Sunday, May 16, 2010

No Hands and Cruising, the Great Experiment

My little mare Bonnie continually reminds me how much fun riding is.  Especially when it's challenging.

I deciding to try something completely off the wall.. "no hands" riding.  The goal is to fix my sad hands, and nothing I've tried so far has worked.  Being of "old school" riding, I also have a tendency to want to bully my horses into submission with the bit. Which I am making pointed efforts in correcting.

Take away your hands and what do you have left to use to move and steer your mount?  You got it, seat, legs and balance.

Hang on my friends this could get wild!

Feet in stirrups, collect to light contact at the walk.  Massage barrel with calves stretching Bonnie down and long, nice forward movement.  I smile thinking this is going to be a great ride.   Light squeeze of calves, instant trot (sitting).  Instead of collecting up the reins I left them long, I was almost at the buckle with my hands out in front of the saddle at about 7 and 5 o'clock.  Bonnie's head was high and nose in the air as I expected.

Spread my toes as wide as I could in boots and kept them there.  This dropped my heel naturally.  Kept my calves on, and I mean ON!  Relax the seat, and sit back.  Woops don't forget to steer with that seat hahahaha!  Bonnie rewarded my efforts with a collected, impulsion from the hind, smooth, head down and round trot for as long as I maintained my "perfect" body position!  When I lost it she let me know immediately (and I feel it today!)

This is where the "cruising" came into play.  I let Bonnie go directions she choose while I was... I guess the word is "played with my seat" until I could 100% of the time put her into frame without my hands on the bit at all at walk / trot.  I was ecstatic !

Next for the experiment.

I wanted to see what this does for my hands.  So remembering the old "Don't spill your ice cream" lessons, elbows to ribs, closed fingers, thumb highest point on the reins and angle of forearm in line with Bonnie's mouth.  Collected but long rein again walking and stretching Bonnie down and long into the bit.  Collected rein again..  Light squeeze (sitting trot),  did all the things I did before, toes wide, calves on, sit back.. no farther back...  Bonnie went round and through without fighting !!! and guess what???? My reins were TOO LONG!  I was able to collect more!    I did one 20 meter circle, completely dropped the reins for another half circle then stopped off my seat.  I was GRINNING, laughing and having a blast !!!

The BO made this comment which I took as a complement: "Where you riding bareback?  You and Bonnie looked so natural"


  1. Very cool - many of us (myself included) tend to "ride the head of the horse" and use too much hand. Nice set of exercises and great descriptions!

  2. This is why I started riding bitless. I wanted to take away the constant hand to mouth nagging. Through bitless I have achieved bridleless. I had such an awesome dressage lesson the other week from a friend of mine who is an instructor. She taught me on her mare who you are either spot on, or waaaay off. She commented on how she has never had a rider get on one of her horses and ride like I had instantly, all seat. I used my seat bones so much during that lesson my butt was so sore the next day but I literally did not touch the reins the whole time. I think people are too afraid to let go of that "control" it's the same mentality as the "my horse can't go bitless" thinking they are lacking control. What is really lacking is the true ability to influence the horse with your seat, legs and body in general, not just your hands. It's not discipline specific either, seat bones and legs. So many riders, even supposed "upper level" do not correctly collect their horses it makes me crazy. They all just reel in the reins and their horses are all strung out in the hind end.

  3. PS: All seat, no hands is what bitless MAKES you ride. You use too much rein bitless, your horse will stop lol! I remember my friends sisters using one of my bitless bridles on one of their normally "forward" horses. They trotted him then went for a trot walk and got a trot halt. She nearly dove over the horses head LOL!

  4. Sounds like a great ride! I bet Bonnie had as much fun crusin' as you did :)

  5. Great ride! I have tried this some in the round pen, still chicken to completely let go of the reins. Like what if the reins fall over his head!! What I do that I feel comfortable with is hold onto the buckle and hold the grab strap. That way I can't pull the reins but won't drop them either, I also ride bitless.

  6. Sydney - So here's the kicker. When I was a kid, I had an Arabian. Got her as a 2 year old when I was 12. When mom sold her when I was 18, she was ALL seat and leg completely bridle-less at all gaits. So it's not like this is new for me so this blows my mind that I hadn't even thought of this until now with Bonnie and Rosie.

    Jane - I have a double ended clip that I use to keep my reins from going over a head.

    Kate - thank you.... I am trying to break out of the old school ways of "If you don't want to do it I'm going to make you" mentality.

  7. Excellent!! Really cool stuff...and very liberating! I can';t ait to have some kind of arena again to do these thing again too!
    I did ride to an arena Saturday...and the new trainer i met said.."oh bitless, I do not like those".(am Trying a NURTUAL BRIDLE) he told me to "seesaw" the reins for her to come into contact again...(Ooou AND totally Ick-went through my mind)
    Like you...wanting to be lighter and mover my mare foward to contact from back to front, instead of the other way around..I squeezed my calves and moved my pinky fingers twice...down she came, like weights into my fingers. He coo'd...and never did I "seesaw".

    I am really loving the bitless...when you get them into your hands so KNOW it was correctly asked!
    You should try it!

  8. I totally love how your worded that "being of old school"! That is totally me! Thanks for the reminder!! LOVED hearing how this worked out for you!!

  9. Great post. I can feel your excitement and sense of accomplishment in your words.

    I want to try my Dr. Cook's on Apache and use more leg, but she's seems so dead to leg pressure now and moves into pressure instead of away. I'm not sure if that will carry into the same situation with bitless, or not.
    Apache does seem to want to do well for me, but she is far from soft. We have a lot ot work on and I hope we can do the same as you're doing. I think it's so awesome!



Happy Trails!