Trainer Tuesday: How do you help a rider who can’t keep their hands steady and still?

Welcome to Trainer Tuesday! Each week we ask trainers a question and gather their answers for you. These trainers have a range of experience, backgrounds, and focus points of their programs, so the answers have as much variation as you would expect and also probably much more similarity. 

This week’s question posed is: How do you help a rider who can’t keep their hands steady and still?

Here are their answers: 

“Typically riders can’t keep their hands still because they don’t have a strong base. We see this in riders that pinch at the knee or can’t get out of the saddle. I often see this in young riders who are so small in size that it takes every inch of their body to keep the pony going forward. Regardless, it’s distracting and not kind to our horse’s mouth. A few tricks I use:

1. Focus on a strong leg, a lot of two-point is key and balancing exercises without putting your hands on the neck.

2. Place a crop between their thumbs and have them flat incorporating a lot of circles. They should be able to turn the horse or pony using more leg and not dropping their hands to the inside.

3. I use the analogy of holding a small plate on top of their thumbs. Wide enough the plate doesn’t fall to one side or the other, and hands even so the plate doesn’t fall.

4. I try to educate them on the parts of the mouth, including the bars and how important it is that we keep that straight line from the bit to their hand to their elbow. Applying pressure to the wrong part of the mouth creates reactions we don’t desire and is uncomfortable to the horse.

I do not believe in tying hands together with rope or bailing twine. I believe this is dangerous and not effective in building muscle memory.” -Holly Helbig
Listen to Holly on the Plaidcast here.

“If a rider is constantly shortening or lengthening the reins, I’ll put a knot in each rein where the hands will have to either stay in front, or behind the knot. Bridging the reins will also help keep the rider’s hand still.” -Don Stewart
Listen to Don on the Plaidcast here.

“Whenever I have a student that has difficulty keeping their hands steady and still, I like to first figure out the root of the issue. Most times when I find a rider has difficulty keeping their hands still it is because they are struggling with strength or balance. To work on keeping their hands still in this case, I would have them practice two point, getting their leg down around the horse, and proper leg position. I continue to build on this by adding holding the reins as driving reins. Driving reins do not allow a rider to balance on their hands. Building leg and core strength takes time and diligence but working on this every ride so that it is instilled from the start definitely helps!

The other reason I feel some riders have busy hands is nerves. In these cases they may bounce or shove their hands. In these cases we like to work on an opening rein on a circle and eventually on a straight line in both directions, at a trot first and then at a canter. The eventual goal is to work towards allowing the horse to have soft contact without the inconsistent hands causing inconsistent contact.” -Liz Redding

“A trick I learned from a dressage friend in northern Michigan, was having the riders use a standing wrap or polo wrap. The rider has one end in their left hand. The extension of the wrap goes under the horses belly then the other end to the riders right hand. It helps the rider keep their hands in one spot alongside a decent grab of the reins.” -Jay Moore
Read Jay’s response on It Happens! here.

“The reason most riders can’t keep their hands still and steady is because they have not truly learned to have a tight, still leg and an independent seat. They need to regularly ride without stirrups and to learn to hold their body position. It’s very hard to get the hands still when the rest of the body is loose and moving. 

The reason the hands move up and down is because they are keeping their elbow locked. The elbow needs to work as a hinge when you post, so that the body can go up and down, but the hand can stay perfectly still. The upper arm needs to hang loosely, and the elbow needs to be soft. The only part that should have any tension are the closed fingers.

There are a few tricks I use and often you have to try a few different ones until you figure out what works best for that person and it may be a combination of them. 

First of all, I have them fill glasses of water at home, stand outside and practice posting motions on their feet while trying not to spill the water. They figure out how to let their elbow work as a hinge and then concentrate on that feeling. 

I also have them ride with a crop across both of their hands, first through their fingers, and then eventually with it just setting on top of their hands.

Another great trick is to have them hold the reins in their pincer grasp, using just their thumb and pointer finger. This teaches the rider to have the lightest feel possible of the reins without their hands moving at all. 

This is a problem I see even at the top levels. If you watch the schooling ring of a Grand Prix class, you’ll see riders posting with their hands moving up and down. It’s very hard for a horse to be properly on the bit if the rider doesn’t have steady hands, so it’s something that really needs to be worked on.” -Laurie Scott
Read Laurie’s articles here.

“The rider who can’t keep their hand steady needs a better established base-of-support, so I would start by helping them with that. When seated well, a rider can properly find their ear-shoulder-hip-heel. Then the upper arm can hang from the shoulder, which is the sole way the proper straight-line-elbow-to-bit can be established. It sounds like a lot, but now the hand will be natural and easy to stay soft and in place.” -Jane Frizzel

“I find that typically riders who can’t keep their hands steady lack the proper strength in their core and seat, they will use the horse’s mouth for balance. A straight line from the elbow to the horse’s mouth is crucial to allow for proper connection. When the rider does this, the bit will work on the lips and tongue correctly.

Exercises to strengthen core and seat: I ask the riders to hold their jumping position in the walk and trot or to have them drop their stirrups. Once their foundation is stronger I will then ask my riders to hold a short bat under their thumbs; the bat will stay horizontal over the horse’s neck. This helps give the riders a visual when their hands are moving and helps them stay steady.” -Stephany Powers

“For my riders with busy hands, I try to focus more on the “point of origin.” Hands are attached to arms. Riders who do not keep their arms in the correct angles accompanied by an appropriate rein length will always resort to being busy in their hands. Hands are a point of “touch/feeling” and I find that the brain is very hypersensitive or obsessive to the words “keep your hands still.” I believe this is because it is a command focused on the end of the “point of origin idea.”
Riders focusing on keeping their arms loose, in the right position, angles for leverage, and unlocked wrists and elbows, inadvertently keep their hands still! Use the martingale strap as a “do not drop behind “ zone for your hands with your arms being loose and flowing from your body. You’ll be amazed at the difference!” -Colin Savaria