Sensitive Hands = Super Results With Your Horse

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Riding with soft hands is every thinking rider’s goal. In the June 2018 issue of Horse&Rider (on newsstands now), trainer Robin Gollehon gives you three exercises to help you develop the sensitive rein connection that’s key to good horsemanship.

Here, I’ll give you an exercise from trainer Sandy Collier that builds on that learning. You’ll use sensitive hands to ask your horse to soften his mouth and flex at the poll.  

Horse-sensitive-hands-soft-feel-horse’s-mouth

 Use the most sensitive hands possible as you practice asking your horse to flex at the poll and “give his face.”    

Work from the ground. With your horse saddled and bridled (in a snaffle bit), stand next to his head and with both hands grasp the reins just behind the bit rings. Then, with sensitive hands, apply slight backward pressure to ask your horse to flex at the poll. If need be, slide the bit gently from side to side--but don’t see-saw.

The instant your horse responds by bringing his nose back and/or down (see photo), release the pressure and praise him. Then do it again. It’s more important to get multiple soft, willing responses than to hold your horse flexed a longer period of time.

As in all training, timing is critical. Your horse learns from the release of pressure (the reward), not the application of it (the pull). So reward each “give” by releasing pressure and praising him the very instant you feel him respond.

Important: Concentrate on the feeling in your hands as you practice this exercise. Get an ultra-sensitive feel of your horse’s mouth—in other words, how light can you make the pressure and still get the response?

Once you and your horse master this exercise, carry the concept into the saddle--keeping that same soft, sensitive connection in the reins--by following Sandy Collier’s full “Giving the Face” tutorial.

Make sensitive hands an ongoing goal, and discover just how light and responsive your horse can become.

MORE ON HANDS, MOUTHS, BITS, HEAD CARRIAGE:

What is a bit’s “purchase” and why does it matter?

The importance of salivation to a horse’s sensitive mouth.

Riding to encourage proper head and neck carriage.