Upper Arm Position

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Problems with reins that slip or a horse that constantly raises its head are often rooted in the way that the hands hold the reins. But the solution also may be found higher up on the rider, in the upper arm.

The next time you ride, try this mantra before you make any adjustment in the reins: ”Bring the shoulders behind the arms.” Do this at any gait and even before moving off from the halt. You may find that adjusting the reins becomes easier or maybe even unnecessary.

The correct position for the upper arm is to hang down directly from the shoulders along the line of the torso. The elbows should be relaxed and held next to the body, not poking out at all. If the horse stretches its head toward the bit to soften its topline, the upper arm should be able to easily separate from the torso just enough to allow this stretch without opening the hand.

Most people, when they think of adjusting their reins, glance down at the horse’s head or at their hands. Doing this even just briefly causes the torso to tilt forward, the shoulders to round, the head to drop and the hands to be drawn in toward the stomach.

When the shoulders are rounded, even if the reins are shortened to a correct length, the elbows and arms will remain rigid. A deadly cycle then begins: The horse braces against the rider’s arm and stiffens its neck and topline, often raising its head. The hands become over-busy to compensate, the fingers open, and the reins slip. The reins need adjusting again and the horse just plain becomes annoyed with all this fussing.

Unless the posture is erect when the reins are shortened, the rein length just can’t remain consistent. Return to the mantra any time you want to adjust your reins: ”Bring the shoulders behind the arms.” This accomplishes several nice things without having to think too much about it:

?? Your shoulders come back and down and the stomach muscles engage.

?? Your head and eyes come up.

?? Your arm drops down from the shoulder and the elbow bends, creating a straight line to the bit.

?? Your reins may already be at the correct length without changing the hand because bringing the shoulders back will take up some of the slack.

?? If a rein adjustment is still needed, it will be smaller.

?? The reins are less likely to slip, avoiding the necessity to shorten the reins again very soon.

The mantra also works well in applying half-halts. Instead of pulling on the rein at all, when the shoulders are back you should be able to half-halt by simply deepening your seat slightly or even just dropping a little weight into your elbows.