This is a tricky concept for the horsey to explain to the non-horsey, especially if any of them happen to reside in Roswell, New Mexico (U.S.). This is the location of the not-so-secret military aircraft testing site, much beloved spaceship hallucination area, and possible birthplace of the terms; far out man and groovy.
If anyone in your household is addicted to re-runs of Alien, Cocoon, My Favorite Martian, Mork, or Star Trek (any generation): give it up and go on to something else. Did I just date myself with My Favorite Martian? Wait! I never heard of it! Contact, in horse lingo, has nothing to do with greeting little green men in spiffy round spaceships. Though, come to think of it, that meeting would be a lot easier to facilitate.
In a grossly oversimplified definition, Contact is how much both horse and rider hold onto the bit. The horse with his mouth, the rider (through the reins) with her hands. In some forms of Western riding, rider contact with the bit should be virtually non-existent, except when a cue is needed. The horse always has to hold the bit. Thus the bridle, to keep him from spitting it out.
In English riding, horse/rider contact is a given. You should have it. Exactly right. Every second. Right NOW. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!? (Oh sorry, I blacked out for a moment: PTSD from my last lesson. Don’t worry, the tic should go away soon.) The rider has to hold the bit evenly, lightly, and consistently. So does the horse. This almost never happens at the same time. When it does, both horse and rider ascend into dressage heaven. Perhaps by spaceship? I wouldn’t know.
Because nothing in the horse world is easy, simple, or straight forward (see measuring your horse – Hands High) it gets complicated: contact doesn’t exist on it’s own. To get proper contact you have to also have engagement, connection, and the horse must be on the bit and through. Which we will also explain. As soon as the tic goes away.
Spoiler: Engagement, Connection, On the Bit, and Through have nothing to do with bridal showers, social networking sites, dental work, or being finished with a project.
Excuse me, there’s some little green men knocking at the door…I’ll be right back.