dressage rider horse competition german beautiful horse head

The importance of a correct hand position for dressage riders

It is amazing how many riders complain about their rein contact without giving a second thought to their hand position. This would be like complaining about your car going all over the road because you forgot to hold the steering wheel!

A correct hand position is crucial in order to have a soft, following, elastic hand  - and this is necessary for a good rein contact. If a rider's hand is hard, fixed, backward-acting or jerky, then it is guaranteed that a horse will have contact issues.

The theory

A good hand position is linked to a correct position of the arms and torso, and even the seat. What this means is that it is very difficult to have a good hand position if the rest of the rider's position is sloppy.

The upper body must be held upright with the upper arms hanging down from the shoulders without tension. The rider should carry their own forearm with bent elbows, as though carrying a tray in front of them. A straight arm with a locked elbow is the no.1 enemy of an elastic and following hand.

Next, the rider must keep their thumbs facing to the sky. This is very important because if the thumbs instead face each other, with the knuckles to the sky, it causes the entire movement chain linking the hands to the shoulders to collapse, the elbows to stick out, and the wrists to be misaligned with the reins.

There are two more important details to the hand position that riders should learn as early as possible, as it is much harder to break bad habits later. 

First, the thumb should make a roof over the fist, instead of being pressed straight down. The reason for this is that it prevents tension in the lower arm and enables the rider to achieve a much softer contact without passing tension and force down to the horse's mouth.

Secondly, the rider should try to think of the pinky finger as being slightly in front of the other fingers in the direction of the horse's mouth - but not by opening the fingers, rather, by tilting the hand ever so slightly. This should not be exaggerated as it can lead to unwanted tension in the wrists. Because the pinky finger is smaller, it will not actually be in front, and this is simply a feeling that the rider needs to keep in mind.

The practice

If only it was as easy as reading the textbook definition and being able to do it immediately, every rider would be at world-class level!

Instead, every rider's body has its own postural habits and idiosyncrasies that can make achieving the correct position more or less difficult. 

Feedback from a coach, video recording or photographs is absolutely necessary to understand your own areas that need development. If there is an identified weakness in relation to posture or core strength, the starting point would be to do some off-horse stretches and strengthening exercises to rectify this.

Another form of feedback is from your own proprioception - that is, your body's own ability to feel what it is doing and how it is positioned. Our innovative tool SteadyHands is extremely valuable for this - it enables your mind-body connection to improve significantly by giving you instant feedback on your hand position.

The way this works is through the design of the SteadyHands resistance band, which is placed across the back of the rider's hands. The rider can immediately feel if:
  • Their thumbs collapse towards each other and the knuckles start to face the sky;
  • The hands become unlevel, with one hand being dropped (more usual) or being held up too high;
  • The hands are moving too jerkily or they want to hold the hands too wide (the strap will come undone).
There are more benefits to using SteadyHands, as the rider placing a slight resistance against the resistance band engages their lower and upper arms in the correct way, all the way into the shoulders and upper body. Further, this slight positive tension also encourages a forward-feel in the hand, with the hand always feeling like it is in the direction of the horse's mouth, as opposed to against it.

Join the growing number of riders who have noticed a huge improvement in the awareness of their hand position and how much SteadyHands has helped them to improve their contact by ordering your own pair today here.

Our team is also on hand to answer any questions you might have: info@equisk.com





Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.