'Back in the day' when I was actively coaching young riders I was given what I considered to be the supreme compliment....and oddly enough it didn't come at a horse show.
We had a few horses at an auction sale in South Western Ontario. Three or four of my students were riding our horses through the sale in a very small ring....but just big enough to jog, stop turn kind of thing.
The last horse was ridden in and the 'pedigree man'....Roy (Ionsons Saddlery) turned to me and asked if this was one of my students...I said yes...and he said...I could tell...they all have good hands.
By that he meant soft feel for the horse.
I started all my students with that as our primary focus to moving forward in their lessons...and it didn't start on the horse.
It began with a piece of baling twine...
I'd put the kids in pairs and they 'drove' each other around the ring...the one in front holding the baling twine in 'open' hands learning how little 'lift' it took for them to feel while the 'driver' was learning the same....
They learned that downward transitions were less stressful on them when there was some kind of cue before lifting or worse yet pulling back on the twine. Our cue was an 'outbreath'.
Mounted lessons were 'reinless' until independent balance was established and the ability to influence rhythm was solid.
The kids did well at the shows.
Their horses were happy and calm..and it showed.
We were rebels in that we paired young kids with young horses and they created push button horses...with their own buttons.
I 'Googled' to get some information on teaching 'good hands' or 'balanced riding' and found some good articles...but 1/2 way down the search page the sites began to be more about training the horse than educating the rider.
Riding bit-less is no help to the horse either unless the rider has solidly implemented skills to remain in balance and rhythm with independent hands. Pulling back, or keeping a tight rein on a halter creates equal anxiety and tension in the horse.
Whether it is leading a horse, lunging a horse or riding a horse.....please have kind hands.