Updated: May 18, 2020
Connection between the horse and the rider involves acceptance of the bit by the horse through acceptance of the rider's aids. Energy is generated in the horse's hindquarters by the driving aids and flows through the horse's body, then received in the rider's hands.
What is the purpose of connection?
When connected, there is a "state in which there is no blockage, break, or slack in the circuit that joins horse and rider into a single, harmonious, elastic unit. A prerequisite for throughness." USDF Glossary of Judging Terms
Connection can be one of the most confusing concepts for progressing riders to achieve and understand. To describe connection, we frequently use the terms 'on the bit' or 'contact,' which can initially perplex riders by making them think they need to pull back on the horse's mouth to achieve connection.
Additionally, nowhere in the definition of connection does it address the amount of weight a rider should expect to feel in their hands through the reins. The answer is simple - that each horse is different, and the contact each horse needs or takes is individual to him. What I try to explain to my students is to not focus too much on the amount of contact you feel in your hands, but what you can accomplish with that connection. "The quality of the connection and balance can be evaluated by 'üeberstreichen,' releasing the reins (to demonstrate self-carriage) or by allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the hands (to demonstrate relaxation)." USDF Glossary of Judging Terms
But how do you know if your horse is correctly connected?
First, we must look at the purpose of connection. Proper connection is closely linked to rhythm and regularity. When properly connected to the rider's hands, the horse's energy generates from the hindquarters, "transferred over a swinging back through a giving flexion into calm restraining hands." The Dressage Horse, p114
How do you achieve connection?
Connection is properly achieved through the rider's driving aids, causing the horse to step into the rider's hands. "Contact must never be obtained by pulling back with the reins. Contact is the result of well-developed propulsive power. It must result from the correct development of the pushing powers of the horse's hindquarters. When forward driving aids are applied, the horse moves forward into the contact." Principles of Riding p156
A horse's connection is a continual work in progress. The balance and connection of the horse should be relative to his level of training. As a horse progresses up the levels, his balance will change the connection with the rider's hands. Ideally, the horse should become more comfortable to sit because his back is relaxed and swinging. The horse should also become softer and more consistent in the connection since he will be able to show more self-carriage.
Most importantly, always remember the horse should be ridden with proper energy and activity to be correctly connected.