Anatomy of Riding: the Hands

The wrist should follow the angle of the forehand, with the thumb remaining the highest point.

The wrist should follow the angle of the forehand, with the thumb remaining the highest point.

In this series we will break down our anatomy as riders – how each individual body part should function… and how sometimes they go on a sabbatical to do whatever they desire. In this article we will be discussing our hands.

A correct hand has the thumb pointing upward, in relation to the forearm. That means that your supple elbow and forearm should flow in a steady line the direction of the horse’s mouth. Your thumb follows those angles downward and is bending neither inward or outward. Your wrist can change the angle of your hands in a number of directions – it may break it downward, upward, forward or backward.

Your wrist should not be braced upward.

Your wrist should not be braced upward.

Take a look at these photos as reference. Your wrist does not flatten your hands into those ‘piano hands’ we’ve heard so much about, that is more a function of your forearm.

How do I hold the reins?

Take your reins in your hands, if you are at home, use a piece of rope or a thin belt. The reins will be clasped in two separate areas of your hand – between the pinky and ring finger and then tamped down by the tip of your thumb. You will want the reins placed close to the base of your hands, just past the middle joint of your fingers. You will then hold this in place with the tip of your thumb. When done correctly, your thumb will look like a tiny tent. This allows your wrist to remain mobile and independent. Many times riders will get into the habit of riding with a flattened

Nor should it be collapsed downward.

Nor should it be collapsed downward.

thumb, but this begins the cycle of bracing your wrist and arm, and should be avoided.

You will want to feel the tips of your fingers pressing softly into the palm of your hand. In dressage we ride with a closed fist. Believe it or not, this is the kindest way to ride for the horse’s mouth. It allows us to feel more nuanced pressures and forces us to remain elastic and giving with the major giving joint of our bodies – the elbow.

 

 

Reins should be held between the pinky and ring finger, and then be tamped down by the thumb.

Reins should be held between the pinky and ring finger, and then be tamped down by the thumb.

But I thought the hand gave?

It is important to separate phrases that are often used with what is actually happening anatomically. It is a common misconception and leads some riders, in a effort to be kind, to ride with the previously mentioned opened fingers. Your finger joints should not open. It is the elasticity of our elbows and somewhat in our shoulders that allows for a giving hand. In dressage, but also in all riding, there are some parts of our bodies that are responsible for stabilizing and other parts that are responsible for movement. The key to riding well is knowing which parts are your mobile parts and which are supporting those mobile parts. Your fingers are not one of the ‘giving’ portions of your position. While you might supple a horse with your wrist or even by squeezing your fist, you do not reward by spreading your fingers open. 

 

Do not get into the habit of riding with a flattened thumb, as it will brace your wrist.

Do not get into the habit of riding with a flattened thumb, as it will brace your wrist.

Think of our hands as indicators as to the overall balance and independence of our positions. Oftentimes our bodies will mask issues that then will show themselves in our hands. There are many examples of this – the broken wrist, the piano hand, bleeding reins.

 

The 'piano hands' position also causes bracing because it locks the joints of your wrist and elbow.

The ‘piano hands’ position also causes bracing because it locks the joints of your wrist and elbow.

Imagine that you are not holding onto a set of reins, but that you are actually holding hands with your horse’s mouth. What sort of hand would you like to hold, one that is firm, one that is supportive, one that is constant. No body would want to hold hands with someone who was constantly fluctuating their patterns, over toned or a limp noodle. Imagine the type of hand you would like to hold and use the tips above to maintain this connection with your horses mouth. Your job is to be consistent even when he is not. A note – while I

Riding with opened fingers will distort your feel of the horse's mouth and lead to chronic bleeding reins.

Riding with opened fingers will distort your feel of the horse’s mouth and lead to chronic bleeding reins.

photographed myself without gloves to show more clearly what is happening with the hand, I believe strongly that everyone should ride with gloves. They aid in gripping the rein (think of those hot days with sweaty hands), maintaining a more refined feel and protecting your hand against the elements. 

For additional learning tools, click on the video below to learn how to do the rein game with a friend. This will give you a change to maintain your hand while learning to supple your elbow.  

8 responses to “Anatomy of Riding: the Hands

  1. Pingback: 2014 STATE DRESSAGE News·

  2. Pingback: Golly! Do They Have Spray Tan Just For Hands, Boys and Girls? | Dressage Different·

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  5. Question: What happens when you are carrying a whip? What I have found is that the hand holding the whip tends to rotate in — so the whip can rest on my thigh. Now if I had nice skinny legs, this wouldn’t be an issue, but I haven’t had skinny legs since I was about 12. I am a big-boned, big muscled person with short round thighs and NO I am not extremely fat (BMI of 26). If I hold the whip hand in that correct position, I have to hold it several inches away from (the side of) the horse’s neck. So far, not one trainer has been able to answer this question for me. I rather suspect they just don’t want me to be built the way I am, that they wish I was tall and willowy and skinny.

  6. Pingback: Anatomy of Dressage: How To Hold And Use A Dressage Whip | Dressage Different·

  7. Pingback: Show Report: MSSP, Rainsville, AL | Rodney's Saga·

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