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What Does ‘Between Hand and Leg’ Actually Mean?

What Does 'Between Hand and Leg' Actually Mean dressage


Does your instructor tell you that you need your horse more between hand and leg?

Or have you had that comment on your dressage sheet from a judge?

Read on to find out exactly what that term means.

What does the term ‘between hand and leg’ actually mean?

This term should more correctly be ‘between leg and hand’.

By swapping the order of ‘leg’ and ‘hand’ in the phrase, the emphasis is on riding from the leg towards the hand, which is more helpful to the rider to understand that riding forward with the legs has to come before the hand controls.

To break it down, the term describes:

  • a horse that is ridden energetically forward from the rider’s leg aids to create activity and impulsion, which is then
  • contained and directed by the rein contact – i.e., the ‘hand’ component of the phrase – into something useful, like movements, collection, extensions, etc.

In simple words, you create energy with your legs and hold it inside your horse’s body with your hands.

  • You must always use a balanced amount of leg and hand – too much leg and you won’t be able to control the energy; too much hand and you will block the energy from being turned into something useful.
  • Riding with the ‘handbrake’ on will make your horse strong in the contact, stiff and resistant.
  • On the other hand, you must have enough weight (contact) in your hands that you do not allow all the energy you’ve created to be lost by allowing it to turn into speed.
  • Too little of both just gives you an underpowered, unexciting ride.

Pre-requisites that you need before you can put your horse between leg and hand

You cannot put a horse between leg and hand until he:

  • understands and accepts your leg aids, responding when you aid him with increased energy but without hurrying, and that he
  • accepts your contact with a soft and responsive mouth, and remains in a round outline with a supple poll when you have a positive contact.

How do I put my horse between leg and hand?

As described, it is all about finding the balance between your driving aids and your restraining aids.

You will need to experiment to find this balance.

In broad terms,

  1. you should be aiding your horse with your legs sufficiently that he moves enthusiastically forward with energy and a suitable (brisk but not quick) tempo,
  2. with a secure rein contact (no looping reins) that gives you a small amount of steady weight in your hands, but not so much that you are must grip your fists tightly, or feel like your shoulder muscles are being ripped out!

Why put your horse between leg and hand?

Once you have achieved this connection, your horse will be far more maneuverable.

You will be able to steer him with ease, assist him in maintaining his balance, collect and extend, and position him with ease for lateral work.

In conclusion

What sounds like another of those rather esoteric dressage terms, actually describes the fairly simple – but essential – concept of creating controlled energy.

Once you have the balance between the amount of leg you need to inspire impulsion and the amount of contact (hand) you need to contain it, your horse will become an easier and more pleasurable ride.

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