Pet Connections

Hands out of the pit to get the horse on the bit

Kristin Hermann

I have been teaching since 1978 and have developed many rhythmic sayings because it is easier to remember a jingle when learning to ride. One of my favorites is, "Get your hands out of the pit to get your horse on the bit."* In this first photo, my hands are in the pit; they even look over the saddle. This is because the reins are too long. Because my hands are low and reins too long, I am leaning over my hands. As a result, it's challenging to use your contact or rein aids effectively with pressed-down hands. This is why we have been told to keep the hands above the withers and in front of the saddle. Undoubtedly, we need to have a correct riding position to not only ride the horse but influence it as well.

In the second photo below, my hands are out of the pit, and I have a straight-line elbow to bit. Hands out of the pit to get the horse on the bit and a straight-line elbow to the bit! My hands are out front of me, where they belong. In the second picture, too, I look more in sync with the horse. The horse is cantering uphill and not downhill. A rider will be hard-pressed to get a horse to canter uphill with the hands in the pit.

Not too many riders think about the mechanics of riding; they do it. But that is what riding is, a mechanical interaction from human to horse and horse to human. It never ends, and we try to make the communication between the two seamless.

If a rider has a straight-line elbow to bit, the elbow can mechanically follow the horse's forward back motion at both the walk and canter. Horses get longer and shorter as they move at a walk and canter. It is called longitudinal motion. The trot is up and down. So since we dressage riders ride on contact with the bit, our elastic elbows are to follow this motion. If our hands are pressed down, the elbows can't follow.

I mean, who thinks that the horse's neck stays stuck in one place? I hope no one but many riders try to pull the horse into contact and shorten its neck. The horse should stretch into the connection or contact, and the rider needs to allow the horse's top line to lengthen and shorten with each stride! I call this allowing the top line to breathe! However, in over 40 years of riding, no one ever told me about longitudinal motion. Instead, I read it in a book. Once, when I was giving a Home Schooling Your Horse seminar, a trainer told me, "I wish I were told about longitudinal motion when I was learning about contact with the bit."

When I came across these two photos, it was a great example of hands out of the pit to get your horse on the bit. My horse is on the bit in both pictures. However, in the bottom image, the horse is in self-carriage. This is the holy grail of dressage, a horse staying around with very light contact! You can actually see a loop in the rein.

In addition, in the first picture, with my hands pressed down, my shoulders are pulled forward, rounding my back. In the second picture, my hands are up, and my shoulders are back. Because of my better upright seat, the horse is ridden through his whole body to my hands. Riding back to front is hard if you're rounded in the back with your hands pressed down.

When I learned how to ride, and now when I am teaching, it is always about the rider's correct position: Hands above the withers in front of the saddle so the elbows can be elastic and follow; side of the leg on the horse to open the hips with the stirrup on the balls of your feet and toes nearly parallel to the horse; sit in the middle with your head between the horse's ears; do not tuck your lower back under and sit on your coccyx which rounds your lower back. Correct riding position equals better communication between horse and rider. You first become a rider before you can positively influence the horse. Hands out of the pit to get the horse on the bit is one of my favorite sayings.

* On the bit is also called on the aids. It results from the rider asking the horse to step under or track up through their seat to their hands.


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023