Hands high or low?
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Hands high or low?  

New Member

I've been learning to ride for over two years now, at the same riding school but with different riding instructors. I've have four different instructors, all good in their own ways, but there is one thing glaring problem - some contradict each other when it comes to how high/low your hands should be. 

My original instructor taught me to hold my hands at a comfortable height above the base of the horses' neck, and that's the way I tend to ride when I'm not being told what to do. 

Instructor 2 tells me 'hands higher', so it feels like I'm pulling the horses' head up sometimes. 

And further still, instructor no.3 (older, has taught for many, many years) tells me "hands low, like you're trying to rub the base of the horses' neck" (without actually touching the horse). 

Then I read a book on training young horses (lent to me by a BHS Accredited Professional friend) that is old (published in 1978) that says "It is sad fact that there are some instructors and riding schools that actually teach the altogether deplorable habit of low-positioned hands" (when writing about how the hands should be held and used). It's an old book, so some of the methods described are likely outdated - but is this true about low hands being, as the author writes, deplorable

I'm inclined to ride with my hands at the height I was originally taught, but it gets really annoying when I have two instructors who are contradicting each other on a very basic aspect (and it feels like I don't learn as much during my lessons when they're constantly saying 'hands higher/lower!'). 

Topic starter Posted : 14/08/2020 4:16 pm
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Seasoned Member

Hello ?️ 

Yes, I have experienced this in the past also!! I think a lot depends on the level of training the instructor has and also on their disciplines of choice. Also, the high of your hands will to some degree be depended on the horse's neck confirmation and his level of training. 

But as a rule, there should be a unbroken line from your elbows, down your forearm, through your wrists, and to the horse's bit. 

So, you wan to carry your hands at a height to ensure that that line remains intact. If you carry your hands too high or too low, then that line will be broken. 

Hope that helps 🙂 


Posted : 16/08/2020 1:26 pm
New Member


That's exactly what my original instructor told me (she's not teaching currently due to the lock-down), and that's how I've aimed to hold my hands when I ride. 

Thinking about it, it probably has a lot to do with how they all ride - one does some eventing, another produces show horses. 

Thank you for your advice. I'll keep the 'straight line from bit to elbow' in mind when I next ride. 

Topic starter Posted : 16/08/2020 2:19 pm
Estimable Member

As a instructor I agree it should be a straight line from your elbow to the bit, I was always taught I should be able to stretch my little finger down and just touch the withers if that makes sense.

Posted : 18/08/2020 2:00 pm
P.B. Equestrian
Estimable Member

It's definitely confusing when people tell you different things, especially when starting out and not knowing whats what. Agree with everyone above, keep an unbroken line from the elbow to the bit with a soft bend in the elbow with an elastic feel.

The height of your hands will change as you gain more experience and riding different horses in different head frames. For example, when asking a horse to stretch long and low, generally your hands will be slightly lower and wider, and when a horse is working on the bit your hands will be a little higher and a little further forward. Hope this makes sense! 🙂 

Posted : 18/08/2020 9:51 pm
Active Member

I am no expert but have ridden for many years taking instruction across those years and have received the same contradictory  direction.  Firstly it was the straight line from elbow through to bit so hands in a position to accommodate that. Which was just above the withers with that little finger when extended down would touch.

Then more recently from a younger instructor that hands are better held higher. I am constantly learning as new ideas are developed.

I have found that the best position is where that straight line is maintained , elbow, hands to the bit.   However it has to be so it is comfortable for the horse and still maintains a soft contact.  Soft hands I believe is important.  I wouldn't want to have my hands so low and strong that it forces the bit down and back towards you in the saddle which causes the head to be down and past the vertical. However if hands are held high it is another way of shortening the reign without moving hands along the reign. It also raises the bit in the mouth which causes discomfort. 

Both too high and or too low would prevent the horse from being relaxed which is something we should be looking for when we ride. I believe the answer is in having soft hands which are sensitive to feeling and maintaining that the contact when required.

We want  the horse to stretch down and long so creating a strong top line when we need to.. Hope that makes sense...

I write having learnt to ride in the UK at an early age  but also over the years ridden in different styles, western with a soft bit and a little polo cross and now learning the game of polo but only stick and ball a I feel the game of polo is quite sever for any horse... All very different riding positions ...  Soft hands  is the answer in my humble opinion...  

Would like to hear from anybody with ideas on what I have written.  We are never too old to learn,  thanks. 


Posted : 22/09/2020 1:23 am