Pam Millar

Dressage Trainer


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Getting the Right Response from your Aids 

(click on "training tips" above for more)

(as printed in the Herald )


AIDS are basically the body language we use in order to communicate with our horse and let him know what is required of him – they are the universal language of horsemanship and must be executed correctly in order to bring about the correct transitional response.


Although aids do convey an instruction to start, stop, turn or go faster resulting in a transition of sorts, the subject of aids and their outcome – cause and effect – is far more complex than that and can represent a lifetime of learning for both horse and rider. As well as creating forward movement, leg aids influence direction, length bend and activate the hindquarters. The seat is also instrumental as a directional aid as well as a restraining or allowing one, while the hands act as an extension of the seat and contain the energy that has been created by the seat and legs.


Not only are transitions a change of pace from one gait to another, they are also any change of stride within a pace. Walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to walk, walk to halt, are all examples of a transition from one pace to another but subtle application of restraining aids during a medium trot, for example, will result in a shorter, more elevated collected trot, or an even more elevated piaffe, while allowing aids will produce a longer, more ground-covering extension. A transition is also made when the horse moves from a straight line into a lateral movement and vice versa.


Obedience, balance, suppleness, collection and extension, lightness, impulsion and elevation are all achieved through correct aiding. As the horse becomes more and more athletic he becomes more balanced, transitions become more fluid and the corresponding aids become lighter and more and more fine tuned as training progresses, until ultimately, a mere thought by the rider can result in the horse executing the transition in question.


Applying the aids correctly means applying them in the right place and at the right time. A horse that is constantly ‘nagged’ with leg aids will stop listening and fail to respond when a reaction is needed. If, on the other hand, the rider keeps legs and hands quiet until the transition is required, asking for the change in a firm and clear manner, the horse is most likely going to respond positively, if he is physically and mentally fit enough to do so.


There might be a number of reasons why he does not. For example, a horse at the very early stages of his schooling, a horse that has been out of work for a period of time, or a horse that has become desensitised through incorrect schooling. If he doesn’t respond you will need to go back a step or two. From walk, assuming that your legs, hands and seat are soft, still and quiet, ask for the transition with a clear but tactful leg and seat aid. Reinforce your aid with a little tap of the whip just behind your leg and reward any sort of ‘try’ by a small scratch on the neck. Repeat the exercise several times. His reaction should become more rapid so the whip can be quickly discarded. The hands must allow for this transition, otherwise the message to the horse is ‘go but stop’.


Similar tact should be applied when asking for a downward transition. In a well-schooled, more advanced horse a mere toning of the upper body should be enough to get the desired response. However, If he is in the early stages of his education, or for reasons already mentioned, he ‘downhill’ or very forward going, avoid him leaning on you - break the contact, release the pressure on the reins, sit tall with a toned but not tense upper body, push the knees against the saddle and ask with a squeeze on the reins - and again, reward the smallest try.


The importance of riding transitions correctly cannot be stressed enough. Ultimately, when executing a downward transition, the rider should feel that the horse is sitting on his hindquarters while an upward transition should prompt a feeling similar to a plane taking off on a runway, where the horse uses the power in his quarters to push his shoulders upward and forward.


A responsive horse that has had the benefit of correct schooling in this way is going to be a great pleasure to ride.