What is it? Why is it important?
Contact is an ambiguous term for many riders. Some believe they must carry the horse and hold them, others believe there should be no contact.
Let us first define contact to better understand it.
Contact is the line in which you communicate hand aids to the horse, it is not meant to control him, it is not meant to be the ONLY method of communication. Contact should be light, you should not be holding the horse up or holding them back, but you should be able to feel the mouth and its movements. It should also be fluid to move with the horse, with the riders arms bent at the elbow but still soft and responsive. Contact should also be consistent, not off-again-on-again as this is both distracting and not supportive for the horse.
The horse should not lean into contact (this is different than seeking contact, which is what we strive for). The horse should respect contact but also not fear it, meaning the horse does not actively avoid contact by curling in or going above the bit.
Imagine an orchestra conductor and how he must conduct the various sections, the fluid movements of his hands mimicked by the softness and fluidity of the music. When he is curt, quick and sharp, the sound also becomes quick and sharp.
As a rider, you are the conductor, your horse, the orchestra. The contact in which you hold your horse is the way in which your horse will ‘sing’. Soft, light, giving and sensitive will give you a soft, light and incredibly responsive performance.
There are many horses who have had to suffer rough hands and thus will avoid contact by any means possible. You may have purchased or rescued a horse who now has these habits, but it IS fixable. It can be worked through and your horse can work with contact, in a correct posture to build a healthy body and quieter mind.
Note: Lowering your hands to try and pull the horse down will not accomplish anything.