Skills: Basic Hand position

Some things I’ve compiled about hand position:


  • Keep your hands in the correct english riding position.


  • “When your hands get out of position, you’re much more likely to lose balance, and you end up reacting to what the horse does rather than directing his actions.” (John Lyons’s Perfect Horse)
  • Gives you a more direct feel of the horse’s mouth (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)
  • Your horse will go forward with consistent rhythm (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)


  • Explain
    • “Hold your reins between your ring fingers and pinkies, and place your thumbs solidly on top as they exit your hands. Grip firmly, but avoid a white-knuckled death grip, which stiffens your arms. Close your fingers for optimum communication and safety. Hold your hands just above your horse’s withers, in front of your saddle. Mildly tip your thumbs toward each other at a 45-degree angle. Bend your elbows just enough to create a straight line through your forearms, hands, and reins to your horse’s mouth. Keep “conversational” contact, so that the pressure you feel with your hands is equal to what he feels in his mouth. Now you’re ready for anything.” (Horse & Rider).
    • Keep your wrists straight and hands even and level, so the rein contact remains even and symmetrical on both sides.
    • Thumbs on top – to keep the reins from slipping, and to keep the two bones in your forearms parallel rather than crossed, which “permits the hand to be more sensitive and responsive” rather than locked (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)
    • Hands closed – “If you ride with your reins near the tips of the fingers and the knuckles straight, you will not only deprives yourself of the use of some very useful joints – the knuckles – but the reins may also slip through your fingers.” (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)
  • Verbal Aids
    • “Think about holding your hands in a box.”  (John Lyons’s Perfect Horse)
    • Keep your hands apart about the width of a banana.
    • Like you’re holding an ice cream cone: thumbs on top, not so loose you’ll drop it, but not so hard you’ll break it – and don’t let it tip or spill!
    • “Hold your reins as if they were little birds. Don’t squeeze them or turn them so that their heads bang together.” (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)
    • “Pretend that you are holding a partially squeezed sponge in your hand. Hold it, but don’t squeeze out all the water.” (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)
    • Keep your hands in the area between your legs – too far behind or to the side will throw your balance off
    • Hand and arm are in a straight line to the horse’s mouth – this means your hands will have to be held higher when the horse carries his head high, and lower when he carries it low – “Try imagining that your arms and reins from shoulder to bit are soft garden hoses…the sensation of the forward-rushing water – which is like the energy of the horse pouring through your arms, hand, and reins, beyond the bit. This will give the horse more confidence to move through your softer hands”  (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)
  • Physical Aids
    • If the rider keeps their hands too far apart, give them a short string to hold between their hands, that they cannot drop.
    • If their hands are uneven or they drop one, use the stick or string exercise:


Note: Hand position is not separate from the rest of the body

  • one needs relaxed shoulders, elbows, and wrists
  • one needs correct seat balance to keep from depending on the reins for balance
  • elbows follow the horse’s motion, opening and closing, loosely resting at the rider’s sides – “major motions come from the shoulder and elbow and only small ones comes through the fingers”  (Sally Swift, Centered Riding)
  • upper arms hang straight down from shoulders, bend at elbows, forearms reach forward “in a handshake position” – no chicken wings!

Please add your own thoughts and tips in the comments section below!


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

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