Posted by: ivyschex | April 26, 2010

Thoughts on Using the Hands

Thoughts on Using the Hands

When studying dressage, I sometimes wonder if I will ever understand all the nuances of it.  Take using the hands, for example.  I am reading through Racinet explains Baucher and I am trying to soak up the ideas on using the hands correctly.  I am on chapter 5, dealing with Hand without legs, legs without hand.  We get quotes like these:

“[the hand] must then only act through mellow and immobile indications.”

“The hand then must abstain from any action which would look like a punishment, like the half-halt or even the vibration.”

~General de Kerbrech

So, the horse must be soft enough, relaxed enough, to yield with just the slightest action on the reins.  While the rider must never, through pulling, force the horse into any frame.  If this is a description of classical dressage, what in the world is going on in the show arena?!

General L’Hotte says, “Here lies the secret which alone allows one to master a horse’s mouth, whether outside or in the High School riding; that is to say, to obtain the relative lightness which suffices to check a bolter, or the almost complete lightness which, in High School work, places a horse at the disposal of his rider (the hand acts without taking from the impulsion).  But one has to know how to fix the hand.”

So I ask, “What is the fixed hand?  How is it helpful?”  L’Hotte goes on to say this, “With the fixed hand, it is the horse who yields to himself, who rewards himself, who takes pleasure in chewing the bit, therefore giving suppleness and mellowness to his mouth”

It seems all interconnected to me.  To get mellowness (lightness?) from the horse, one must act through a soft, fixed hand.  It really does show that your horse can only pull as hard as you are. 

So, my next question is this, “How do I begin to know if I am using a fixed hand?”  Racinet’s answer is simple and obvious, but easy to forget (at least for me).

“This fixidity is expressed by the requirement not to ‘pull.’ …One knows that one was ‘pulling’ if, upon the mouth’s yielding, one’s hand moves back, ever so slightly.”

Wow!  Okay, I think I need someone standing out there to remind me on that one.  I guess, I will need to constantly ask myself, “Did I pull?”  I would guess that this is some people mean when they tell their students that the horse should “reach for the bit.”  That never made much sense to me, especially seeing how dressage was ridden in the competitions.  Now that I have a better (I think) understanding of ideal action of the hand, it makes so much more sense. 



  1. I like this insight. I haven’t thought much about the action of the hands like this before. I will be observing my hand actions closer. This will promote calmness through out my entire body movements. Thanks Ivy.

  2. This is the eternal problem in dressage regardless of what old master one reads! I think of the hand as connected to my core…so I don’t pull with the arms but rather brace and yield from my back…..very tricky to accomplish but when it goes through to the horse, it really works! That said, the horse has to know what he’s being asked, and frankly, a little pulling can guide a horse new to the concept into understanding what you want. But that pulling explanation must be connected to a suppling yield and drive….and it needs to be very quick!

    I always have a problem with what the experts say should happen vs. the disconnect of how to teach the rider to get there. It’s all well and good to express the goal but the description of how to get there is generally poor to inadequate….

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