As with most aspects of riding, there are not right and wrongs in regards to where and how high the rider should hold their hands but there are definitely some advantages for the rider to deliberately “carry” their hands above the wither.
By “carry” the hands, I mean with the fingers closed (but not clenched), thumbs on top, knuckles about 10 cm apart and a line between the little fingers above the horses’ wither. The amount we carry the hands or the height we position them above the wither will generally depend on the level of education and degree of collection of our horse.
I see many riders who carry their hands what I believe to be too low with their knuckles resting on the withers, even with the hands coming down onto the pommel or across the top of their thigh. This is often in the response to pulling or manipulating the horse’s head lower with the misconception that this will make the horse more “on the bit”. Remember, the horse being “on the bit” is best measured by the acceptance of the aids, not by the position of the horse’s head.
Riders with low hands often also exhibit the following undesirable habits
– looking down
– drawing the heels up
– tilting the upper body forward
– lightening the depth of the seat
– tightening the groin
I remember one of my instructors referred to this whole picture once as the “Dirty Knuckle Syndrome” – when we ride in this position, we invariably end up with dirty knuckles or holes in the knuckles of our glove as our fingers rubbed on the withers. Whether you main focus is carrying your hands, lifting your eyes or straightening your back, each of these will lead to a better, more effective position resulting in better acceptance of the hand
– a softer hand allowing the horse to move forward better from behind
– more elevation at the poll (during collection work)
– potentially less rider fatigue or back pain
– a more eye-catching presentation
…and no dirty knuckles or worn out gloves!!
Try looking at a video or pictures of yourself riding sometime and see if you are sitting up and “carrying” your hands or dropping them onto the withers.