Author Topic: Contact  (Read 2662 times)

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Offline CarolineJ

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Contact
« on: May 29, 2013, 12:29:59 PM »
Prompted by the discussion that's going on on the Facebook group at the moment....

To my embarrassment, despite years of BHS lessons, I still don't really understand about contact and being 'on the bit'.  Because I'm not confident in my own balance (though this is improving rapidly now my core is getting stronger) and because I've been so confused over the years by what contact actually is, I tend to ride mostly with my reins in loops and just slop along in a bimbly walk out hacking. 

I'd like to learn more, but there are no instructors up here who'll travel to me (Manuela Flueckiger is about the closest classical-based instructor, she's over 3 hours away each way, and the one place she teaches where I could borrow a horse and have a lesson is another hour on top of that), so it's down to books, videos and you lot  :D

So, what shouts of 'Take up a contact!', 'Keep your hands still!' and 'Follow his mouth!' (how can you do the last two simultaneously anyway?  :cc_confused: :cc_confused:), reading books and here have got me to is the idea that a contact should be a steady connection down the rein between your hand and the horse's mouth (so your hands *do* have to move as the horse's head moves) and as light as possible.  And 'working on the bit' or 'in an outline' means the horse is accepting the contact and pushing himself forwards from his hindquarters - I think head carriage comes into this somewhere?  Poll (or first neck vertabrae on cresty horses) should be the highest point, head shouldn't be behind the vertical?  And the idea is to achieve this by working through from behind, not winching in from the front.

Am I in the right ballpark?  I keep reading about how hard rubber pelhams can transform the communication between horse and rider, but a) I don't think I'd want to try without someone who knew what they were doing on the ground to help and b) after looking at one in the tack shop on Saturday, they're so thick that I don't think I'd get one  in Finn's mouth!  (Small mouth, big tongue, fleshy lips).

Offline ros

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Re: Contact
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2013, 02:03:24 PM »
Do NOT be embarrassed. It's not your fault - it's the fault of those who attempted to teach you and failed, probably because they didn't really get it themselves.  :rolleyes: And I speak from personal experience: after years of BHS lessons which left me struggling and thinking it was my fault, I read Heather's book, stuck my horse in a Pelham, and had a lightbulb moment.  :db: No, I'm not a perfect rider by any means, but at least now I have a reasonable idea what my hands are for, what "on the bit" means, why "outlines" aren't all they're cracked up to be, etc. etc. etc.  :laugh:

I think part of the problem for people like you and me is that until we've felt what "good" is we don't know what we're aiming for. A bit like following a new recipe without a picture.  :cc_confused:

Btw, you weren't looking at a vulcanite Pelham by any chance, were you? They're much thicker than the ordinary hard rubber Pelhams, and too much of a mouthfull for most horses, I think. Can you borrow one from somewhere? A plain mullen mouth metal one would do if you're worried, and if you use an elastic curb (not a rubber one) you won't do any damage. Lots of horses like the plain mouthpiece, which is half the battle.

I'll leave the important stuff for someone better qualified to explain.  :D

Offline RachelNJoe

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Re: Contact
« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2013, 02:57:27 PM »
Over the last few years I've decided that the term people should use is 'self carriage' rather than 'on the bit'.  I think the implications are very different, and people hear 'on the bit' without fully understanding and believe yanking the head in by the mouth is the way forward.  It doesn't help when people seem to be getting marked up for dragging their horses around by the mouth  :-X

I too bimble on the buckle  :) but recently tried Joe in a pelham (metal, cambridge/ported) and he was fab.  I usually ride in a Dr Cooks bitless but I never felt I had a proper connection with him.  He is a very 'internal' stressy boy and although he seems pretty chilled out I've never felt that he is properly relaxed, but when I tried the pelham, for whatever reason (I know people have different views on this), I finally felt that he relaxed all the way through from nose to tail.  I had done quite a lot of in hand top-line strengthening before this so even without a contact (like you I was a bit worried about hurting him by accident) he offered self carriage for the first time ever and I was  :c9:

I think when it comes to bitting a lot of people look at the bit and not at the situation.  A rubber bit may well be kinder for some horses, but Joe has a very small mouth and a rubber bit would be too thick and most uncomfortable for him.  I was abused for trying him in a pelham, but I had already offered him his neue schule french link and he didn't want it.  I didn't even try riding him in it again due to his response, but he accepted the pelham no problem and rode out with his ears pricked and a spring in his step.  Can't ask for more than that.  If he's  :D then I'm  :D
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Offline CarolineJ

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Re: Contact
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2013, 03:06:42 PM »
Thank you both, I think I shall just have to get my big girl knickers on and try it  :nod:

Ros, not sure if it was vulcanite or not, there was no label on it and the owner had the day off to go to her brother's wedding, so the Saturday lady was on her own.  She's lovely, but forget doing anything more complicated than paying for your stuff :)  It was thicker than my thumb (admittedly I have little hands) and probably about twice the thickness of his French link snaffle. 

Offline ros

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Re: Contact
« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2013, 04:33:26 PM »
I agree that the term "on the bit" is a bit airy-fairy. Like "on the aids" or "off the leg" and so on, all it means is that the horse is ready (by which I mean prepared) & waiting for - almost but not quite anticipating - the signal. But like "up to the bridle" and "taking a contact" it sometimes seems to be interpreted to mean that the horse is in effect taking a strong hold, or leaning on the bit.

To me it means that the horse is carrying himself in the very best way so that he's prepared to carry out our every request as soon as it's made, and to carry it out promptly, easily and cleanly. But of course, you have to take into consideration his state of health, his fitness, his level of training and so on. So self-carriage for a young, green or unfit horse won't look the same as self-carriage for a fully fit and healthy schoolmaster. For a green youngster, a nice, clean transition from halt to walk or walk to trot means just as much as the more complicated moves executed by a stronger, more experienced horse. It's all relative.

The hard rubber Pelham isn't much thicker than a normaL thumb - if you stick your nail into it you can easily feel the give; vulcanite is extremely hard with no give, and is very heavy in comparison.

Offline RachelNJoe

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Re: Contact
« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2013, 04:47:30 PM »
...all it means is that the horse is ready (by which I mean prepared) & waiting for - almost but not quite anticipating - the signal. ...

To me it means that the horse is carrying himself in the very best way so that he's prepared to carry out our every request as soon as it's made, and to carry it out promptly, easily and cleanly. ... self-carriage for a young, green or unfit horse won't look the same as self-carriage for a fully fit and healthy schoolmaster. For a green youngster, a nice, clean transition from halt to walk or walk to trot means just as much as the more complicated moves executed by a stronger, more experienced horse. It's all relative.


This is a fab description :nod:  I was raving the other day on fb about how different Joe was with the pelham, but I think I got carried away and (some) people thought I was dragging him about by his face suddenly doing piaffe all over the show  :rolleyes:  The difference I felt was more a change in his attitude, I don't even know if it was visible to the general passerby, but he felt 'ready' to do things and light and relaxed through the poll, which for him is (a) a miracle, and (b) what I would class as self carriage for the level we were working at (i.e. very low  :laugh: )  I don't think your average Jack would have classed it as 'on the bit'...

Caroline, I was going to ask if there is someone you could borrow one off to experiment, but I believe you live in the middle of nowhere, so maybe not...?  :sad:
Always be yourself.  Unless you can be a Unicorn.  Then always be a Unicorn.

Offline CarolineJ

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Re: Contact
« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2013, 06:34:29 PM »
Yup, I'm a bit isolated.  The tack shop does run a bit bank, but I think it's for the more expensive Neue Schule ones only.  I'll ask - but if it's 10 for a week's hire plus 2 x 90 mile round trips to pick it up and return it, it's probably going to work out cheaper to buy a second hand one on eBay  :nod:

Offline ros

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Re: Contact
« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2013, 09:24:15 PM »
What size bit do you need? I've got a couple of spare 5.5" if that's any good?

Offline CarolineJ

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Re: Contact
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2013, 08:11:58 AM »
Ros, that's incredibly kind of you - he's a 5.5"  Would you consider loan with view to buy??  :)

Offline ros

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Re: Contact
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2013, 10:24:43 AM »
Absolutely - if you pm me your address I'll post (but no charge if any good as they're just sitting around gathering dust  :D).

Offline CarolineJ

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Re: Contact
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2013, 10:44:39 AM »
Well, how about donation to a charity of your choice then?  That's very, very kind of you - will PM you my address now (I've got a Freepost address for the business, so no need to put stamps on it!)