Thursday 20 September 2012

Ayyy! So what if my hands are all over the place... Fugetaboudit!

Curmudgeon, do share - what was (and likely still is) your go-to Bad Hands habit of choice.

Hmm, good question, good question.

I would say I had a moderate case of what you may know as "Magician Hands".  You may also know this by its latin based name "Fugetaboudititis".  Although people of all ethnicities may be afflicted, there is some suggestion that people of Italian descent may have a genetic predisposition to the condition, and unfortunately, I do carry a portion of these genes

While hunter riders more typically are inflicted with a mentronome-like back and forth sawing motion in the hands and arms, the less common but equally as mock-worthy clinical signs of Fugetaboudititis can be distinguished by their total lack of of any rhythm whatsoever. 

The hands and arms may move and gesture anywhere, at any time, as needed to communicate something  with extra emphasis and zeal.  This may be entirely appropriate when you are telling an exciting story to your Nono.  Not so much when you are attempting to communicate with your horse's mouth.  Up / down / over the crest / to the knee variations may all be seen, and may be seen in the same ride.  Maybe even on the same 20 metre circle. 

And THIS is a special aid I use to ask for some inside bend..
As I mentioned once upon a time, a long time ago - my real weakness was my tendency to cross my hand over my horse's neck when asking for inside bend.  This can actually come in quite handy when riding hunters. If your reins are really long and in your crotch, you need to move your hand 12 - 14" in some direction to have any impact on your horse's face.  This can make steering difficult to do in a subtle fashion.

For example - say you have to turn a corner to avoid hitting the fence/other horse/standards - or maybe you are one of those raging assholes who likes to maintain that fucking irritating little 15 m circle directly around the judge who is standing in the middle judging the hack class, so she has no ability to see any other competitor.  Moving your hand up/down/over to the inside this distance would be very visible to onlookers.

But - if you cross your hand over from inside to outside - well, there is a good 8 - 10" right there.  Take it waaaay to the outside - voila.  Your horse's face is cranked right in.  I even knew one trickster (you may want to sit down for this) who would bring her inside hand to about midline, then hook the rein with her pointer finger of the outside hand, and pull on the inside rein with the outside hand.  Sneaky eh. You have to be creative to put the Pee in Pleasure my friends.

This technique has other uses as well - when cantering on the wrong lead, if you cross the outside hand over the crest to the inside around a corner, you can easily crank your horse's head to the rail, throw him entirely off balance, and force him to do a skip change to avoid falling on his face.  It is gold, I say, PURE GOLD!

(Errr... unless you are hoping to get some sort of true connection going on with your horse's mouth.  Minor detail).

Now sure - due to my Fugetaboudititis, my hands and arms were partial to other gestures as well.  Yes, I have punched myself in the knee while riding.  However - it was this inside-outside hand crossover that was really the biggest problem, because it is pretty much impossible to begin to take even baby steps towards keeping a horse straight when you have popped their outside shoulder out by cranking their face in from the outside (does this make any sense to anyone but me?  Hopefully yes).  And as we all know from Zettl (or some other hat wearing dude), the three keys to dressage success are 1. ride forward, 2. ride straight 3. insist that your monkeys use Neet should they decide to remove any hair from their furry little bodies.

And so, my initial lessons on the dressage ponies Swiffer and Shortstop involved lots of creative reminders on the part of Coach Ritenau to STOP-DOING-THAT-BEFORE-YOU-DRIVE-ME-FUCKING-INSANE.  Of course, Coach Ritenau was quite possibly one of the most polite people on Earth, who wouldn't say "Classical Dressage" if her mouth was full of it. And so instead, she used gentle, Julie-approved type language such as "hand on either side of the crest" or "keep him between your hands" or "straight between both reins" and many other creative versions of STOP-DOING-THAT-BEFORE-YOU-DRIVE-ME-FUCKING-INSANE.

Worst of all - after so many years of riding with not a passing thought regarding straighness, I really was having trouble feeling whether or not I was keeping the horse straight between both reins, in a fashion that would enable a good solid connection.  But luckily - I had a natural, build in Straight-o-meter right before my eyes.

Both Swiffer and Shortstop were fairly lean, fit ponies - but they were still ponies, and as such, they had relatively meaty, cresty necks.  One of the benefits of this (and you may have noticed this yourself) is that when a horse with such a neck is working properly "through", the cresty part relaxes and looks kind of soft and jiggly.  (This sounds gross. It is hard to put in words, but really, it is a good thing).  And so, I started watching for this sign of connection and relaxation - tense muscles across crest = bad.  Best of all - both were absolute saints, and if ridden correctly, were quite easy to get through, and generously rewarded me for my efforts to STOP-DOING-THAT-BEFORE-I-DROVE-THEM-FUCKING-INSANE.  Another bonus - this really enabled me to develop the "clueless beginner dressage rider who stares at her horse's neck and is totally oblivious to all around her" habit quite quickly. 

The good news is - of all of my bad habits, I would say that this "crossing over" affliction is the one that I have entirely overcome, partly because it is impossible to fake breaking this habit. Is my Fugetaboudititis entirely gone - no. No chance.  But there are worse things in life than getting punched in the knee now and then.

The judge wrote "hands low and wide".  WTF is that supposed to mean?  Is she on drugs?


  1. Haha, I too developed the "clueless beginner dressage rider who stares at her horse's neck and is totally oblivious to all around her" habit quite quickly, because in an effort to break the hunter habit of looking half way around the ring to see what's coming next (well, not a hunter habit... a jumping habit in general that is actually quite important, but a BAD one when doing dressage) I instead started looking at my horses neck. When I figured out that this also helped me see if he was actually as round as I thought he was (generally the answer was no) I was hooked. Still revert to eyes-on-the-ground when I'm off in lala land. Worst dressage habit to break.

  2. Min was sticking my booty out like it was a JayZ video instead of a hunter class. I could ride with straight connection (in a way), but ask me to sit up and stop poking out my assets? Take it easy!

  3. Thank you! This post here made my day!
    The "clueless beginner dressage rider who stares at her horse's neck and is totally oblivious to all around her" is exacly where I hae reached now according to my instructor ;P I'm slowly but progressivly trying to eliminate this little habbit. Which means I am able to keep my head up while the eyes are still staring down...which in the last training made my instructor ask if I was sleeping since my eyes seemed closed to her xD

    But thank you for your blog. Both me and my instructor enjoy it to the fullest!

  4. Great post, thank you!
    I use too much inside rein, slowly getting to grips with that one. I tend to cross over my inside hand too, and I also have a tendency to look down to see if my horse is doing what I'm supposed to be asking it! :-) My trainer,with a little roll of her eyes, has said that over the last 6 months there has been a little improvement - I'll take that, I'm not proud! lol

  5. I was actually free of that crossing over habit until the dressage portion of an eventing clinic where it was introduced to all of us. OOOOOOOO the power! Thanks, Art Vester! (dating myself here) It didn't last long for me as my mare took great exception to its use and would rear every time I used it. Quite an efective cure, in fact!

  6. Little tip which is (kind of) working for me WRT the inside hand issue: carry a dressage whip in your inside hand. Paste it to your thigh (metaphorically) and leave it there, such that the inside hand cannot cross over....

    1. Little tip: I think she passed that point already.

      (But it may be a useful tip for other people. Personally, trying to get my hand off my thigh seems like it would be a harder habit to break... but I'm inherently lazy.)

    2. Oh, Net is going for the T-shirt award...

  7. I developed the "clueless beginner dressage rider who stares at her horse's neck and is totally oblivious to all around her" when switching from gaming to dressage. After years with riding high headed horse I got used to seeing ears in front of me. Now that they are lower I keep wanting to see the ears. It took a couple years for my trainer to get me to stop crossing my hand over. When she hit upon the magical phrase that made it finally sink into my brain I swear she almost started jumping up and down in glee.

    1. AND WHAT WAS IT??!? Please don't leave us hanging like this!

      I had never been cited for hand-crossing-over behavior until my most recent lessons, when it was mentioned once or *koffkoff* twice. I received a LOT of criticism about my hands, in fact, which has made me a bit paranoid. I must say, with all due modesty, I have always thought (and been told) they were pretty good, and I've been riding for 40+ years.

      Does this have anything to do with the fact that I learned, belatedly, that the woman who was teaching me in H/J lessons actually is a dressage rider herself? Hmmm...

    2. Yah Anon - don't be a tease. What were the magic words!! Share or we will hunt you down and make you wear concrete shoes / sleep with fishes.

    3. "Turn at the waist like pushing a wheel barrow." For some reason this conjured up the thought of the toys of the early 90's like He Man that turned at the waist. Well if they had something in the hands the arms moved forward/backward with the waist to compensate. Trainer got all happy and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't get it before. She always tried telling me "turn like you have a wheelbarrow." Guess I have been boarding to long and need to start mucking stalls again. For some reason it just didn't sink in until she mention turning at the waist. Hmmmm wonder how He Man and Battle Cat would do in dressage?