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Contact, help please

Contact, help please

Postby Trudi » Sun Jan 12, 2014 1:08 pm

I'm just putting together some thoughts for an article on contact, what it is, what others think it is, is it badly taught and if so why, can we truly ride with little or no contact, is the competition version of contact correct etc I'd love thoughts from anyone beginning their discovery of contact right up to those who feel they fully know what contact is all about, nobody is right or wrong they are all just our own opinions but have your opinions changed, if so what changed your mind? You get the idea :-D Thanks in advance.
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby glenatron » Sun Jan 12, 2014 3:12 pm

My opinion has developed over time to the point where I feel that contact is when the rein is "on" or active, communicating directly with the horse. For that to be useful, the horse has to understand it, which is where I think most problems come from- I would say 95% of the horses I see don't fully understand the bit or brace against it. Probably more than that even. I hardly ever see a horse that to which I would apply the old term bridlewise.

If I am riding a horse on what I consider a correct contact, the rein is draped but I can feel when the horse's tongue moves the bit- if I can feel that, they can feel whatever I offer from my hand equally well. The horse's head is probably a little ahead of the vertical and not carried high, ideally with an arch in the neck, if I take the rein a little wider the horse will bend to that direction, if I apply a slight diagonal pressure they will turn their hindquarters out to follow it, staying bent. There is no feeling of resistance to the rein from the horse at all.

The contact I have been taught to use, by as far as I know quite reputable instructors, is really holding the horse back the whole time so that it is my job as a rider to push the horse forward into this barrier like pushing water onto a dam until it overflows. At the point of overflow in this case the horse lifts and comes soft to the rein for brief moments much as described above. The difference is that it takes a lot longer to get there by pushing through signals which feel to me as though they must be contra-indicative to the horse, and it lasts for brief moments instead of for the majority of the ride. If I was to take the same contact up that I have been instructed to use on school horses on a horse that I have worked with to my understanding of contact as summarised above, I would expect them to be running backwards.

My views have largely been informed by riding different horses with different people and gradually building up some grasp of what contact means to them.
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby glenatron » Sun Jan 12, 2014 3:20 pm

I will add that my view of contact is certainly not "competition correct" but I suspect it probably runs closer to the original meaning of some of the early dressage masters as the ability to ride one-handed and perform movements correctly was important to them while riding was a martial and practical art.

A quote that I heard from Mark Rashid a few years ago puts it pretty well: "Contact is the space between you pulling on the horse and the horse pulling on you."
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby spottygiraffe » Sun Jan 12, 2014 9:37 pm

Absolutely tons to say on this -will write tomorrow, too busy with Tally's b'day today :love:
Sarah x

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Re: Contact, help please

Postby Trudi » Mon Jan 13, 2014 9:43 am

Thanks Ben :thumbup: much appreciated and Sarah look forward to hearing from you, hope Tals had a lovely birthday x
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby fabikat » Mon Jan 13, 2014 1:35 pm

My first thoughts on this are that 'contact' encompasses for me the seat, the legs and the hands. Each having contact with and influencing a different part of the horse. And it is f***ing hard to get it all correct.
Will share more thoughts later......
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby Chevalblanc » Mon Jan 13, 2014 5:57 pm

Another one who'll be back to this when I've got a bit more time.....
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby spottygiraffe » Tue Jan 14, 2014 10:28 am

You know most of my 'journey' into exploring contact already Trudi, but it will be interesting to me to think it through by writing it down on here.

I think like most people I was taught to ride using a constant contact with the horse's mouth -the be all and end all seemed to be to keep that contact steady throughout all the work except for the odd stretch on a free rein, or jumping -although even in jumping we were encouraged not to completely lose contact over the fences. I was encouraged to 'sponge' the inside rein to ask to horse to 'soften', upon which moment I was meant to stop the sponging and give a little more inside rein as a reward. To me now this seems completely ludicrous -basically annoy the horse by niggling with its mouth until it finds the right answer (artifically putting its head into a pretty position) when it gets some minor relief from the niggling until its muscles get sore, it forgets about the pretty position its meant to be in and tries to find a more comfortable posture only to find that the niggling starts again.

It was only when I got Isba that I started to question 'contact'. She was such a sensitive horse but also such a strong one and I kept getting into pull-pull battles with her, which felt so incredibly wrong. First of all I went bitless but I didn't know where to go or who to ask about how to school a horse bitless, so I watched a load of stuff on the internet about western and neck-reining. I got to a certain point with it -including cantering -but it certainly lacked finesse and it wasn't the way I wanted to go. I ended up using the bitless bridle as I would have used a bit -with a contact -and again we got to a certain point but then got stuck.

I gave up and reverted to a bit and had a couple of lessons from a friend who was a very successful showjumper with a reputation for being able to ride difficult horses. After the first lesson I just wanted to cry -he had me using such a strong contact that it just felt so incredibly wrong. Every atom in my body was screaming that it felt wrong, but it certainly 'worked' -Isba was going in what most people would think was a beautiful outline and she looked like a real dressage diva.

It was about this time that we started to explore the issue of contact on a thread on the Horsetales forum. It opened my eyes to the fact that there was another way of doing things and that riding without a constant contact but without just slopping around on a loose rein was a possibility. To cut a long story short, I went back to bitless (where my heart lay!) and started gymnastic training so that Isba would be strong enough to carry herself and I started to learn what 'feel' was. I find it really hard to define feel because it is dynamic and fluid. It is not riding without ever using any pressure on the horse's head (or mouth) with the reins thrown away completely, but mostly it is just keeping a light brush of the outside rein against the neck and using the inside rein as a very active aid -tweaking and releasing. Always releasing! Going full circle here you might think that I am describing exactly what I now dislike about the way I was taught -some kind of contact with the outside rein and some kind of pressure and release with the inside rein and the truth is that yes, it is so similar but the modern German way took these basic principles and found a way of making shortcuts in training by increasing the pressure and sometimes holding a horse in a frame using a contact on the reins (and sometimes squashing it like a sausage with constant legs aids too) rather than getting the horse fit enough to hold itself so that the rider can just play the reins and use them to give information. It's something that a lot of riders THINK they are doing, but they are not actually doing. I have seen it so many times that a rider has described their horse as being light or in self-carriage but they're just not at all! And I know because I have been there myself and I have wrongly used those terms because I didn't know any better. I know what it's supposed to feel like now because I have had tiny glimpses of it but only glimpses because it is hard to achieve, it takes time and there are no short cuts.

I don't know if any of this is making any sense -I think I might be going off on a ramble. It's such a huge subject that I keep getting sidetracked. In a nutshell, contact = not the same thing as feel. Feel = more dynamic, lighter, more flexible; Contact = more constant, less adaptable.

Great topic, Trudi :thumbup:
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby Trudi » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:09 am

spottygiraffe wrote: rather than getting the horse fit enough to hold itself so that the rider can just play the reins and use them to give information. It's something that a lot of riders THINK they are doing, but they are not actually doing. I have seen it so many times that a rider has described their horse as being light or in self-carriage but they're just not at all! And I know because I have been there myself and I have wrongly used those terms because I didn't know any better. I know what it's supposed to feel like now because I have had tiny glimpses of it but only glimpses because it is hard to achieve, it takes time and there are no short cuts.



Thanks Sarah :thumbup: love your point above and I think it's very important because so often we just go along with the 'norm' and spout the words without actually knowing if we do it or not!

I'd love to hear from Alick, if you're reading this, as I know you take lessons and may well be forming some opinions on contact. Also love to hear from you Helen and Katy when you have time plus anyone else who has a moment. :wine:
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Re: Contact, help please

Postby spottygiraffe » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:54 am

I'm really interested on hearing from other members too.
Trudi wrote:I think it's very important because so often we just go along with the 'norm' and spout the words without actually knowing if we do it or not!

Totally -and you can definitely get a feeling of lightness when riding with a fairly unforgiving contact which can feel absolutely great, but it is artificial and can sometimes be from the horse being overbent or going behind the bit. I have experienced that feeling and thought 'Wow, this is it!' and I have waxed lyrical about it, only to realise afterwards that it most certainly wasn't. It's really hard to understand unless you've been on every side of the spectrum though.
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