Key Point Details
Definition of Soft Hands Maintaining a gentle, consistent contact with the horse's mouth through the reins while allowing for subtle communication.
Key Aspects
  • Maintaining consistent contact
  • Following the horse's natural head movement
  • Using subtle cues rather than harsh pulling
  • Keeping hands still relative to the horse's mouth
  • Improved Communication: Easier to convey intentions.
  • Enhanced Performance: Better response from horses.
  • Reduced Stress: Less discomfort and stress for the horse.
  • Better Balance: Indicates good rider balance and independent seat.
Common Misconceptions
  • No Contact: Soft hands mean light but steady contact, not no contact.
  • Always Loose Reins: Not necessarily always loose reins.
  • Weakness: Requires strength and control, not a lack of it.
Development Tips
  • The Rolled Towel Exercise
  • Reverse Reins
  • Two Dressage Whips
  • Focus on Your Seat
  • Practice Without Reins
  • Visualize Elastic Bands
Body Involvement
  • Relaxed Shoulders: Prevents tension from transferring to hands.
  • Flexible Elbows: Acts as shock absorbers.
  • Strong Core: Maintains balance.
  • Correct Arm Position: Straight line from elbow to bit.

What Does "Soft Hands" Mean in Horse Riding?

Developing "soft hands" is a crucial skill for any equestrian, whether you're a beginner or an experienced rider. This term refers to the ability to maintain a gentle, consistent contact with the horse's mouth through the reins while allowing for subtle communication. Horse Riding Soft hands are essential for creating a harmonious partnership between horse and rider, enhancing performance, and ensuring the horse's comfort.

Understanding Soft Hands

Soft hands in horse riding don't simply mean holding the reins loosely. Instead, it's about creating a steady, elastic connection between your hands and the horse's mouth. This connection allows for clear communication without causing discomfort or resistance in the horse.

Key aspects of soft hands include:

  • Maintaining consistent contact
  • Following the horse's natural head movement
  • Using subtle cues rather than harsh pulling
  • Keeping hands still relative to the horse's mouth

The Importance of Soft Hands

Developing soft hands is crucial for several reasons:

  • Improved Communication: Soft hands allow for more nuanced communication with your horse, making it easier to convey your intentions.
  • Enhanced Performance: Horses respond better to gentle, consistent cues, leading to improved performance in various disciplines.
  • Reduced Stress: Harsh or inconsistent hand movements can cause stress and discomfort for the horse, potentially leading to behavioural issues.
  • Better Balance: Soft hands often indicate a rider with good balance and an independent seat, which are fundamental to effective riding.

Common Misconceptions

There are several misconceptions about soft hands that can hinder a rider's progress:

  • No Contact: Some riders mistakenly believe that soft hands mean having no contact with the horse's mouth. In reality, maintaining a light but steady contact is essential.
  • Always Loose Reins: While loose reins have their place in training, soft hands don't necessarily mean always riding with loose reins.
  • Weakness: Soft hands don't imply weakness or lack of control. They actually require strength and control to maintain consistent, gentle contact.

Developing Soft Hands

Improving your hand softness takes time and practice. Here are some exercises and tips to help you develop this crucial skill:

Horse Riding Tips
  • The Rolled Towel Exercise: Place a rolled towel or small pillow on your horse's withers and rest your hands on it while riding. This helps you maintain a steady hand position.
  • Reverse Reins: Thread your reins through your hands in the opposite direction to normal. This changes the feel of the contact and can help prevent overreliance on the reins.
  • Two Dressage Whips: Hold a dressage whip in each hand, pointing downwards. They should rest lightly on your thighs. If they move, it indicates your hands are moving too much.
  • Focus on Your Seat: A strong, independent seat is crucial for developing soft hands. Work on exercises that improve your balance and core strength.
  • Practice Without Reins: Riding without reins (in a controlled environment) can help you develop better balance and reduce reliance on your hands for control.
  • Visualize Elastic Bands: Imagine elastic bands connecting your elbows to the bit. This can help you maintain a consistent, elastic contact.

The Role of the Entire Body

It's important to remember that soft hands don't exist in isolation. They're part of a rider's overall position and balance. Key points to consider include:

  • Relaxed Shoulders: Tension in the shoulders can travel down to the hands. Keep your shoulders relaxed and down.
  • Flexible Elbows: Your elbows should act like shock absorbers, moving slightly with the horse's motion.
  • Strong Core: A strong core helps maintain balance, reducing the tendency to use the reins for support.
  • Correct Arm Position: Your arms should form a straight line from elbow to bit, with your hands carried in front of the saddle.


Developing soft hands is a journey that requires patience, practice, and body awareness. It's not just about how you hold the reins, but about your overall position, balance, and connection with your horse. By focusing on these elements and practicing regularly, you can improve your communication with your horse, enhance your riding performance, and create a more harmonious partnership.

Horse Riding Conclusion

Remember, every horse and rider pair is unique. What works for one may not work for another. Always consult with a qualified instructor to tailor these principles to your specific needs and goals. With time and dedication, you'll develop the soft, effective hands that are the hallmark of skilled equestrians.

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Asked by You

What does quiet hands mean in horse riding?

Quiet hands in horse riding refer to hands that remain steady and calm, with minimal movement, to avoid disturbing the horse's mouth. This steadiness helps in maintaining a consistent connection and allows for clear, effective communication between the rider and the horse.

What does "soft hands" mean?

Soft hands mean maintaining a gentle, consistent contact with the horse's mouth through the reins, allowing for subtle and effective communication. This practice helps to enhance the horse's comfort and responsiveness.

What does "soft in the saddle" mean?

Being soft in the saddle refers to a rider who sits relaxed and supple, moving in harmony with the horse's motion. This softness aids in better communication and a more balanced, effective ride.

What is a soft feel in horses?

A soft feel in horses is the response from the horse when the rider maintains a gentle, elastic connection through the reins. It indicates that the horse is relaxed, responsive, and in tune with the rider's cues.