If you ride hunt seat, you know that good hand position is critical to your overall balance and clear communication with your horse. Without it, your upper-body position will deteriorate, and you'll lose points with the judge. Here are some hand-position tips. (For four common hand-position errors, see Horse & Rider, July 2002.)
1. The right way. Hold your reins between your ring fingers and pinkies, and place your thumbs solidly on top as they exit your hands. Grip firmly, but avoid a white-knuckled death grip, which stiffens your arms. Close your fingers for optimum communication and safety. Hold your hands just above your horse's withers, in front of your saddle. Mildly tip your thumbs toward each other at a 45-degree angle. Bend your elbows just enough to create a straight line through your forearms, hands, and reins to your horse's mouth. Keep "conversational" contact, so that the pressure you feel with your hands is equal to what he feels in his mouth. Now you're ready for anything.
2. The right way, modified. Here's correct hand position for short-armed riders. If you bend your elbows for that straight line to your horse's mouth, you'll automatically place your hands higher than the ideal. Slightly higher hands still work, and are far preferable to the alternative--hands locked down on his withers, forced there by a straight arm, locked elbow, and cocked wrist. A straight, locked arm stiffens your entire upper body, and causes you to lose the straight line from your elbow to your horse's mouth. Tip: Higher hands bob more easily. To still your hands, keep your elbows steady at your sides, and maintain a flexible, elastic feel down through your forearms.
Teresa Cocas operates Cocas Quarter Horses in Sedalia, Colo. As an all-around trainer for nine years, her youth and amateur clients have won championships and reserve championships in both Western and English events, including showmanship, horsemanship, trail, Western riding, hunt seat equitation, and hunter under saddle.