Using your body to steer, and stabilizing the hands

Here is a lesson I taught today for a rider who tends to use her hands to balance and steer a lot. I came in with the goal of teaching her to ride more with her body than her hands (not the most specific, I know) with some ideas, and worked on the fly with how she was doing today. So I’m hoping this is a good example of tying together different exercises for a more intermediate rider, because I felt it turned out really well. Enjoy!

Using your body to steer, and stabilizing the hands

  •  Warmups
    • halt at each letter using your whole body
      • why
        • to get the horse listening right away
        • to practice using our whole body for something more simple
      • how
        • resist with her lower back
        • tighten her core
        • tuck her seat a little
        • let that cause her hands to stop
        • all of which stops the horse
      • practice
        • at each letter both directions until improvement is seen
      • ask
        • did you feel the difference?
      • note
        • at first the rider just pulled the reins, which with her weak core just pulled her upper body forward. After discussing using your whole body to halt and practicing a few times each direction there was much improvement in her aids and her horse’s response at well!
    • leg yield
      • why
        • to get the horse responsive to your leg
        • to get you thinking about moving him with something other than your hands
      • how
        • turn onto the quarter line looking through the turn and using your seat and legs
        • make sure he’s straight
        • then squeeze with the inside leg at the girth when your inside hip drops because that’s when he’s picking up his hind leg so he can move it over
        • use the reins to keep his neck straight
        • point your inside hip at his outside ear
        • slightly weight the outside seat bone
      • practice
        • from quarter line to wall until you get a good response from the horse
      • note
        • the rider had a hard time leg yielding left, but was able to improve with reminders to weight the left stirrup a little, since her body is built slightly dropped to the right she did not realize she was sending mixed signals
  •  Skill
    • what
      • using your whole body to steer the horse
      • including relying less on your hands and keeping your hands calm – by keeping them ON THE WITHERS the whole time!
    • why
      • using your whole body to steer allows a smoother more balanced ride, and is easier on the horse because instead of pulling him around with the reins we are channeling him with our body
      • putting your hands on the withers makes your hands stable so he can settle in to a good trot rhythm instead of worrying about pulling from the reins (it’s okay to leave your hands in one place at the trot because his head doesn’t move much, whereas at the walk his head bobs so your hands must follow)
    • how
      • use all your aids:
      • look the direction you want to go
      • your seat turns the direction you want to go
      • your inside leg stays at the girth and your outside leg stays back to bend him like water through a tube
      • however your inside leg can move back to ask his haunches over or your outside leg can help him move over at the girth
      • your hands stay touching his wither the whole time but as your turn your body they move slightly with the turn
      • squeeze with the inside rein to help start the turn, squeeze with the outside rein to half halt as needed
  • Practice
    • trot on the rail
      • first just get used to keeping your hands on the withers in one place
      • this should stabilize your hands, which will let your horse settle in to a good trot
      • half halt with the outside rein as needed
    •  trot changing directions across the diagonal
      • introduce this small easy turn
      • encourage the rider to steer using their whole body and minimal hands as described above
  • Progression
    • trot circles or serpentines
      • same as above just adding more turns
    • raise her hands off the horse a few inches and “check in” every so often
      • keep her hands a few inches above the withers in a more correct location, to practice stabilizing her hands on her own
      • have her “check in” every so often by putting her hands back on the horse’s withers to feel how close her hands are, and if they’ve raised at all, and to restabilize her
      • I had her check in before and after every turn
  • Wrap up
    • Ask
      • Did you feel this helped? How so?
      • What do you think you did well? And need to work on?
    • Note
      • We determined this rider needs to work on balance, because her lack of hand stability is a symptom of her using her hands to balance instead of her seat. Putting her hands down probably worked so well because it gave her more balance, like a tripod. In the future we would like to work on the lunge line without reins to develop better balance from her seat and no reliance on her hands.


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!

One thought on “Using your body to steer, and stabilizing the hands

  1. Thanks for posting, working on same challenges with some of my students, your detailed steps are much appreciated and will be implemented. I like the progression.

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