Good Hands Equal Good Horsemanship
by Jim Winney
We all have a favorite piece of tack in our collection: a saddle, a bit, or a good feeling set of reins. Hopefully it is a piece that helps us to gain a better communication with our horse. This is good, but my dear friend Ronnie Willis used to say, “Your greatest horsemanship tool is your hands.” So whatever get-up you are riding in—or even if you are flagging a young colt in the round pen—it is your hands that you are using to control it all. How you offer feel thru them is everything.
We have all seen a horseman with good hands and plenty of others with hard, unforgiving hands. Having good hands is essential to establishing clear communication between you and your horse. Our hands should operate with feel and softness. Can you feel thru your hands when your horse is giving and offering to follow your suggestions? How clear and consistent are they? A great deal of confusion can be brought to the horse with our hands, especially when working with a young horse or one that has some issues. It is really important to be clear and consistent in the feel you are offering to the horse with your hands. How he responds to what you are asking him is of equal importance and also how you reward him for following your suggestions. Our hands should be an extension to the bit in his mouth, or to his head if riding with a hackamore.
Your reins should feel good in your hands and good to your horse. I am real particular when choosing a set of reins. They are what will pass the feel from your hands down to the bit in your horse’s mouth. A good set of reins should be soft and supple. They should have a bit of life in them so when communicating thru them your horse will have a clear understanding of what you are asking. I love rope reins—the ones made out of yachting rope or braided parachute chord, especially in the early stages of establishing a relationship with my horse. When you have a lot of positive communication going, a move up to a good set of rawhide or leather reins and the correct bit will offer further refinement. There is no substitute for quality when choosing the correct set of reins. They are exposed to the elements on a daily basis and poor quality reins will suffer by losing their life over time. This will diminish the feel between you and your horse, sort of like having poor reception in the telephone line. Poor reception equals poor communication.
Your favorite bit
My favorite bit is a dog bone snaffle. I like this particular bit for a number of reasons, mostly because I know how it works in my horse’s mouth and he likes it as well. I am able to get a lot of lateral movement and flexion from him in this bit and he stays soft thru the whole process. A bit should complement wherever the horse is in his training and development. Every bit has its purpose and should help to refine the communication between horse and rider. A good question to ask yourself when moving into another bit and rein set-up is how will it refine the feel between you and the horse? As you move up in horsemanship skill your hands should get softer and it is then that you are ready to move up to a more exacting bit. You should always be able to change things around with your horse’s bit. I will often take my older horses all the way back to a hackamore for a time. As with good quality reins craftsmanship for bits is everything. Buy handmade if you can because these bits are well-balanced and rest correctly in the horse’s mouth.
Your journey together
Wherever you are at in your horsemanship, good quality tack is an important ingredient to taking your horse to the next level. For many professionals this is the essential ingredient to a deeper communication and refined feel with their horse. For the rest of us, it is just as important. Investing in good tack for you and your horse is a win/win decision. It is one part of the whole picture of moving together and keeping your feel with the horse alive. Regardless of the tack you choose, remember that it is the hands that are your greatest horsemanship tool.
About Jim Winney
Horses have been in my life as far back as I can remember. They are what God has used in my life to help me to a better place. I have been blessed to learn from a lot of great horsemen. My thanks go to Ronnie Willis, Leon Harrel, Pat Parelli, Buck, and my good friend Jeff Hansen, as well as to the horse and the One who brought them into my life. We love sharing with those who want to learn. For information on teaching, clinics or training call Jim Winney at 970-946-6797 or email to [email protected].
Published June 2012 Issue
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.