Arm and Hand Position: A Light Bulb Goes Off

So today’s confession is that I have always struggled with the outside rein. It was a secret until Susanne laid eyes on me. So the secret’s out and Rheirattack is having none of it. His whole world revolves around a well connected outside rein (literally!). With my former mount Salut I learned how to keep a relaxed elbow however this came at the expense of a flat hand which meant – little support on the outside rein.

Have you ever had your coach threaten to stick a crop through your elbows behind your back? Yes I know it’s a horrifying image but there is some insightfulness to this besides torment.

So imagine you’ve developed a relaxed shoulder and straight upper body, the focus now turns to your arms and hands. The correct position is relaxed elbows that hang next to your sides, fingers (all fingers, not just the thumb and pointer as I discovered) closed on the rein and thumbs up. I’ve heard this a thousand times but never really understood why it was important. This position allows you to support your core strength with your upper arms. And this ladies and gentleman was the missing piece of the puzzle for me.

Without this you cannot fully engage your core or your arms. The simple answer is your arms are not at your sides to look pretty, they are there to support your position. See the photo of my friend Mathilde Blais-Tetreault demonstrating proper position at the end of the article.

By doing so she can then provide a consistent connection with her horse’s mouth. When your arms are stretched in front of you, there is nothing to stabilize your elbows or hands (my problem). You risk looking like a cowboy and not one that is performing “western dressage”. When your elbows are pointed away from your sides, you risk looking like you’re doing the chicken dance. Either way fully engaging your core is very difficult.

Next capitalize on this new found core stability. Does your horse ever drift or pop out their shoulder when turning? I’ve never had this problem… never (read as in every ride!). Well now that you have a more effective position you can anchor your outside elbow into your hip to provide a supportive wall that guides your horse around the circle or corner. You should be able to do this at any given moment. In Susanne’s words “pretend you are a boxer”, a boxer with stiff arms and elbows has no strength and is prone to injury. A boxer with soft arms can quickly deliver a move and be ready for the next one. In this case the ‘next move’ is turning (not nearly as exciting as boxing!). Now if only I could remember to do all of this AND keep my thumbs up…

Photo 1: Your core strength is indicated by the blue arrow and shows how the elbow is positioned so that the elbow and core can work to stabilize each other and ultimately your hands.

Demonstrating correct arm and hands FEI NAJYRC medalist Mathilde Blais-Tetreault and her U-25 Grand Prix horse Woronow 5 (aka Wizz). (Photo Copyright M Blais-Tetreault)

Demonstrating correct arm and hands FEI NAJYRC medalist Mathilde Blais-Tetreault and her U-25 Grand Prix horse Woronow 5 (aka Wizz). (Photo Copyright Claude Menard)

Photo 2: In this photo the elbow is not aligned with the core and therefore provides little stability to your core and hands.

Straight arms with little bend in the elbow provide little support to your core and hands.

Straight arms with little bend in the elbow provide little support to your core and hands.

Susanne Dutt-Roth is an international dressage trainer based out of Rideauwood Farm outside of Ottawa, Canada. She has graciously offered to teach me on her Grand Prix Canadian Sport Horse stallion Rheirattack. For more information please visit RideauwoodFarm.com.

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5 responses to “Arm and Hand Position: A Light Bulb Goes Off

  1. I have the EXACT SAME PROBLEM. At thia stage, I’m not sure whether my instructor is actually watching me, or just repeating the mantra of ‘bend those bloody elbows’!

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  2. I have a similar problem and it is worse when I get tense… it has taken me weeks to start fixing and its slowly getting better…. OLD HABITS DIE HARD!!!! My insructor explains its a feeling like pushing a shopping trolley, you do not walk around with stiff arms out in a supermarket but rather, relaxed and with the motion 🙂

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  3. This is great! My instructors is constantly telling me to stop rolling my hands and i hate that im not in control of it, but this makes sense now i can picture the biomechanics. My arms are always too straight and my elbow arent tucked in

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