Contact and communication form the basis of dressage and the making of a good riding horse. Trying to explain how to maintain a contact on your horse’s mouth that allows you to relay messages to your horse, with the help of your legs and seat aids, is really difficult. It means that there has to be real “feel” through the rider’s whole arm, to the middle of the hand to give a useful aid. With “dropped” loose shoulders, to loose elbows and soft forearms, and a straight wrist, the horse is able to carry the weight of the rider’s arms with no resistance. This has to be, whether it is on a strong horse, or one that is not keen to seek forward to take the bit.
The horse needs to travel from the leg to take the hand connection, and this is easier on a circle or a serpentine, where the horse looks to the hand for balance. The rider can use the inside leg with influence, to put the horse forward, “up” onto the outside rein. We call this using diagonal aids.
An experienced rider can sit on a horse and quickly feel the natural rhythm, so will know how much leg pressure is needed to balance with, how much hand support is required. He will also know when to use the half halt to maintain the outline and rhythm.
Exercises to use then, are circles, serpentines, half circles out of the corners and, changes of direction with 10 metre half circles through a 20 metre one.