Contact is like humility...
If you talk about your humility it ceases to be humility.
If you establish the contact between the horse's mouth and your hands it is not contact.
Contact is so misunderstood. It is defined in many a confusing way. We talk about having a horse in a frame, the horse being round, or on the bit.
Contact is not about the hand. It is about the haunches. Horses that are heavy on the hand are not really heavy on the hand, they don't understand or are not correctly responding to the leg.
To borrow from a phrase Rob Bell uses, (albeit for a totally different purpose) "This, is really about that."
Contact cannot be achieved with a horse that is not relaxed, rhythmical and moving with freedom of gaits.
You cannot get a horse to connect from behind and stay connected if you do not have independent hands, seat and legs. If you are using your hands for balance, or your legs for balance, it is too early to expect your horse to consistently stay connected.
Now some horse's will offer it.
But lets be fair, it is greedy to ask the horse to trust our hands, if our hands are not trust-worthy.
So, you might ask, "How do I know if my horse is ready for me to even be looking for contact? And what is freedom of gaits anyway?"
I thought you would never ask.
Freedom of gaits is when a horse moves in full range of motion through their joints, with a soft back and a seeking frame. The number one inhibitor of a horse moving in freedom of gaits is the rider. Usually the rider blocks through the hip and in the hand and the horse ceases to step through from behind. If the horse is not moving in full range of motion you do not have contact.
So here are some things to look for before you start looking for contact.
As a Rider
...Ride walk, trot and canter on a loose rein without losing my balance?
...Balance on the horse without gripping with my thigh or pinching with my knee in all three gaits?
...Follow the motion of my horse's gaits with my hip or do I find myself bouncing against the horse's movement?
...Use my hand intentionally, or do I accidentally use my rein?
...Get down transitions and set rhythm within the gaits with my seat and leg or do I have to use my rein to get these pieces?
...Keep my hand still in relation to my horse's mouth?
...Ride without mental, physical or emotional stress?
...Ride putting my horse first?
The Horse's Readiness
Is my horse...?
...Relaxed mentally, physically and emotionally?
...Breathing in rhythm?
...Happy with his or her work?
...Understanding the leg for both up transitions and lengthening of frame (without change in tempo)
...Understanding down transitions from seat and leg (without the use of my hand)?
...Understanding when I slow with my seat (without the use of my hand, beginning of half-halts)?
...Stretching over the topline in all three gaits?
...Relaxing through the back in all three gaits?
...Moving forward in full range of motion in all three gaits?
...Moving from my leg and reaching to find my hand?
Let me say this simply, you do not shorten the rein to find the horse's mouth. The horse lengthens his or her topline and steps into your hand.
You cannot pull a horse's head down.
You cannot drive with leg and block with hand.
You cannot use a bigger bit.
Or a tie-down.
Or a martingale.
Or maybe I should say you can...
But the result you get will not be "contact", not in the classical sense of the word. Contact is something a horse gives you, and you allow it to happen.
Contact is something you ride toward, but that final piece is only real if the horse offers it to you. Because the horse gives you his or herself when they step into the contact. It is a relationship.
Relationships are only real when they are mutual.
Not just anyone can name you. Often times our first name is given by our parents. It seems only right that our mother and father who have brought us into the world should have the first right to place their seal and connect their authority through the use of name. Often the second people to rename us are the peers within our group. There is often a hint of teasing and jostling for position connected to these renamings within our American youth culture. In many native cultures renaming is connected to a coming of age ceremony, through which one learns or acknowledges their personal role within the society. It is usually connected to their personal giftings by the Great Spirit or the recognized deity within that culture. In the Bible there are stories of renaming that are usually connected to a change of situation, personality or character. When women marry often there is a change in name associated with the change in position in life.
My renaming was attempted by many. There were the kids who tried to tack their labels on me. Some stuck with pricks sharp enough to motivate change. This led to a struggle that wounded the fragile sense of image that I clung to, until the day the Lord began my renaming. I say, began because my renaming was a process that continues on today. First He un-named me. He tore away at all the labels and mis-conceptions that the enemy of our souls had tried, through various means, to adhere to my soul, destroying who God had created me to be. As He stripped back the layers of lies, He began to expose the truth, who I was in Him.
Yet, ultimately my most important name is simple. It is found in a possessive pronoun. It would be unidentifiable admist the others who could claim it. Yet, when He calls me by this name all else fads away. Nothing else matters when I truly allow the truth of who I am to settle in to the crevices of my heart. Who am I? Simply, "His."