Back before back-in-the-day, when I was a mere twig of a girl proud to be wearing jodphurs, I was full of aspirations. Of course, I wanted to go to the Olympics (what serious young rider doesn’t?). But there was something else I wanted even more.
I wanted good hands. Because I knew that I wouldn’t be a good rider until I got them.
Good hands. In those days, it was a phrase everyone knew and everyone used. It was a universal truth that good riders had good hands. Riders were complimented on their good hands and criticized for their bad hands. Educated hands were expected of advanced riders, and admired.
If there were an equine dictionary a la the OED, all those phrases — good hands and bad hands and educated hands — would now be listed as archaic.
When I hear about contact issues or a rider needing to improve his contact, and I see a horse being jabbed in the mouth or yanked with an outside rein in a misguided half-halt or being turned into a boat for a rider waterskiing on his mouth, it makes me want to pull my hair out.
But there is a glimmer of light in the corridor of equestrian darkness. I recently heard that USDF judges are becoming more forthright in their assessment of rider’s hands. One popular phrase to put in the test remarks now is “rider restricted.” Okay, that’s a step in the right direction, but it’s almost as oblique as contact.
At this point, if you’ve stuck with me, you’re probably getting tired of hearing me complain. So let me offer some practical solutions to riders and instructors, which I believe can help fix the problem.