Contact isn’t a game, and it isn’t magickal.

Well, the crappy weather is upon us, and I donned my favorite cold weather britches tonight (Irideon Wind Pros), wool socks, turtleneck, fleece, jacket and stocking cap and headed out.  The horses were stuck inside for a second day, due to the heavy rains that have turned their paddocks into seas of mud.  Derby was really happy to get out of his stall, to say the least, and the rides we’ve been having lately are great motivation, even on awful nights such as this one.

The walk quality for the last couple days has been really good from the get-go – really powerful and swinging – which I attribute less to my riding and more to the fact that Derbs has been cooped up and has a lot of energy. I’m taking advantage of it, though, and am using the walk as a foundation for getting him really through and into the bridle.   The contact I’m getting is so strong, and even – he’s really pulling into the bit, and I’m feeling his back under me consistently.  Really consistently.  I’m even starting to play with lateral work at the trot – shoulder-in and leg-yield – movements that are way head of the game for us, but helpful in engaging (and strengthening) his hind end.

I attribute our ability to generate shoulders-in and leg-yields directly to the this new-found solid contact.  *This* is what a connected horse feels like! I had a few glimmers of this with Maddie, but wasn’t able to hold the feeling.  Derby and I, on the other hand, have been able to hold it together pretty well lately.

We also have a fantastic free walk – Derbs will follow the reins down to the end of the buckle, and he’ll stay there.  We’ve also experimented with stretchy trot, which is also growning pretty reliable.  I can pick him up, stretch him down, rinse and repeat to my heart’s content.

It’s such an elementary thing but I know – from my own experience and from watching the Dover clinic – that contact is fundamental.  It’s not a game, as some would have you believe, and it’s not an ephemeral state.  It’s physical, it’s feedback, and it’s truly something the rider doesn’t take.  The horse has to give you contact, and the rider has to create the environment that encourages and rewards the horse for doing so.


About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital business executive and strategist with a long track record of success in team leadership, employee development, marketing and business development.

2 Responses to Contact isn’t a game, and it isn’t magickal.

  1. Net says:

    With a reformed curler, I am finding how great contact is. It has taken a year and a half, but we finally have what I thought would never happen – foam! Last night he was flipping his head to get ride of some of it because it was annoying him, and his chest was covered in green slime! This is a huge difference and a testament to backing up and starting over on a horse who was able to get by without being truly correct because of a good natural balance and movement. I believe we would have been stuck at first/second level for a very long time if we hadn’t essentially restarted him when I got him.

    It’s funny, because my trainer had evented him through Training level (first level equivalent for dressage) the previous year, but had only ridden him once or twice a week and a beginner (she’d been riding a year and a half) was riding him the rest of the time. She told me when I got him what his weaknesses were, and that if it were up to her we’d back up and install fundamentals which hadn’t been there, so that’s what we did. What a difference! Someone else thought I would offend my trainer when I said he was more correct and using himself better than he ever had, and I had to explain that my trainer was the person who had told me that. It all came down to riding him correctly to get him to look for contact. Contact used to be feather light with communication coming and going, but that was enough to get him started at learning to use his back end well – and isn’t it all about getting the back legs bent and both pushing and carrying?

    (As a sidenote – kudos to you and C, because your pictures show definite correct improvement!)

  2. Sarah Skerik says:

    As always, Annette, you’ve added some important insight. And I think you really nailed it here:

    “It all came down to riding him correctly to get him to look for contact. Contact used to be feather light with communication coming and going, but that was enough to get him started at learning to use his back end well – and isn’t it all about getting the back legs bent and both pushing and carrying?”

    Now that I have figured out contact, I feel like the doors of dressage are swinging open. I have found the key that unlocks the gate to the rest of the journey. I’m finally riding correctly enough that I’m getting good connection – and good contact. And that’s why your point is so important. Contact comes from correct riding. Balance in the saddle, a forward-thinking horse, steady hands and an independent seat, an engaged core – and very frankly, the ability and experience to “feel” connection and understand the difference between contact and a headset.

    Thanks for the compliments, by the way. We’ve all been working hard the last few weeks! And congrats to you on the foam! That is like getting an A+ on the report card!

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