The Fixed Hand

The second kind of yielding,
which contributes so greatly

to the rapid and certain education of the horse,
consists in giving a half or three-quarter tension to the reins,
then to sustain the hand as forcibly as possible
without bringing it near the body.
In a short time the force of the hand,
seconded by the continued pressure of the legs,
will make the horse avoid this slight but constant pressure of the bit,
but by means of his head and neck only.
Then the rider will only make use of the force necessary

to displace the head.
It is by this means that he will be able to place

the horse’s body on a level,
and will obtain that equilibrium,
the perfect balance of which has not hitherto been appreciated.

Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).

New Method of Horsemanship

Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,

with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.

(Kindle Locations 551-557). . Kindle Edition.

This step is one of the most difficult for most riders because it is in direct opposition to our automatic monkey mind reflex to curl up, grab on, and pull for dear life. Most horses quickly learn to resist any kind of pull, especially as the rider is usually so off balance that if the horse gives, the rider simply pulls harder, or falls off. For the horse, the instant there is any pull on the reins whatsoever (click here); they stiffen up and lose coordination in their attempt to compensate for our loss of balance.

Riders have to consciously train themselves that to stop or turn their horse they must straighten up their spine, breath, and expand their joints instead of curling up, holding their breath, and pulling. This stretching is not exactly the same thing as extending the joints. Please read through and practice the exercises on Impulsion (click here). Even if you already have, you might want to review because essentially all cues in educated riding consist of:

• A brief and purposeful interruption of

the harmonious movement between partners

Again, an educated horse’s response is then not so much to submit to the rider’s commands, but to strive to regain a lost harmony. The smallest most subtle cues come from the very briefest resistance to the horse’s movement. A correct execution of this type of interruption might best be called the ‘Fixed Hand’ as there is a brief fleeting moment when the rider’s whole diagonal line of joints from hand to opposite foot, are compressed and fixed in place. The horse feels this locking as a subtle and sudden gap in our ongoing response to its free harmonious movement and takes note, as in a free-roaming herd situation, increased body tension is one of the primary and fundamental alerts to the other horses.

Most important to realize is that the effect of the Fixed Hand is based on absorbing the horse’s energy, not resisting it. This type of impulsive energy is absorbed and stored in the connective tissue, not the muscles. Connective tissue is capable of absorbing energy because it is made up of hollow spiral proteins. These hollow spirals, like springs or shock absorbers , may be filled and emptied as well as stretched, twisted, and compressed. They will release their stored energy and fluid as they return to their original shape. The process of first contracting and then releasing tension also triggers the brain itself to reset how and where we hold tension in our bodies. Again, reading my blog on impulsion (click here) may help clarify that concept. For now, keep in mind that locking of the joints rapidly devolves into just muscular resistance to the horse unless it is preceded by and completed with a return to the ‘Following Hand’ (click here). French Horse-master, Jean Claude Racinet, describes our goal this way:

The impulsive flexion
Is a technique combining
The relaxation of the jaw
And the forward movement,
So as to replace the couple
‘Action-contraction’
With the couple
‘Relaxation-action’.
It consists of demanding systematically
An increase in the frame of action
Each time that one has obtained a flexion of the jaw.
Page 94, Another Horsemanship by Jean Claude Racinet

while Baucher advises that the first step of the Fixed Hand :

• consists in giving a half or three-quarter tension to the reins

In other words, you begin by ever so slightly stretching all the joints between one foot and its diagonal hand and so offering the horse a partial release of the reins. The subtle result of this extension is an increase in your own resilience, an increased ability to absorb the horse’s movement in your own joints and connective tissue. It also notifies the horse that there is change coming.

The next step is to lock the same diagonal line of joints. Our ba gau instructors (click here) explain the movement this way:

The standard method of using
This short range power
Is to compress a line of joints
Through a hand
And an arm
Across the shoulder
Down the spine
Across a hip
And down a leg
Into a foot.

Page 58, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang

by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

Be sure that this compression is truly locking your body into its slightly extended position, as the action is most definitely not the same as a muscular contraction closing or bending your joints. This moment of compression must also be fleeting, if you wish your horse to respond to your slightest move. If you hang on the reins, the compression in your joints and connective tissue tends to become a muscular contraction and tension. Then the horse will also become tense and begin to pull in their attempt to mirror the rider’s state.

So the immediate next step is to expand the joints. Ending the briefly Fixed Hand with this infinitesimal flicking expansion of the hand and diagonal heel indicates impulsion to the horse, emphasizing that they must be ready to leap into movement in any direction at any time. Our ba gau instructors continue:

When this line of joints
Is simultaneously expanded
Tremendous short range power
Can explode
From the hand
At the end of the line.

Page 58, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang
by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

In other words, the horse will respond to the pressure moving from the diagonal leg through the body to the opposite hand by preparing to move out: raising their body, stretching their entire spine, relaxing their jaw, and increasing the energy of their stride. The rider promptly returns to the Following Hand, releasing the aids and allowing the horse to respond fully and freely to the rider’s request. Jean Claude Racinet advises us that:

Already moving in self-impulsion
Through the systematic implementation
Of the principle of release of aids,
The horse now learns how
to increase this impulsion
each time he has given a jaw flexion.
Page 94, Another Horsemanship by Jean Claude Racinet

When we abruptly and briefly expand the entire line of locked joints before returning to the following hand, we are asking the horse to expand themselves in turn; however the exact response given by the horse depends on how the rider directs the whole of their own body. Learning to consciously absorb the energy of the horse’s movement and direct the entire complex of aids perceived by the horse is the work of a lifetime. For now, it might help your practice to reduce the Fixed Hand to three short words in your mind:

• Ready! (extend joints)
• Set! (lock joints)
• Go! ( expand joints)

Working with your breath can also be a great help:

• Inhale as you extend your joints
• Hold your breath as you lock them
• Exhale as you expand your joints

Learning to consciously and briefly interrupt and return to the free and flowing responsiveness of a single arm along with the diagonal leg does take some work, all the more so as it is a subtle change in feeling, not a large and obvious movement. This practice exercise starts with the champagne glasses full of water and the horse stance (click here). Keep your awareness on your champagne glass! Then:

  1. Settle yourself in the horse stance
  2. With a full champagne glass in each hand
  3. Your upper arm hanging straight down
  4. Elbows bent at 90o angle
  5. Wrists relaxed making a smooth line with the forearm
  6. The stem of the glass rests inside your soft fist as though it were the reins
  7. Inhale as you
  8. Step out with one leg, noticing the diagonal line of joints to the opposite hand extending
  9. See how that affects the water in the champagne glass of the opposite hand
  10. If it affects both glasses go back to practicing the Following Hand (click here)
  11. Set the leg down, compressing the diagonal line of joints
  12. While holding your breath
  13. See how that affects the water in the champagne glass of the opposite hand
  14. Exhale as you
  15. Prepare for the next step by expanding the diagonal line of joints
  16. See how that affects the water in the champagne glass of the opposite hand

The goal in this exercise is to be able to ripple, if not splash, the water in the desired champagne glass and only the desired glass as you expand your joints. You can also go back to hanging the snaffle bridle on a fence post and practicing until you can flick the rein sufficiently to move the just the one desired side of the bit. It is encouraging to know that the ba gau instructors also say:

This may seem somewhat powerless at first
But by sticking to the principles of the technique
Short-range internal power
Will be developed
Over time.

Page 58, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang

by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

They recommend at least 100 hours of practice as it does take persistence to get the process not only correct but entrained into our body-memory. That easily goes double for riders, as the urge to curl up and pull when atop a slippery moving object with a mind of its own is such a powerful deep-seated instinctive reflex for us humans. So if you have a friend or two that is willing, try this exercise:

  1. One person stands in front
  2. With a rein or rope in each hand,
  3. Elbows bent at 90 degrees is the most responsive
  4. But keeping arms and hands relaxed and aware is essential
  5. One person stands behind
  6. Holding each rein or rope in the same hand as the person in front
  7. Make sure that there is neither slack nor pull on the reins
  8. Elbows bent at 90 degrees is the most responsive
  9. But keeping arms and hands relaxed and aware is essential
  10. The person in front focuses on maintaining the same connection through the reins while
  11. The person behind steps out with one leg, noticing the diagonal line of joints to the opposite hand
  12. creating a slight slackness in the rein/rope
  13. Sets the leg down, compressing the diagonal line of joints, and
  14. Fixing the opposite hand in place
  15. Prepares for the next step, expanding the diagonal line of joints
  16. Pushing a pulse of energy through the rein/rope forward ever so slightly

Since the person in front cannot see what the person behind is doing, they have to rely on their feeling of the reins/rope to know what is happening and respond appropriately. Take note that while professional riders are extremely fit, they are more likely to be wiry than beefy and remember that the horse has us humans out-muscled from the get go, so give up the arm-wrestling already (click here)! Once you have some sense of what you are doing, try the exercise while walking the Mud Tread (click here) including circles and spirals. Practice until the rider/person (behind) can clearly communicate changes through the Fixed Hand to the horse/person (in front). Then switch places!

Once you are comfortable with these Fixed Hand exercises, it is time to consider rein effects (click here).

click for more

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