The right aids on a horse

How do you give the right aids? I think it doesn’t really matter what you do exactly, as long as you always ask the same way and demand the same answer. If you work on the principle that you reward him by removing pressure, he will learn what you want him to do. Horses are creatures of habit. If you repeat something three times the penny usually drops. It is also useful that you think carefully about how you are going to give your aids, so that they are not alike or so the horse doesn’t have to guess what you mean by it this time. They should definitely not conflict or be contradictory.

It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you always do it the same

I can’t say it often enough: being consistent is the most important thing around horses (and dogs and children and husbands). An aid is a signal that your horse has to answer to, otherwise it will lose its meaning. Not answering is not an option. You indicate that something is required of him. So always make sure you get an answer. If you do nothing, he should continue with what he’s doing at the same pace in the same posture and direction. But here is the catch. Are you sure you’re not doing anything? If you only think, something your body reacts somewhat by tightening something deep inside and that is what your horse is feeling. I often think something and he is already doing it. Not because my horses are clairvoyant. They just know me very well and apparently already feel something.

It is impossible for a horse to understand if you want him to go faster by giving more leg and the next time these same aids mean he has to extend. If you use the same aid for roundness and a transition back, a horse must guess what you mean. If he gambles wrong he often gets into trouble. Guessing already makes him nervous, but the chance that he will be punished even more. It is therefore important to think about the aids you use, but also about how long you give an aid. What do you want from a horse and how are you going to explain it to him? And when are you satisfied? Where exactly do you apply this aid?

I once attended a workshop with veterinarian Menke Steenbergen (recommended) in which riders were asked to write down their aids for certain exercises. That was a revelation to many. Have you ever thought about how you make your horse do things? People talk to convey information. A horse engages in nonverbal communication. There are fun exercises to explain how this feels.


Exercise nonverbal communication

Find a fellow rider. One of the two of you plays the horse. The other person may not say anything, but may touch the “horse”. Think of a difficult task, for example walk straight for 10 meters, then turn left, turn around as if you were turning the hindquarters and hop 5 meters on your left leg. Do not say to the “horse” what you are going to do and try to have this done as well as possible without talking. Afterwards, let the “horse” indicate how your directions came across. Were you clear? Too soft or expectant signals can make a horse insecure, but too harsh clues are unpleasant.

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