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Legs without hands vs legs into hands

This article first appeared in a previous issue of Equestrian Life. To see what's in the current issue click here.
Kerry Mack (VIC) and Mayfield Pzazz during the Inter II-4212 - Photo Franz Venhaus

© Franz Venhaus



By Kerry Mack


I enjoy teaching. One of the great pleasures of teaching is when someone asks a good question that makes me think about how to make something clear. Often the question is ‘why’. It is important to understand why we do things, especially as there isn't just one way to do things, so knowing why also helps you know when.


The situation was His Nibs (student’s horse), spooked at something new on the arena and declined to go forwards. He is an experienced individual and this was not necessary. I suggested it was a chance for one of Charlotte Dujardin's ‘yee haa’ moments; a quick sharp kick, while releasing the rein at that moment, to encourage him to go forwards. Use the leg with no hands. This was first described in the literature by Baucher in the early 1800s. He famously said ‘legs without hands, hands without legs’. This has perhaps been taken up more by the modern Dutch riders than the Germans. Sjef Janssen has recommended it at times. Edward Gal talked about it at his Masterclass at Equitana in Sydney. The idea is to make him quick and responsive to the leg, to think forwards, to not restrain him with the reins. To give one signal, to not confuse him with two signals. I believe that this is a good principle and we try to send our young horses forward and not ask them to be round with the rein, as they will fall into a frame if you work them correctly. But my student asked, “My other trainer (an Olympian far better than me, who I am unlikely to disagree with) told me to send him forwards into my hands, I am confused, what should I be doing?”. Good question. And for what it is worth, this is what I think the answer is.


Getting the horse to be quick to the leg is absolutely fundamental. This response must be automatic. He must keep going without leg. He mustn't need the leg to keep him going. This applies to all riding horses and isn't just for dressage. Jumpers and eventers especially must go off the leg. This is what leg without hand is about. When you want to make the horse go forward. 


At a higher level of training we are wanting to make the horse more collected. We want to push the hind legs towards the front legs. We are trying to make higher, more energetic steps. We are not asking him to travel across the ground faster. This is when you use leg into hand, to make him more collected. The leg says to him more energy, the hand says just wait a little. The hand restrains the energy that the leg builds. Collection develops. But as the collection develops you must release the rein so he is light and in self carriage. So leg into hand is part of the half halt, push, balance, soft (give). (The half halt is the subject of another blog).


So this is the answer. It depends on what you are wanting to achieve at that moment. You use leg without hand to get the horse forwards. This is true at all levels of training. You use leg into hand to develop collection at a more advanced stage of training. Leg without hand to make him go across the ground, leg into hand to make higher steps. But after you use leg into hand then give with the rein, even if all you do is soften your fingers and relax them so he can teak his jaw.




Issue 43



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