The Scales of Training: Scale 3 – Contact
Contact is the third training scale and is dependent on the previous scales (rhythm/relaxation and suppleness) being relatively well developed. None of the scales can be addressed in isolation to the others, as they are all interlinked to some degree. However, there is no doubt that focussing on contact can only be effective once the horse has the rhythm and suppleness in his body to be able to maintain a steady contact.
So what exactly is contact?
The FEI definition states:
“Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider’s driving aids and ‘seek’ contact with the rider’s hand, thus ‘going into’ the contact. The horse seeks the contact and the rider provides the contact.”
This might sound like you should be addressing impulsion (the fourth scale) before contact, however, this is not so. A decent contact may be established without a great degree of impulsion, provided that the horse is responsive to the rider’s leg aids. In other words, don’t be tempted to push your horse beyond the speed and energy where he can still comfortably find a reasonable balance, while still ensuring that he is thinking forward.
Indicators of a good contact
- the horse steps forward to the contact, working through a supple poll
- the horse works over a raised and swinging back to allow the energy of the hind quarters to be transmitted into the bridle
- the horse accepts an elastic contact, quietly chewing the bit without the tongue visible
- the poll is the highest point
- the nose should be slightly in front of the vertical, or on the vertical in higher degrees of collection
- in the medium and extended paces the horse should visibly lengthen the entire frame, including the neck
- the outline is maintained without change when the rider yields the rein forward for a step or two, as in the movement described as ‘give and retake’
- the horse seeks to take the contact forward and down when the rein is lengthened
As you can see, contact is far more than just what is happening between the horse’s mouth and the rider’s hands; it is a part of the circle of energy that should flow from
- the active hind legs
- over the swinging back
- arriving in the mouth
- travelling along the reins to the riders hands, where it may be modified to create movements, transitions, half halts etc
- through the rider’s supple body and adhesive seat to
- the rider’s driving aids (legs)
- into activity of the hind legs
And so on, round and round.
Hopefully, from the above description, you can see that contact is not something that happens solely between the rider’s hands and the bit – to be a part of this cycle of energy both horse and rider’s entire bodies are involved.
Good practice for the rider is to consider that the rein contact originates in the horse’s mouth and terminates in the rider’s elbows with the hand as a modifier en route. With this concept, pulling on the reins becomes a thing of the past, as the elbows should never move behind the rider’s body, and as a result, the energy in the system is never blocked by the rein contact.
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