It has to be one of the hardest things to accomplish; maintaining a consistent contact. All my horses display signs of evading the contact, Crunchie always chooses to be feather light in the contact and therefore evade actually working and Erik likes to channel his inner giraffe! So many riders are quickly drawn into the contact being an issue with the horses head and neck, but contact issues actually come from a lack of engagement with the hind quarters. So as I've been battling with this over the past few weeks I thought I'd do some research and write a few handy tips!
Remember, before you begin any training exercises with your horse, you must ensure they are warmed up correctly! Read our blog all about it by clicking the image below! Plus it is really important the basics are in place such as straightness, rhythm and impulsion. If your struggling to get your horse in front of your leg, we have a blog that may help just the click on the blog image below!
So... lets crack on with how to help your horse maintain a consistent contact...
Top tip no.1: Think about your position. I know it's not that easy but remember, if your seat and hands are not steady, your horses head carriage won't be either. Moving the bit drastically in your horses mouth is not going to create a good, consistent contact. You need to encourage them to seek the contact, by being steady and kind with your seat and hands. However, this does not mean you need to be restrictive with your hand. If you're not sure, have someone video you, so you can watch your session back and analyse your hand position/actions.
Top tip no. 2: Transitions. I know I harp on about these all the time! However, they are really beneficial at engaging your horses quarters and therefore creating 'the want' to travel forward into a contact and work over his top line. Try these on a circle and be really strict on how many steps of walk/trot/canter you want before you ask for a transition. Plus remember, transitions don't have to be just in and out of the pace, they can be within them too!
Top tip no. 3: Don't get stuck riding on the track/next to the wall. You need to test things, for example, is he straight? Do I have steering? You'll be amazed at what a difference riding way from the track does to your riding and your schooling! It's not easy but staying where it's 'safe' is hindering your progress.
Top tip no. 4: Create a better balance. Exercises such as spiraling circles and serpentines encourage a better connection and balance. Riding corners will means you will use more inside leg as you ask for bend/flexion therefore pushing your horse into your steady, outside rein.
Top tip no. 5: Lateral work. Now I'm not just talking leg yield here, although very good, I'm thinking along the lines of shoulder fore and turn on the haunches. Turn on the haunches is particularly useful as it really encourages engagement of the hind quarters and I find after riding this movement a few times I get a much better, balanced trot which in turn creates a better feel/contact down the reins.
Now don't get me wrong, contact issues are not something that will be fixed overnight, it requires patience and constant practice, however these tips should help you toward a softer, consistent contact through strengthening and engaging your horses hind quarters.
If you have any advice or tips with regards to this, please get in touch! I'd love to hear from you!