The Training Pyramid – Contact – What is it and how to achieve it

extended trot
Ron Postleb – Crown Dressage International

Contact is the connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. This connection should remain soft and elastic, yet steady. Contact is derived from pushing the horse from behind onto the aid, not merely being “on the bit.” It is not done by using the hands and body to pull the horse onto the bit, but rather, it is the horse accepting the rider’s hand, seat and leg aids. The hands should remain soft and follow the natural movement of the horse’s head. If done correctly, the horse will step well so that the rider feels the “spring” in his steps.

So what does good contact look like?

The horse that demonstrates good contact will appear to be rounded, the poll is the highest point, the mouth and jaw are relaxed and the horse’s nose is either vertical or slightly in front of the vertical. Hyper-flexion (aka – Rollkur) is not an acceptable level on contact. It is imperative that the horse, not the rider, make the contact.

Hyperflexion (AKA – Rollkur) – Nose well beyond the verical, poll is not the highest point.

How do we achieve “good contact?” 

In order for the horse to maintain good contact, the rider must be riding correctly. He must be sitting correctly with elastic arms. The elbows serve as hinges and should allow the hands move in time with the horse’s head. At the walk and canter, the hands should move forward and back in time with the up and down movement of the horse’s head. In the trot, the horse’s head remains steady. The rider’s hand should also remain steady. In the rising trot, the elbows serve as hinges allowing the rider to post while keeping the hands steady. The arms should be elastic enough to yield equal contact on both reins, preventing a loop in the reins.

good contact
Horse’s ears are forward, nose slightly in front of vertical, poll is the highest point

The horse’s position will change as he progresses in his training. The young or inexperienced horse will carry himself in a longer, lower frame than the experienced, older horse. The horse can only maintain good contact if he is adequately warmed up, relaxed and loose. His back serves as a bridge between the hindquarter and the bridle. Once the initial warm up is complete, the rider can ask for quality transitions between gaits. If the horse is performing these transitions well, he can progress to transitions within gaits. Signs that the horse is taking an elastic contact include chewing of the bit and a moist mouth.  In essence, good contact is indicative of good riding and good training.