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Rider Fitness: Push Hands

By Moira C. Harris

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Can an exercise actually help promote a rider's feel? Yes, but you'll need the help of a partner. This exercise, called "push hands," is a staple in Chinese martial arts, where your energy works off your friend's—just like the contact that you try to establish with your horse's mouth. In martial arts, the objective is to throw your opponent off balance while maintaining your own balance, encouraging a natural, consistent flow of even energy between two partners. It's used to develop tactile sensitivity and a strong, stable base of support.

The exercise: Push hands
First, face your partner in "matched leads" (each with the left foot forward and right hands touching at the wrist bone). Keep your stance low throughout the exercise.

Person A begins to apply smooth, constant pressure directly toward person B's center as if she's going to push all the way through him.

As person A extends, person B moves his core and allows person A's energy to pass by, while maintaining wrist contact, but not fighting or adding resistance. Try to keep the resistance in your arm to a minimum, regardless of how much pressure your partner uses. Your arm is a guide that tells you what to do with your core and your base--nothing more.

As person A becomes fully extended, person B begins to shift his core toward his partner and starts returning pressure back toward person A's center. Person A defends in the same manner, and the game continues.

In the beginning, it's tough not be overly resistant with the arms and upper body; however, in time you'll be able to deal with the resistance in a very relaxed manner, regardless of how much force your partner is using.

Of course, this is greatly simplified and martial artists could write books on push hands, but for a rider's purpose, it demonstrates the concept of what consistent contact and feel are.

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