Natural Riding Aids
If only you could speak to your horse and he could understand you! Actually you can communicate effectively with your horse by using natural riding aids. This means using your body rather than artificial aids such as whips, martingales and spurs. As you refine your riding skills, you will becomes more adept at controlling your mount using your hands, voice, seat and legs. You will have to work hard and exercise a great deal of patience to train your body and your horse, but all that effort will be well worth it!
One of the natural riding aids is the use of your legs. You should use your legs to signal your horse to begin moving or to maintain their movement. Your legs should remain in light contact with your horse. This enables your horse to quickly sense your leg actions. As you become more in tune with your animal, so they will grow more sensitive to your leg action.
For your leg aids to work effectively your legs must not remain clamped to your horse’s flank. Your legs should be positioned so that your heels remain under your hip. By tightening your calf muscles you are signally your horse to move off. To encourage your horse to move sideways, move one leg further back behind the girth and keep your heel down. Keep the other leg neutral. The horse will step sideways in the direction of the neutral leg.
Moving one leg further back whilst the other leg remains in a neutral position but in an active role will encourage your horse to bend towards the neutral leg. One leg farther back and the other in a neutral position whilst both legs are active will ask your horse to canter. If your right leg is neutral your horse will lead with its right leg and vice versa.
In order to make effective use of your seat aids you must be aligned with your horse and perfectly balanced. To increase the weight you apply to your seat, keep your upper body upright and tall. You will need to tighten the lower back or abdominal muscles. Tightening your back muscles will give a collection aid. Tightening your stomach muscles will provide a forward drive aid.
If you apply the weight through one of your seat bones rather than evenly, this encourages your horse to turn in the direction of the additional weight. You can apply this additional weight to one side by lowering the hip and knee. When turning, always keep your hips in line with the horse. It may sound obvious but look in the direct you are turning but do not lean into the turn.
To ease the weight on your seat apply more pressure onto the stirrups, tighten your thigh muscles and move your upper body slightly forward. Do not allow your seat to lift away from the saddle or your bottom to stick out behind your torso.
It takes time to acquire the balance and finesse required to ride with skill and confidence. A good tip is to video yourself riding in the school and then you can watch it back and see where you can improve your natural riding aids. Or you could get a friend or instructor to help. Don’t get frustrated and don’t give up. You will get there in the end!