Asking the Horse to Move Forward
Notice I've used the word "ask" instead of "make," because you can't make the horse do anything,
especially at the beginner stage. You ask, and hope the horse helps out.
To ask the horse to move forward, sit down in your seat, pull both legs back about two inches,
and pulse - squeeze and release - simultaneously with both lower legs. At the same time, push
forward with your back.
Think of sitting on a horse as being like sitting on a swing with your feet off the ground. You want
to make the swing move, so you push with your back. You also give with your hands, which
means you release the tension on the reins slightly. Yes, there's a lot to do at once!
Once the horse begins moving, both your legs should return to their normal position: heels in line
with your hips an shoulders. The hands reestablish light, elastic contact with your horse's mouth.
Caution: Most beginners hold their reins with too much slack. If you can't affect the horse without
lifting your hands or moving them to the side or behind your hips, your reins are too long.
All these messages you're sending the horse are called aids. To summarize, here are the aids
that ask your horse to walk:
To keep Sprite walking or to encourage her to walk faster, squeeze with your right and left legs
alternately. She's been trained to specific sets of stimuli. If you squeeze your legs
simultaneously, you're giving a different command.
Now walk around a little bit and see how this feels. Wow! It feels pretty good! So try walking a
Please note that when I say squeeze with your legs, I mean your calves. With a slow school
horse, you may need to use your heel, too, to start her moving, but always try first with your
calves. I'm not criticizing school horses, because they'll keep you safe while you're learning, but
they may require some extra encouragement.
What to do if...the horse walks but not in a straight line.
Chances are you forgot to think about where you are going. Remember, you're thinking for two,
and maybe you aren't giving completely clear signals. Pick something straight ahead to aim for,
such as a post in the fence. Focus on that spot as you ask her to move forward. By giving
yourself direction, you'll give your horse direction, too.
What to do if...the horse walks faster than you want.
First figure out why. Is another horse on the other side of the ring? If so, your horse is probably
following her herd instinct. Is the other horse swishing his tail? That means he might kick.
Maybe the gate to the ring is open and Sprite has decided that she's had it with the greenhorn on
her back and that it's time to go back to her stall. But you can't let her, because the lesson is not
My point is that you must maintain control. Don't let any horse you are riding get too close to
other horse. Stay several horse lengths apart unless instructed to do otherwise. You must tell
your horse that she has to help you complete your riding lesson. She must go where you tell her
What to do if...the horse just won't move forward.
This requires an approach similar to the one you use when you're leading a horse and she stops.
- namely, try a different tactic. It's important that the horse always does what you say, but how
you tell her to do what you what is equally important. If the horse doesn't respond the first time
you give an aid, and you're pretty certain you gave the aid correctly, apply the aid (or aids) again,
but more harshly. Learning to apply aids more harshly is an important skill, and it's called the
progression of aids.
It's unlikely you'll fail using the aids progressively. I want to make another point here. Kicking a
horse is not necessarily bad if you do it as part of the progression. You will never have my
permission to kick hard if it isn't. (Imagine being beaten every time you fail to respond
appropriately or fast enough to someone's request. Maybe you didn't even hear the request.)
Now that you've got Sprite walking, see if you can stop her, which is known in the horse world as a
|Aids to the Walk
- Sit down.
- Squeeze evenly with both your lower legs to encourage the horse to keep moving
- Push with your lower back.
- Give with your hands.
Sprite is a small, stocky, sturdy, cute horse. If she were any shorter, she'd be a pony. In the winter,
her coat gets very long and she looks like a woolly mammoth. She's sassy in the field, and you can
tell she was hot stuff in her younger years. Now that she's getting a little older, she has to watch
what she eats.
Sprite's also the motherly type. She babysits horses that don't like to stay alone in the barn or
pasture. She stands nice and still when a new student mounts, although she might move if you jab
her with a knee or toe. A terrific trail horse, Sprite proudly leads where other horses fear to
venture. Being calm and trustworthy makes her a good confidence builder for the beginning rider.
|Progression of Leg Aids
The progression of the aids will prove invaluable to you as your riding progresses, so study this
skill carefully. Here's a simplified version:
- Squeeze with your lower legs/upper calves.
- If no response: Kick lightly with your heels.
- If no response: Kick hard with your heels.
- If no response: Give several sharp kicks with your heels.
- If you still get no response, you'll probably need a crop, which you'll learn about in lesson 2.
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049