Rider using SteadyHands gloves to fix hand position

How to avoid these common hand faults

Across all disciplines, age brackets and experience levels, there are some common undesirable hand position habits that many riders can fall into. This can have a seriously negative impact on the way our horses go, and often be a major cause of a horse who has "contact issues" of one kind or another.

The good news is that bad habits can be fixed - with focus, discipline and the right kind of practice. In this article, we will break down some common faults and set out some ways to overcome them.

Hands too low and wide

This is a very common fault amongst many riders, often in an attempt to bring the horse "on the bit". Unfortunately, this usually has the opposite effect, as hands which are too low will act on the extremely sensitive bars of the horse's mouth. This will cause the horse to brace against the contact in some way - whether by locking or crossing the jaw, setting their neck, twisting at the poll, or any other creative way for the horse to try to relieve themselves from the pressure.

The hands should never be lower than the imaginary between the rider's elbow and the bit. Even where the horse raises its head higher than desired, the best course of action is for the rider to slightly raise their hand to maintain the connection on the corners of the mouth - this will invite the horse to stretch down and reach for the bit (if a horse habitually travels with its neck braced and a very high head carriage, especially if showing signs of discomfort, medical causes should be ruled out).

A rider that rides with low and wide hands often also pitches forward at the hips and is often unbalanced. Seat exercises are necessary, in conjunction with a focus on arms and hands, in order to break this habit. Some useful exercises are "double-beat" rising trot (with the rider either sitting for two beats and rising for one, or rising two beats and sitting one), various warm up leg exercises at the walk (such as pedalling, scissor legs, "fluffing up" the legs and jockey legs), and of course, working on the lunge line if possible.

In conjunction with this, the rider needs to reset their whole arm and hand position. A useful visual is to imagine having "heavy" elbows pointing down to the ground while imagining carrying a tray (it's useful to picture the tray holding glasses of the rider's favourite drink!). 

Wearing SteadyHands gloves can also help the rider to reset their hand and arm position by physically restricting the rider from opening their hands too wide. The brain then has to work to find a new way for the body to organise itself, and rewires different neural pathways - and with the work on the seat, this will lead to firing correct muscle patterns, bringing the hands closer together with a bend in the elbows.

Elbows not bending

This fault is closely liked with hands being too wide and low, however sometimes riders (especially shorter riders) can have insufficient bend in their elbows despite their hands being at the right height and the correct distance apart.

The problem with this is that, even with correct placement, the lack of bend at the elbows means that the hand is insufficiently elastic. The rider will be unable to properly follow the movement of the horse's head and neck in walk and canter, and most likely will have too much hand movement in rising trot, as the locked elbows move just as the seat does. 

An inelastic hand causes major contact issues, often inadvertently acting in a backwards direction, therefore blocking the hind legs and the horse's back. Horses ridden with inelastic hands may look "on the bit", but usually will raise their heads during transitions as they are not able to move and carry from behind.

This can be a difficult fault to fix as it is often an embedded habit, even in a more experienced rider. The rider must find a way to completely reshape the relationship between their arm, elbow, wrist and hands to the bit. This is where SteadyHands gloves can be invaluable, as the gloves provide immediate proprioceptive feedback to the rider. 

This feedback allows the rider to feel exactly what their hands are doing, and by connection, their whole arms and elbows. This focuses the rider on the change that they need to make, and with repeated use, helps the riders to create new muscle use patterns.

Pram hands

"Pram hands" are also known as "piano hands" or "trolley hands", and sometimes have different names in different parts of the world. All of these names refer to hands where the thumbs are facing each other and the knuckles are facing the sky, as though pushing a pram. 

This is a bad fault as it leads to stiff wrists and locked elbows, therefore blocking the necessary elastic feeling in the hand. Try it for yourself now - turn your hands into the pram position as though holding the reins and move the hands backwards and forwards, then do it with the thumbs facing the sky in the correct position. You will be able to feel a big difference in how smooth the movement feels.

Like all bad position habits, proprioceptive feedback is the starting point to fix this issue. Many riders will have otherwise good seats with correct body position, but simply have fallen into a bad habit with their hands. In this case we would strongly recommend SteadyHands gloves, as the rider can actually push their hands slightly apart against the connecting band to engage the correct muscle chain and help to keep their thumbs towards the sky.

With regular use, the body will learn the new pattern and the pram hands will be fixed, however, this could take at least a month of repeated use to correct.

Unlevel hands

This is another very common fault where the hands are not working as a pair. Oftentimes the rider's less dominant hand will be wayward (as most people are right-handed, this is usually the left hand). It may be too high, too low, cross over the withers, pull back too much, or a combination of the above! Meanwhile the dominant hand will be well under the rider's control and placed wherever the rider wants to put it, making the fault even more obvious!

This is primarily an issue with proprioception - this means that the rider simply isn't as aware of their left hand (or right hand, as the case may be) and their brain is not linked as "closely" to it. A prime example is when trying to brush our teeth with our non-dominant hand - we know what we have to do but it's as though our hand won't cooperate! This is simply because we have not made the neural pathways necessary to fine-tune our hand movement with our non-dominant hand.

Our SteadyHands riding gloves are the best on-horse tool available to help create a better link between the rider's brain and their non-dominant hand. The connecting band across the gloves makes the rider very aware of the differences between the hands and constantly recalls the brain's attention to the errant hand. The band also greatly helps the hands to act as a pair - staying at the same height, the same distance from the withers, and both acting in the direction of the horse's mouth. 


The reason that we recommend the SteadyHands gloves for each of these different problems is that we know they work for all of them - not only in our own teaching, but in the feedback from hundreds of riders of all levels, and from very experienced coaches. When trying to break old habits and create new ones, it is really a matter of "rewiring" the brain's neural pathways. A training tool like the gloves gives the brain the feedback it needs to do just that. Although it can of course be done without the use of any external proprioceptive aid, using such an aid helps riders to make progress much faster.

And when it comes to riding, progressing to being a better rider, or breaking bad positional habits, is more than just a matter of self-interest. Our horses deserve to be ridden as well as we can, because poor position can be uncomfortable for them in the short-term and can even lead to physical and mental unsoundness in the long-term. 

So if you recognise any of these faults in your riding, we hope you will make it a priority to break those habits and create better ones instead! 

Happy riding!






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