Cantering
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Well, by now, if you've been reading my articles fairly regularly, you might already know that when something is "simple" in horse riding, it isn't necessarily easy! Quieting your hands falls into this category.

What is this simple way? Well, stop using your hands!

It's pretty simple to not use your hands, but it might not be so easy to increase the use of your other aids in lieu of the hands.

If you're anything like me, and you developed the habit of controlling pretty much everything from the horse's mouth long ago, then you know how difficult it can be to reduce your reliance on your hands.

However, I'm here to tell you that it can be done. It is possible to go to your other aids and save your hands for only two things: the end of the half-halt (in order to help with re-balancing the horse) and straightness/flexion.

The hands do play a role in the half-halt. I've explained it in detail along with the other aids here and more of a basic description here.

They also can maintain the horse's straightness, especially in the shoulders, especially when you are on a bend or turn. They also can help with maintaining the flexion of the jaw (usually in the direction you are going).

Other than that...

... the hands should and can sing poetry in the horse's mouth and help him develop confidence and strength within his own movement. (Click here to tweet that if you agree.)

The rest of the body can take over much of the in-movement communication with the horse. And this is where the difficulty comes in for some of us. It takes a quite a lot more coordination and core strength to aid your horse through your seat, legs and body. But with practice and guidance, it can be done. Only then can your horse lighten on his feet and carry you with more comfort and strength. And for the rider, there is a sense of freedom that comes along with the reduced reliance on the hands.

 4 Aids to Use in Lieu of the Hands

The Seat

The rider's seat is the root of all good in horseback riding. Not only does the seat keep your balance and allow you to move in harmony with your horse, but it also sends an almost unlimited amount of communication to your horse.

Because, you see, the seat is the largest area of contact with your horse, and it sits (pun!) literally in the middle of the horse. From there, you have such an opportunity to send almost invisible signals to your horse. And he will likely respond easily just by virtue of the fact that it is easier for him to move from the middle of his body than the front.

The Weight

The use of weight is an off-shoot of the use of the seat and they work together in tandem. You could ride with a balanced seat that isn't indicating anything in terms of weight, or you can use your weight to your advantage. Let's imagine a turn - if you can weigh your inside seat bone into the turn, you will invariably help your horse turn easier and with better balance. How about a leg yield? Use your weight aid to invite your horse into the direction of the movement.

The Legs

The legs are critical for clear communication. The inside leg works on bend and keeping the inside shoulder moving straight. The outside leg is responsible for asking the hind end to stay in line with the front end (and not swing out, for example). It also is the main initiator of bends, shoulder-ins/haunches ins, canter departures and turns.



You can also "step into the stirrups" to support your seat aids, or to create a stronger leg if the horse is moving into it. The more educated you and your horse get, the more meaning you can offer through your leg aids.

The Voice

Especially at the beginning, either for a novice rider or horse, the voice can be a welcome reinforcement of the body aids. If the horse is young or relatively untrained, voice cues might not initially carry much meaning, but they can serve to calm the horse or conversely, add a little "spice" into the horse's movement (if you need increased energy).

Voice cues can be words or sounds, depending on how you want to develop them. You do not have to be loud to be effective. Use consistent voice cues and your horse will in fact be able to understand and predict what you want.

Well, there you have it! Riding with less emphasis on the hands is possible and highly recommended, not only for your pleasure, but for your horse's comfort as well. Although it might take more time than you might initially want to invest, developing your other aids to the point of clarity is well worth the effort.

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  Related reading: 

Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?

Why Would You Bother to “Scoop” Your Seat Bones? Learning to use your seat effectively should take a lifetime to develop, so we will begin with just one basic aspect: how to move the seat bones.

Rarely Considered, Often Neglected: Lunging to Develop the Riding Seat: Riding on the lunge is the best way to begin the search for the effective seat.

9 Amazing Effects From Lifting the Horse’s Back While Riding: What exactly is the result of a lifted back? What does it look and feel like?

14 Ways to Communicate While Riding Your Horse: The difference between other sports and ours is that we must learn to communicate to our teammate in less obvious ways than people do in other sports.

17 Comments

  1. To break my habit of excessive reliance on the reins, my trainer put me on a lunge line. I spent months training hands-free, during which time I was not allowed to touch the reins but had to focus on using my other aids when I rode. During this time, I improved my balance and coordination in terms of using my legs, seat and breath (inhale and exhale) to communicate up/down transitions, etc. This training taught me that I do not really “need” the reins to ride well.

  2. I’m trying and trying to get my hands to go down the list of aids and others to come to the fore. Constant challenge for me. Can you explain a little more about what you mean by ‘step into the stirrup’ I’ve heard this before but never had it explained. Thank you for your wonderful blog

    1. Sally, when you “step into a sturrup”, you are not only adding to your weight aide, you are also stretching down that leg to ask the horse to come under your weight. For example, if the horse is falling in on a circle, you might step into the outside stirrup thus ask the horse to move more to the outside, stand up in the outside rein and legand regain their self carriage

  3. Breathing is a very important part of riding as it can cue a horse that a change is coming such as a transition, inhale on up tansitions and exhale to power down(slow tempo) or for a down transition. I also have students work on finding a quiet place inside themselves to relax and begin to picture what they want the horse to do. Instead of just using their seat and leg to trot or canter, what kind of rhythm do you want, what kind of tempo – strong, more collected. I’ve watched students “ask” for a trot and get a disunited, unengaged trot and then when asked to picture what they want the trot to look & feel like, they get a more energetic trot with a departure from back to front. The students are surprised at the difference. In essense they ae picturing a plan of what they want the horse to undestand.

  4. Love it! And as Lynn Palm says “Your Seat is the Director, your legs and Rein Aids are the Supporting Cast”. 🙂

  5. Breathe!!! Learn to put your breath into different parts of your body. It is the start of the pre-cue for every intention expressed to the horse. Practice collection & extension of your own body energy using only breath. I find this lightens & makes the horse responsive. You will get stronger in core and lighter in hand
    Have fun. Nice article about something even some experienced riders don’t realize they are doing wrong,

  6. Head and to a lessor extent shoulders. If you look at where you are going the body position changes, this works really well with circles.

  7. Three more thoughts: try riding bitless, especially in a sidepull. It forces you to ride more from your seat. Also, ride with a neckstrap. If you find your hands moving too much, link a finger through the strap, or, bridge your reins. Those techniques all help you ride more quietly.

  8. Does anyone else have pain in the hip flexors 2 days after a ride? I can barely straighten up for the day. What am I doing wrong?

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