Educating the Horse to the Hand

Below is a segment of Philippe Karl’s response to the article “MAIN HAUTE, MAIN BASSE” (High hand, low hand) by Michel HENRIQUET in “CHEVAL MAGAZINE” July 2005:

Let′s start with an untouched horse, that has never been constrained with any gadgets and let′s begin his training. The snaffle can act either on the tongue (low hands) or on the corner of the lips (high hands).

Depending on their conformation or their temperament, horses try to avoid the hand, either by opening the poll to pull, by leaning on the bit or by inverting the neck. Not everyone can afford horses that are born already half-trained.

The HIGH HAND Option

The horse that pulls by opening the poll
Firstly, ensure that raising both hands gently, slightly raising the corner of the lips, mobilizes the tongue and the jaw (swallowing leading to the RELAXATION of the whole forehand). Then, raise the inside hand to combine a marked lateral flexion of the neck with the yielding of the jaw (under these conditions, two fingers are enough).

Anatomically incompatible with the blocking of the poll, this lateral flexion leads to an extension of the neck which brings the nose closer to the vertical (provided that the rider knows how to release).

Methodically, first in hand, then ridden, at halt then walk, trot and lastly canter…. the rider successively relaxes, supples, lengthens and then rounds his horse. He lengthens the topline and is therefore able to manage the forward movement.

The horse that leans on the bit
Again acting on the corners of the lips, use half-halts to raise the base of the neck to rebalance the horse, and counteract the pressure on the reins and cause a yielding of the jaw.

Then, using lateral flexions, seek an extension of the neck carefully maintaining a simple contact with a soft mouth. Go back to raising the neck whenever necessary. It is impossible to try to educate the mouth if the horse is not in balance.

The horse that refuses the contact by inverting his neck
If he raises his mouth above the hand, bring the hands higher than the mouth to establish a frank contact on the corners of the lips (which does not cause pain).

Going beyond the yielding of the jaw, if the rider increases the tension of the reins gradually upwards, it will cause the horse to gradually take them forwards and down. The rider releases proportionally, while maintaining the contact (as he would over a jump).

By the controlled extension of the neck, the horse learns to stretch into his reins and round his topline in another way. Once confirmed in this first step, the horse will be worked as in case number 1.

Nota Bene
In all cases, whenever the horse yields this is followed by a lowering of the hand. The contact then becomes light with a tongue that is mobile and a mouth that is alive.

How can we lower the hand without previously RAISING the hand? Let us note that etymologically, TO DOMINATE means: to place oneself above. Any linguist can therefore confirm to a rider that dominating the horse with low hands is an offense to the tongue in both linguistic and anatomic terms (for once the spirit and the letter go hand in hand, how reassuring!)

As the mise-en-main progresses, the rider′s actions become smaller, until they become invisible. It is thus the stability of the head which allows the fixity of the hand, not the hand which forces the stability of the head.