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
Now walk around a little bit and see how this feels.  Wow!  It feels pretty
good!  So try walking a little faster:
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 over.
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 to go.

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
  1. Sit down.
  2. Squeeze evenly with both your lower legs to encourage the horse to
    keep moving
  3. Push with your lower back.
  4. 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
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:

  1. Squeeze with your lower legs/upper calves.
  2. If no response: Kick lightly with your heels.
  3. If no response: Kick hard with your heels.
  4. If no response: Give several sharp kicks with your heels.
  5. If you still get no response, you'll probably need a crop, which you'll
    learn about in lesson 2.


Boost your confidence
Acquire knowledge
Build your skills
Enhance your lessons    

Mike Smith's
40 years of
experience        work for

You'll love it!
Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156          fax: 301-421-9049