Creating Contact for Dressage

Dressage Draft

Q: On my last dressage test, the judge wrote “inconsistent contact.” I know contact is one of the foundations of dressage; how do I keep it consistent?

A: Contact is the point where rider’s hands feel the horse’s mouth, and the point where the horse’s mouth feels the rider’s hands. A round frame does not necessarily mean your horse is connecting.

To develop connection, the horse must trust the rider’s hand will be steady at the point of contact. If the horse is pushed into a round frame too early, his muscles won’t be capable of holding that carriage for very long, and he will search for a different head placement to relieve his topline muscles.

Likewise, riders who haven’t developed an independent, balanced seat will have movement into their arms and hands, creating an unsteady point of contact. If you’ve received comments from the judge that your horse is unsteady in the contact, it’s because your horse is not strong enough to push his steps into the bit, and/or your body is not providing a steady enough point of contact for him to connect with.

Contact in its rawest form is the feeling that the horse is leaning on the bit, making your arms tired. You want contact, but not pulling you out of the saddle. Therefore you have to develop strength in your core to be able to carry some weight in your arms and back while absorbing motion of the gaits so that your horse can develop strength to push from his hind legs and thrust the motion forward to the bit. Riding without stirrups will build your strength and technique for moving your body with your horse’s gaits and ground your seat as the basis for your balance.

Try to keep your arms long and symmetrical on either side of the withers. When you feel your horse take steady connection to your hand, praise him with your voice. Inconsistent contact is for one reason only—a lack of strength on the part of both horse and rider.

JANE RENNER is a USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist. She coached the North American Junior & Young Riders dressage team twice for Region III. Jane currently operates Renner Dressage in Franktown, Colo., and travels to conduct clinics around the country, offering a fresh approach to classical dressage as it applies to different breeds.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


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