In her book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, expert riding instructor Wendy Murdoch explains the “Ring Finger Connection” when you hold the reins while riding. According to Murdoch, when you hold the reins and activate your thumb and index finger, there is a pinching action. This action causes the front of your body to flex forward; you round your shoulders and drop your chest. Plus, you are vulnerable to being pulled out of the saddle due to the tension created in your biceps and shoulders.
The muscles attached to the ring finger, however, connect closer to the point of the elbow, so when they activate, they in turn initiate a line along the back of the arm rather than the front. Using the ring finger, you can resist a a pull from your horse with your triceps rather than your biceps. You sit wide and open in the chest and allow the horse to pull you into rather than out of the saddle.
Closing your ring finger (or middle finger when your ring finger is too short to manage the reins) on the reins is like completing an electrical circuit that runs from your horse’s mouth through the rein to your hand, along the underside of your arm to your back, down to your seat (which deepens in the saddle), and cycles through the horse from back to front and to the mouth once again. An “open” hand, in contrast, does not complete the circuit; the horse can easily pull the rein from your hand.
Try this simple exercise from 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES to better understand the actions of your fingers on the reins:
1 Hold your right hand in riding position and pinch your right thumb and index finger together. Now, use the fingers of your left hand to feel how this pinching tightens the muscles on your right forearm. Pull on your pinched fingers with your left hand. Feel how you resist by tensing your biceps and chest. Notice the tendency to round your shoulders as you resist.
2 Now close your right middle and ring fingers firmly against the palm of your right hand and slowly “pulse” the pressure. Feel the lower part of your right forearm with your left hand. Notice how the muscles contract and relax.
3 Wrap your right ring finger around the index finger of your left hand, keeping all the other fingers slightly flexed. Pull against the ring finger with your left hand. Feel how you pull back with your elbow to resist rather than tensing your shoulders. Notice how your collarbones widen and your chest expands.
Now think how these minute movements translate through the reins to your horse, and how your hands affect your position and performance when you ride.