ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What Does It Mean To Soften Your Hands?

Updated on December 8, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

Nice connection if I do say so myself, straight line, elbow,hand to bit.
Nice connection if I do say so myself, straight line, elbow,hand to bit. | Source

So What Does It Mean To Soften Your Hands?

When I tell my students to soften their hands, I'm referring to making their hands softer in response to getting the reaction you want from your horse.

Depending on what stage you are in learning to ride, softening can mean doing something different. What is always means is releasing the pressure on the bit.

Zoe stretching down into soft hands.
Zoe stretching down into soft hands. | Source

Pressure And Release

Basically, everything we train our horses to do, we use the tactic of pressure and then release. When we want our horse to stop, we pull back on the reins(pressure) when he stops as we asked him to, we release the pressure.

If we ask him to move forward we put pressure on with our legs or maybe our seat bones. When the horse moves forward as we wanted, we release the pressure.

For more advanced riders, we may be asking our horse to carry himself in a frame, stretching his back up and head down softly into the bit. In order to ask for this, we put pressure on with our legs, sending the horse forward. Our hands will be holding a soft, but solid contact. The horse learns that by lowering his head, we will release or soften our contact on the reins. As their back muscles get stronger and they get a better understanding of moving forward into a soft steady hand, that is when the horse begins to develop suspension and self-carriage in his gaits. Without our hands softening as a reward, telling him he put his head in the right place, he would never learn the concept of self-carriage.

Another good example of softening hands here with Zoe and Christina. It is almost invisible the amount you need to move your hands when you have the appropriate contact.
Another good example of softening hands here with Zoe and Christina. It is almost invisible the amount you need to move your hands when you have the appropriate contact. | Source

If You Always Hold You Will Always Have To

If you always hold pressure on the horse's bit all the time, you will always have to. Whether it be to slow him, turn him or ask him to do something special with his head, your horse needs you to soften your hands in response to him doing the right thing, so that he can put two and two together and figure out what you want.

For example, if everytime you want your horse to learn to carry himself in a frame, you need to ask him to lower his head by closing your leg and hand at the same time. When he stretches down into the bit, that is when you soften your hands. That is how we say in our silent language, good job, you did what we want.

If you always yank or hold your horses head down he will not learn the cue to do it on his own. You will literally have to yank his head down every time you want him down. The pressure is the only cue he knows at that moment.

We want them to know that when they do what we ask the pressure will go away, whether it be leg pressure or rein pressure. The horse learns to carry himself properly because you use pressure to ask him for something and softening to reward him for doing it right. If he does the wrong thing, you will put the pressure back on him, as soon as he does right, you take the pressure off.

If you ride this way, your horse will more easily realize what it is you want and that the softening is their affirmation that they did the right thing. If you never soften then they never get the reward they need. Meaning they will never realize what you want them to do and have that lightbulb moment that we are all always going for.

My contact is relaxed and soft in this picture,but reins probably would be slightly too long if I was doing anything besides walking.
My contact is relaxed and soft in this picture,but reins probably would be slightly too long if I was doing anything besides walking. | Source

So Softening Means Giving?

Yes, but not in a literal sense. When I say soften your hands I'm telling you to lessen the pressure, move your hands forward to follow your horses head wherever it is it's going. A lot of times if a horse and rider are having a tense moment and I tell the rider to soften their hands, it's like you can almost see the horse take a deep breath and relax.

You take the tension away when their tension goes away. Then everyone is more relaxed. Relaxed horse and rider will communicate better, learn faster, not to mention have more fun!

The same principles apply with following contact over fences,though that is a whole different article for a different day.
The same principles apply with following contact over fences,though that is a whole different article for a different day. | Source

What Is The Trick To Softening Your Hands?

The first trick to mastering softening your hands is proper and position. Elbows bent and at your sides. Hands floating out in front of your body, basically between your belly button and the saddle.

Your reins should be short enough that you can feel the bit in your horse's mouth, but not feel like you are yanking on him. Do a little test, wiggle your fingers on your left rein. Do you feel it lightly in your right rein? That is what you want. Your hands are working together, and you have a connection you can feel with your horse's mouth.

If your reins are too long, you will have to move your arms too much to find contact with the bit, making everything very awkward. You won't know when to soften if you don't have the contact you need to have a connection with your horse's mouth. A good rule of thumb is to have a soft straight line from your elbow to your hand to the bit.

This is a moment where I'm maintaining the pressure and waiting for Kemer to soften, as soon as he does, my hands will soften and down goes his head. Then we are both happy.
This is a moment where I'm maintaining the pressure and waiting for Kemer to soften, as soon as he does, my hands will soften and down goes his head. Then we are both happy. | Source

So How Do You Soften?

If you have that connection I described before, to soften your hands, all you will have to do is move your hand ever so slightly forward. You basically will gently follow his head with your hand when he does what you want.

For example, on a very basic level, you want the horse to turn left, you pick your left hand up and to the left, as soon as he turns the way you want, you take the pressure off with your left hand.

Softening is part of half-halting. if you want your horse to slow down within whatever gait he is in, you close your hand. Your hand closes until you feel him slow to the pace you want, then you put your leg on to keep him going at that gait, and soften your hand( take the tension or pressure away). That way you are telling your horse, for example, to keep walking but not stop. Maybe to keep trotting, you just want them to slow down a bit.

The importance of that straight line and proper rein contact is paramount in order to be able to soften effectively. You have to have a connection so that you can feel the horses mouth. Think of it this way, if you can't feel his mouth, he can't feel your hands!

Once you have a good connection, you just have to wait until the horse does what you want and gently take the pressure off, by following with your hand. You keep your fingers closed around your reins so you don't lose contact, but you let your hand follow and get softer. The horse will feel that and have that "ah-hah" moment, where he figures out what you want.

This is a free walk, which is one time when you want your reins to be long and your horse to stretch into long contact. It shows softness and relaxation. Softening your hands should not mean letting your reins get super long for normal riding
This is a free walk, which is one time when you want your reins to be long and your horse to stretch into long contact. It shows softness and relaxation. Softening your hands should not mean letting your reins get super long for normal riding | Source

Don't Let Your Reins Get Too Long

Remember in order to soften your horse needs to be able to feel your contact with the bit. You don't want to soften by letting your reins get longer. The problem with that is that if you let the reins get longer, then you won't be able to effectively correct him if he makes a mistake again.

You keep a nice, soft, straight line with your rein contact, then you speak your horse's language by softening with your hands and taking the pressure away when he is doing what you want.

By keeping your rein contact the correct length, you will be able to make these corrections and rewards with just the slightest movement. A lot of times I will tell my riders to soften their hands when I like what the horse is doing. I will know that they did it, not because I see movement in the reins, but because I see the horse relax and go even better than before.

Riding Is All About Communication

Riding is all about communication with our horses. Frustrations arise when we don't realize that we have to communicate in the way the horse understands ( pressure and release).

You give your horse a cue, you soften your hands to tell him good job.

Horses love riders with soft, gentle hands. Your goal should be to ride with a rein contact that allows you to make the reins feel like elastic to your horse. Putting pressure on when necessary and giving softly when everything is going well, without losing the connection.

Remember, your rein contact is how you are talking to the horse through the bit in his mouth. Without rein contact, there is no communication. Learning to "speak" to the horse and communicate in a way they can understand is what true horsemanship is all about.

Learning proper rein contact and how to ride with soft giving hands, and elastic contact is just a small part of the horsemanship puzzle. Remember, horsemanship is a lifelong journey, take your time and enjoy the ride!

It starts getting really pretty to watch when you and your horse are speaking the same language!
It starts getting really pretty to watch when you and your horse are speaking the same language! | Source

Comments

Submit a Comment

No comments yet.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)