"Which aids are you using?" I routinely ask my students this as they develop a particular skill, especially once they have gained enough experience that they can analyze a problem while they ride.
But here, we can do it off the horse. Let's use this example:
You are in left lead canter, and getting ready to leave the rail to make a left circle. As you head into the circle, your horse drifts out, loses balance and breaks into trot. (If this does really happen to you, don't worry! It happens all the time to all levels of rider and horse!)
It's like he is losing just enough balance that he is unable to maintain the canter. What aids would you use to correct the problem?
(If you like, stop here and quickly think about or jot down the aids you would use. Then read on. I've added links in blue to other articles that explain some of the specific concepts better.)
1) Outside Neck Rein
One of the most common errors is to use the inside rein to pull the horse into a turn. When you pull on the inside rein, though, the horse's neck has to follow your hand. So before you know it, the neck is pulled to the inside, which requires the outside shoulder to bulge outward. The horse then HAS to step out in order to manage to stay upright. While you're trying to turn the horse left, he's got his neck left but is actually stepping right.
Use the outside neck rein to catch the outside shoulder that wants to bulge toward the rail. That helps keep the horse's front end from drifting around the turn. The neck rein is also the initiator of the turn.
2) Outside Leg
Use the outside leg to prevent the horse's hip from swinging out.
Another tendency is for the horse to swing the hind end outward. When you are on a turn, you want the horse to turn "straight" (well, not literally, but physically). If you use your outside leg back slightly, you can influence the hind end so that it follows the front end on a single track.
There's got to be more than just those two aids. So let's fill in the details. It takes some concentration and "feel" to break things down even more.
3) Inside Seat Bone
Put your weight on your inside seat bone, swinging it forward on the turn line so that you encourage your horse to come under your inside seat more - to basically keep him on the turn and not drift out from under your seat.
Using your weight aids is something that needs a lot of fine-tuning at first. But with practice, you will be able to first know which seat bone you have more weight on, and then be able to actually direct the weight to where you want it to be. Your weight can have a lot of influence on the horse.
4) Inside Leg
Use a strong downward-stepping motion on your inside stirrup - like you are standing on the ground through the stirrup, in rhythm with the stride.
The stepping down helps the horse have a solid balancing aid on the inside rib cage, which encourages better bend and balance through the turn.
5) Inside Rein
Give a tiny bit with your inside rein as you cross the middle of the arena, to allow the inside hind leg more space to step into. Keep the outside rein fairly steady.
Use two legs for forward just before you leave the rail. This helps him engage a little more before he starts to drift, sending him forward rather than sideways.
7) Keep Your Balance
Try to let your seat come through more after you ask for impulsion (don't resist), so you keep your center of gravity over the horse as he moves off. Don't get left behind!
8) Use Half-Halts
Even while you ask for more energy, use half-halts to help the horse stay in balance and not just run faster and onto the forehand. You can try a half-halt before you leave the rail, through the middle of the circle, and then again as you finish and go to the next movement. But it might depend on your horse - you might need more or less.
Pinpointing your aids like this is actually a very interesting exercise, because while we often recognize the most significant aids, we rarely feel everything that the body is doing to produce one result. I bet you can think of a few more to list here as well.
Seriously?? So many aids for one simple movement?
Well, yes. And, not really.
The thing is, once you get the hang of it, it won't be nearly as complicated as it sounds here. If you think about it, we can probably break down every movement into multiple aids and skills like this. The more aids we can control through our ride, the more sophisticated we can be in communicating kindly and gently to the horse.
Automaticity /ˌɔːtəməˈtɪsɪti/ is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.
I like this word! And I like how it feels when I'm doing this while riding. The less you have to think about things, the easier it gets. But at the beginning, you do have to learn the skills first (practice, practice, practice!), before they become blueprinted into your body.
After a few rounds, and a few transitions down to trot and then back up into canter, things should get better. Your outside aids might keep your horse straighter. Your "ask" for impulsion might help him reach further underneath with his hind legs. He might drift less and then not at all. And slowly, his canter might become more fluid, stronger, more balanced.
And even while you know which aids you are using, you won't actually have to think about them. Well, maybe you'll be thinking about only one or two!
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If you enjoyed this article, read more here:
What Do Leg Aids Mean? Instead of relying on them only to get the horse to move his legs faster or transition to a new gait, we might discover more involved messages that can be given with a sophisticated leg aid.
Rarely Considered, Often Neglected: Lunging to Develop the Riding Seat: There is no better way to develop your seat.
The #1 Riding Problem: The Outside Rein! The outside rein is the most underused and poorly understood of all the aids, and here’s why.
Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?
Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem: It can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.