The idea of riding with “contact” is pretty straight forward. You should have a light but steady feel of your horse’s mouth that allows you to contain and direct their energy. The tricky part comes with the fact that you cannot force contact; your horse has to seek it. And that comes from engaging your horse’s hind end and driving him into an accepting hand.
I see lots of people riding who think their horse is “on the bit” and they are riding with a contact when, in fact, they either have their horse’s neck cranked in and straining against the their hands . . . or they have a loose rein and the horse is floating along behind the bit.
Some days, of course, that rider is me. I was thinking about this a week or so ago when Freedom was having one of his bouncy days. He was jigging. He was flipping his head. And mostly he was very heavy in my hands. He had way too much energy and needed a place to put it. His idea was to gallop and if I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out, he was going to be very clear about telling me.
It’s hard to find the lightness of contact when your horse wants to be heavy. We worked through the bursting energy with lots of lateral work and circles and bending. He started to lighten but he still really wanted to gallop. We compromised and I let him move out, trying to soften my elbows and give him a steady and quiet place for him to go.
On our good days, Freedom is light in my hands. His neck is long and swan-like and he is reaching for the bit. On those days it feels effortless and weightless. He is balanced and through and it feels magical. Luckily we have enough of those days to get us through the ones where he would rather bounce!