Unfortunately, horses can’t speak human and humans can’t speak horse, however we can create a new language that will communicate what we want our horse to do.
This new language consists of giving Aids, using our weight, legs and hands. It can also involve using our voice, particularly for the young, green horse or when you are lungeing.
These are all Natural Aids and shouldn’t be confused with Artificial Aids such as bits, spurs, whips, and martingales, running reins or any other apparatus that forces a response from the horse.
Learning any new language takes time and this is true for both you and your horse before you can develop the understanding and knowledge required for clear communication.
Before you can use effective aids, you must:
Have an even and balanced seat
Steady, quiet hands and legs
Use your body independently – legs, hands, head, shoulders and arms can all move independently from each other.
Know the horses paces or foot falls
For a horse to understand what these aids mean you must:
REPEAT…REPEAT…REPEAT… Until your horse gives you even the smallest response that you want – then go and do something else for a while.
The Natural Aids include weight, legs and hands and — in order of importance — your weight aids have the most influence over your horse, followed by the leg aids (which can’t work without the weight aids) and, lastly, the rein aids. The forward driving aids of weight and legs are always more important than the rein aids.
If you don’t believe me watch the video below, you will notice she doesn’t have a bridle. If you watch this a few times you will notice how she changes her weight and leg aids to turn and change the horse’s paces.
The really hard part is timing and coordinating the various aids and giving them at just the right intensity – just as well most horses are incredibly forgiving when we muck it up!
DON’T GIVE UP and DON’T GET UPSET – it won’t get you anywhere.
When you get your aids working properly, you will be able to control your horse’s posture, the quality of his paces and his obedience.
The intensity or strength of the aids will depend on the horse. Some horses are very sensitive and will respond quickly. Others may be unresponsive because they are young and just don’t understand, or maybe they have had a rider who just never stopped banging their sides and their mouth. Whatever the reason, always start by using gentle aids, then if you don’t get a response make them stronger.
If you were to measure the strength of an aid on a scale of 1 – 10, you should always start with a 1, then if you don’t get a response move up to a 3, then 4 or possibly 6. Always release the aid before you move up to a stronger aid and as soon as you get even a slight response, move back to a 1.
It’s important to return to gentle aids as soon as you get a response.
The weight aids come from your seat (pelvis) and your body position and they support your leg aids and rein aids.
There are three types of weight aid:
Even weight on both seat bones and pubic bone
More weight on one seat bone (bending/flexing)
Less weight on both seat bones (light seat)
This can be neutral when you keep an even, balanced seat over both seat bones, however you can increase the pressure of the seat bones by ‘growing tall’ (stretching your body upwards), leaning slightly backwards and tightening the seat muscles.
This can have two effects depending on which muscles you tighten to sit erect. If you tighten your back muscles it will give a collection aid. If you tighten your stomach muscles it will give a forward drive aid. These weight aids support the other aids (leg and rein) to increase either your horse’s impulsion (forward) or his collection.
Leaning too far back is a fault.
Also, gripping up with your knees and thighs, which interferes with your lower leg aid.
To use this aid you shift your weight onto one seat bone, which will lower your hip and knee on the same side. This weight change naturally turns your horse in the direction of the weight.
When your horse is reasonably well trained, you will end up using this weight aid whenever you want to turn your horse or flex him in a lateral movement.
Whenever your horse is flexing in a turn or lateral movement it is very important that your shoulders are parallel (aligned) with your horse’s shoulders and your hips are parallel with your horse’s hips. This means that you have to turn your upper body in the direction you are heading while leaving your hip square in the saddle. When you turn your upper body you take your arms and hands with you, which turns the weight aid into a rein aid as well.
Collapsing your hip is a major fault and is caused by leaning your upper body into the turn. When you do this you put more weight on your outside hip, and in turn your inside leg creeps up. To overcome this fault, sit up straight, feel the weight increase on the inside seat bone and push the inside stirrup down.
It is also a fault to keep your upper body turned out of the turn as this will not put weight on the inside seat bone.
When you reduce weight on your seat bone you transfer the weight onto both thighs and both stirrups. Your upper body should lean slightly forward and your hips and seat should also come forward. Although your weight has been reduced on your horse’s back, your seat must not leave the saddle.
Putting all your weight in your stirrups and raising your seat out of the saddle.
Also, sticking your bottom out behind rather than keeping it forward. You can fix this by not leaning too far forward, you should be only slightly off the vertical. Flex your stomach muscles to hold your bottom forward. This also stops you from hollowing your lower back.
If your horse does not obey or respond to your leg aids you will not be able to keep your horse straight or create impulsion. Your legs directly control your horse’s quarters (hind legs and rump) and when you apply a leg aid you are telling your horse what he should be doing with his back end – such as staying straight, moving laterally (sideways), moving forward or taking the correct leading leg in a canter.
All of your horse’s paces (walk, trot, canter and gallop) start from the hindquarters. This is your horse’s engine, the source of his power and forward movement. When you learn about paces you will see that all the paces begin with a hind leg.
For your leg aids to be effective you must apply them exactly at the time your horse’s hind foot leaves the ground. To do this you need to know the order of foot falls for each pace and be able to feel, through your seat, when the correct hind foot is leaving the ground.
There are three types of leg aid:
Forward driving leg. This is applied just behind the girth.
Supporting leg. This stops the hind leg from moving towards the side that the aid is given.
Forward/Sideways driving leg. Again applied just behind the girth but more strongly. This aid will make the hind leg move forward and sideways away from the leg aid.
The rein aids are either an increasing or decreasing of pressure on the reins. There are four different rein aids:
Rein aids should never be given without a forward driving aid (weight and/or leg) at the same time.
If your horse does not obey the rein aids willingly you may be using your rein aid without using your weight and legs at the same time. This means he will stop with his front legs and fall into the stop.
Your horse is not supple. If your horse is not supple and flexible he will not be able to bring his hindquarters underneath himself and he will be stiff in his back, neck and poll, making it almost impossible for him to obey your rein aid.
The strength of this aid can vary from a slight increase in pressure by closing your fingers, to flexing your wrists right through to opening your arm for the green horse. If you give your rein aid with a weight and leg aid, you will be able to:
Make a downward transition – from canter to trot and trot to walk
Shorten your horse’s stride in walk, trot or canter
Halt (square and straight) as well as rein back (straight)
Flex your horse
Make your horse alert (half-halt or check)
The only reason your horse should feel the bit more strongly in his mouth is because your seat and legs are pushing him into it. So your legs are making your horse obey your hands.
Every regulating rein must end with a yielding (softening) rein.
If your horse does not respond immediately, yield or soften your reins, then repeat the aids (rein, weight and leg) and yield. This can be repeated as many times as you need to, as long as you yield the rein before you try again. As soon as your horse gives you the response you are after (no matter how small), soften your reins immediately. The quicker you respond to his effort the quicker your horse will learn.
Once your horse responds, go and do something else – let him think about it.
Pulling rather than regulating rein. Prolonged pulling on your reins will only make your horse lean on the bit and become heavy in the front.
Holding the regulating rein too long and becoming stuck without giving a yielding rein.
Using the regulating rein without forward driving aids will push your horse onto the forehand with his hindquarters trailing behind.
This may be as subtle as relaxing your fingers or as obvious as stretching your arm forward. Yielding or softening the reins does not mean loosing contact with your horse’s mouth.
If you want your horse to lengthen his neck, then you would yield the reins by moving your arms forward. If even more lengthening is required, then you may need to let the reins slip through your fingers.
Sharp rather than smooth movements of the reins will interfere with your horse’s movement and rhythm.
The supporting rein aid is always given by the outside rein when your horse is flexing or bending.
The strength of your outside rein will control the amount of bend, which is created by the inside leg and rein. Your outside hand should be close to your horse’s neck but it must never cross over his mane. Again, your supporting rein aid must be given with a leg aid. The supporting leg aid will be given on the same side as the supporting rein aid and it should be applied behind the girth. This will keep your horse’s hindquarter bent into the circle.
If your outside rein aid is too strong your horse will not be able to flex or bend correctly
If your outside rein is too weak your horse will fall out onto his outside shoulder.
As the name implies this is a strong rein aid that blocks the front of your horse while your seat and legs are driving your horse’s hindquarters into the bit. This forces his hindquarters to move further underneath him, supporting more of his weight. Once more of his weight is being supported by the back end his front will become higher and lighter.
You cannot achieve this without strong forward driving aids from your weight (seat and body) and legs.
It is critical that your must yield the rein aid the split second that your horse becomes lighter in the front. Don’t worry, you will know it when it happens – all of a sudden the weight will come off your hands and your horse will be ‘on the bit’.
Never use this aid for more than a second. If your horse does not repond, you must yield and try again.
The worst problem is when a rider does too much with their hand and not enough with their legs and weight. You cannot achieve anything without driving your horse forward. Your reins are only there to regulate the direction and support his frame.
Riding Aid Videos: