps. Remember if you guys need any help with steps, procedures, strategies, recipes. How do you do A, how do you do B? How do you do C? I’ve got a free training cost that tells you all about creating a dress out system that works for you. Go check it out on the link below.