Equestrian Riding Aids
The rider uses aids as a means of communicating their wishes through to the horse. Aids can be either natural, which use the riders own body such as the hand, leg, seat and voice, or the aids can be artificial such as the use of whips or spurs. Aids are used in different amounts either on their own or as a combination of aids to get the desired result.
Each horse has its own sensitivity to the riders aids with some horses requiring very subtle aids and some requiring stronger aids from the rider but regardless of the horses sensitivity the rider must always use the least amount of aid pressure that is necessary and without being aggressive or causing the horse any harm or discomfort.
All horse riding aids should work independently from each other allowing the rider to control every part of their body and therefore quickly make any adjustments to their position allowing them to fully take control of the horse.
Natural Riding Aids
The natural aids that the rider uses are the hand, leg, seat and voice aids.
The riders hand aids are used to communicate through to the horse via the reins and then on to the bit. When the rider takes hold of the rein there should be a light flexible tension called a 'contact', that is held through the rein to the bit which sits in the horses mouth, this contact will make the rein stay in a straight line which if the rider is sitting and holding the reins correctly then it will produce an imaginary line that runs from the horses bit directly through the rein to the riders little finger, wrist and then onto the elbow. The use of the hand aid must always be used in conjunction with the riders leg and seat aids, the hands themselves should stay raised above the horses wither and kept level with each other without crossing over the horses neck. The hands can produce:
- When the riders applies a gentle squeezing pressure to the rein, it will ask the horse to turn their head into that direction.
- By applying pressure on both reins simultaneously, combined with the riders seat and leg aids providing energy a halt will be produced.
- By using one rein together with the seat and leg, the outside rein is able to collect the horse by using the half halt aid.
- The rider should aim to maintain a light rein contact to encourage the horse to stay in balance. A horse who is unbalanced and in particular heavy on their forehand will lean on the bit and the reins pulling the rider's arms forward.
- When the rider moves their hands in a forward direction combined with the use of their leg and seat pushing, the horse to remain engaged through their hindquarters and light on the bit thereby allowing the rider to open out the horses neck and frame.
- Stretching can be used when asking for free walk on a long rein or when opening the horses stride out, for example when riding lengthened strides.
- Types Of Rein Aid There are four types of rein aid that the rider can use.
- Direct Rein
- Is where the rider puts pressure directly onto the bit by pulling the rein back towards them. This pressure should be released as soon the desired result has been established.
- Indirect Rein
- An indirect rein aid is where the rider applies rein pressure by pulling backwards and inwards towards the horses neck but without crossing over it. An indirect rein is most often used for lateral work for example when riding the half pass.
- Open Rein
- The use of the open rein is often used with young horses. Pressure is applied directly onto the bit via the reins with the rider opening the rein in an outward direction to clearly indicate the direction to the horse as opposed to asking for a halt for example.
- Neck Rein
- The rider holding both reins in one hand applies pressure along the rein onto the horses neck instead of onto a bit to ask for direction.
The use of the voice is invaluable as a training aid and can be used for riding, handling and lunging. The word used along with its tone and length of time that the word is held for can indicate many things from an upward transition to a downward one, an aid for collection and as a reprimand or a word of praise. A well schooled horse will quickly recognize and respond to voice cues. The use of the voice is not permitted during a dressage test.
- Upward transition
- When on the lunge for example to ask the horse to trot on from a walk pace the trainer will use the phrase "trot on" with emphasis on the "T" and with a rise in tone towards the end of the word.
- Downward transition
- The opposite effect is used for a downward transition, for example when going from trot to walk on the lunge the trainer will use the word "walk" and lower the tone towards the end of the word along with stretching the word out at the same time.
- By using a word such as "steady" in a calm but direct tone can be used to help slow down or collect a horses movement. This aid can be of great help when riding cross country fences, for example if the horse needed to collect before a fence.
Riders seat allows collection, balance, steering, forward movement and control of the horse to take place, as well as providing the rider with stability and balance when on board. The seat is a combination of the riders seat bones, pelvis and hips.
- Seat bones
- When the rider is sat centrally in the saddle there should be an even distribution of weight onto both seat bones, the rider can then alter this weight to ask the horse to move into the direction of the weighted seat bone. Care must be taken by the rider not to collapse their inside hip as they do this or it will cause a rider imbalance.
- The riders hips must remain level at all times or an imbalance will occur. The hips need to remain supple to allow the horses movement to be absorbed through the seat. When the rider asks the horse to turn or perform lateral movements the riders hips should follow in the same direction as the horses hips in the same way that the riders shoulders follow the angle of the horses shoulder.
- The riders pelvis is used to absorb the horses movement and helps to control the riders centre of gravity. By slightly moving the pelvis back a more driving seat can be obtained, provided that the correct use of the hand and rein aids are also used. When the pelvis is moved in a slight forward direction it encourages the horse to accelerate forwards.
Leg aids are used in conjunction with the riders seat and hand to communicate to the horse the direction, the type of gait and the level of activity that is required by the rider. If the riders legs are well positioned they will also provide the rider with balance and stability. There are two lower leg positions, which are on the girth or behind the girth, the use of these will allow the rider to initiate upward and downward transitions, lateral movements and collection.
- On the girth
- When the horse is saddled up then the area that the riders leg should sit is directly behind the girth strap on the girth area of the horses body. If the rider is centrally positioned in the saddle, with the weight evenly distributed onto both seat bones the lower leg should hang freely down producing a imaginary straight line that starts at the riders shoulder and runs through the to the hip and heel. If riders leg is pressed against the girth strap or knocks the horses elbow then it is too far forward.
- When inward pressure is applied to this area it produces energy or forward movement, which can indicate to the horse a number of instructions depending on any other aids given at the same time.
- One or both legs can be positioned on the girth area, for example both legs on the girth can ask the horse to move directly forwards and straight such as from halt to walk, whereas one leg on the girth and one leg behind the girth will be asking for either a change of direction or a canter transition depending on the level of leg to hand pressure applied.
- Behind the girth
- To position the lower leg behind the girth the rider moves their leg back 2 to 3 inches from the on the girth position. With the lower leg back the rider has more control over the hindquarters and can initiate a specific movement such as forwards, backwards diagonally or sideways.
- When one leg is used behind the girth then it usually indicates an upward transition for example from trot to canter or a lateral movement such as leg yield.
- When both legs are positioned behind the girth and with the correct use of the riders seat and leg aids the aid for rein back will occur.
Artificial Riding Aids
An artificial aid is a piece of equipment such as a whip or spur that the rider uses to backup a natural aid.
- A whip is carried by the rider in their inside hand and they are available in a variety of lengths. Whips are used to back up the riders leg aid and therefore encourage the horse to move forward.
- A dressage whip is around 3 feet long and more flexible than the other whips, allowing it to be easily used by the rider with a turn of the wrist, so that the whip applies pressure just behind the riders leg.
- Short whips are sometimes also called crops and are around two feet long, crops are used in one hand by the rider just behind the riders leg and are most commonly used when jumping or hacking.
- A lunge whip is around 6 feet long and is only to be used by the trainer when lunging.
- Spurs are worn on the riders heel to give a precise leg aid to the horse. Spurs should only be worn by experienced riders as great damage can be inflicted on the horses side if inappropriately used.
- Spurs are made out of stainless steel with the point varying in its design and length, for example most spurs permitted in competition have blunt ends that can vary in length, but there are some that have rowels (spiked wheels) instead.