Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Release your seat after the half-halt.

Release your legs when the horse moves away from pressure.

Release your aids to reward the horse.

Release the inside rein to allow the horse to bend deeper to the inside.

Sometimes, we use the word "give" in place of release. Please use it interchangeably here.

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In horseback riding, we can release any aid at any time: the reins, the seat, the legs. Regardless of riding discipline, we have to release our horses for hundreds of reasons. We use that word so many times in so many ways. But do we know what it really means?

Many people interpret the term literally as it sounds like it should be - a freedom, a giving away or a letting go of the aids. But in riding, a true release is more complicated than simply dropping everything!.


Let's change topics for just one minute to illustrate the point.

Do you watch any of the world figure skating championships? As I admire the exquisite coordination of the pairs and dance skaters, I am reminded of the level of harmony we need to produce with our horses to show a similar fluidity of movement (of course, anything I watch becomes somehow related to horseback riding - hehe).

So here is the scene: the guy lifts the girl, they do an intricate twist and thingy in the air, and then he "releases" her back to the ice. When you watch them, you see how carefully he carries her back down.  What he doesn't do is drop her - or, simply let go.


The horse has four legs and he won't fall when you let go. It is true. We see riders "let go" of their horses all the time, and rarely do the horses fall to the ground (although some might stumble or trip). Thankfully, the horses hold their own and make up for the rider's lack of timing or aids or knowledge. But what does suffer is the horse's (and by extension, the rider's) balance.

Some horses lose confidence in their riders. Others learn to tune their riders out and just truck along on their own. Many plod along on their forehand year after year, doomed to some sort of lameness due to incorrect movement.

In any case,  communication suffers, sometimes without the rider even knowing it.

What to do?

What not to do: let go.

Don't let go of your reins. Don't let go of your seat. Don't take your legs off the horse. Don't flop in the saddle.

Instead, work on a gradual giveaway.

Slowly reduce the pressure.

Leave your legs on but become less active.

Hold your own body but go more with the horse.

Keep a soft, delicate finger contact on the reins so your horse knows you are still talking to him.

Under all circumstances, maintain your balance. 

Look for any and all reasons to release your aids.

Don't we all wish we could ride in lightness and complete balance? Just be weary of stopping or giving away or letting go completely.

Try to ride with the horse and work towards harmony and connectedness. Listen carefully to discover when your horse needs your support and when you should allow him to find his own way. There is a happy medium somewhere in between let go and absolute control.

If you can find it, you may also find a happier, more confident horse!

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Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

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If you liked the above article, you might also enjoy:

The #1 Rider Problem of the Year – The Leg Aid: You probably know from experience – kicking the horse along often does not get the response you really want. 

Riding Straight Through the Turn: Although it sounds like an oxymoron, travelling straight through a turn is essential in maintaining the balance of the horse.

Stepping Out of Rein Lameness: Often, problems caused by riding can be fixed with riding. It is just a matter of knowing what to do in order to counteract the problems.

Do You Make This Timing Mistake When Riding Your Horse? Have you ever given your horse an aid and got nothing in return? There could be one other variable that you might not have considered…

Secrets to a Great Turn (a.k.a. Shift Out to Turn In): Can you tell if your horse uses his hind end before taking the first step in the new direction, or does he feel stiff and awkward, almost like he’s leaving his legs behind the movement?


  1. Another amazingly useful post. Another thing that I didn’t know what I was doing wrong/why I wasn’t getting the desired results that you’ve given me a lightbulb moment on. Thanks.

  2. The critical thing is to have a basic, minimal “pressure of presence” and to release back to that level immediately when the horse responds correctly and to not release back to that level otherwise. The ideal state for a horse is to self-carry – to own its motions in compliance with the aids, but for the aids to be light and momentary. I must start my horse to trot but not keep him trotting – he needs to trot until I tell him otherwise. I must initiate the circle but let the horse maintain it until I tell him something different with a quickly released pressure. This means that aids initiate and correct but are not omnipresent.