In preparation of starting up riding lessons again I thought I'd review some of the riding terminology we use here at the farm:
Warm up: Like a human athlete, a horse needs to start at a slow gait with movements that allow its muscles and body to loosen up with simple bends and stretches. Walk a little, trot more, and make sure the horse is mentally and physically ready before you canter.
Contact: The amount of tension in the reins between your hands and the horse's mouth. Typically, you'd have the reins a little loose during the warm up part of the ride; then as the horse is moving comfortably you'll slowly develop a stronger connection. Ideally, it should feel like a rubber band connecting your hands to the horse's mouth; so there is a little give and and take but real communication and response at each end. If it feels like you're pulling you probably have too much contact or your horse needs some retraining. I expect beginning level riders to have loose reins yet be choked up enough that tey can easiy increase the contact to control the horse. Contact can increase as sensitivity and ability of the rider increases.
Choke up: What you need to do if your reins are too loose, even saggy; No matter what you're doing you should always be in a position where you can make good contact to control the horse with the reins. With a young horse or if a beginning rider you should have loose contact where the horse can move it's head freely yet still be choked up and ready to choke up more quickly if needed for safety.
Open the door: When turning, you should look toward where you are going and gently increase the contact toward that direction. If turning left, your left hand should drift left with the horse's turning it's head that way along with its neck and spine.
Ride the spine: The spine goes from the top of the skull between the ears thorugh the body (poll) into the tail. If riding in a straight line, the spine should travel straight. If doing circles, the spine should follow the bend smoothly; the muscles, tendons, and connective tissue all supporting the action of the spine and skeletal structure.
Sit deep and pedal backwards: Sit on your seat bones in a comfortable, not perched, position. You shouldn't be stiff as you'll then just bounce. If you're sitting with good posture (good posture is straight, not stiff) you can follow the horses movement with your legs and seat bones by imagining you're pedaling a bicycle backwards. The horses natural walk, trot, and even canter strides will encourage that. You can even exaggerate it to get the proper feel, but mostly working with the motion, not directing it. You can often feel the animal's belly swaying side to side underneath you.
Be in the moment and support your horse: You should focus on your horse. Experienced riders are better at multi-tasking the riding activity with an unrelated conversation. The horse needs you to be there for it; ready to provide direction and leadership.
Ride with intention: Your energy should direct the horse more than anything. Even at a walk, the horse should be "working", not plodding along. You're creating habits for you and the animal whenever you ride so make sure they are good ones. Riding with intention means your horse is listening for your next cue and is ready to respond; it doesn't mean you're constantly annoying him with commands.
Give leg: A squeeze with your calf muscle or slight bump and release of your ankles should provide a little needed energy. "Leg, leg, leg!" means you're letting your horse be lazy and need to increase his energy level. If you sometimes need to kick with your ankles to get your horse to respond it means you've taught it to ignore your subtle directions.
Whisper with your hands and legs: Soft subtle aids will work if your horse is "listening" for them; but if it can get "dulled" by constant strong "loud" cues.
Soft eyes or hard eyes: A nervous horse will need a rider to use soft but focused eyes to help it relax. If you're herding or sorting cattle or going over a high or difficult jump combination, you'll need to use hard, intensely focused eyes to increase or hold the animal's focus or intensity.
More terminology to come another day!
Photo: The rider's hands are together, choked up, forward, and the reins aren't loose, but also aren't tight; providing good communication between Grace and Dixie.