Many instructors consider Arabians too "hot," or on the fast and frisky side, for use as school
horses. Watergate is unusual, however. He's especially well behaved and calm, and he knows the
class routine better than most instructors. He's a star among school horses.
Although on the smallish side, in the field he's definitely a herd leader. (He's one of the horses that
terrorizes Tiki). Another horse had better not try to eat his pile of hay.
Under saddle, Watergate moves forward easily, but he demands that riders give him very clear
This lesson has offered you much more information about the aids, and now you should be able to
see how, with experience, the progression of the aids becomes much more complex and precise.
For example, consider how the progression of the aids applies to another technique, the progressive
Get Watergate going at a good trot and then give him the aids to halt, starting with the mildest and
progressing as needed. This will be something like slowing a 16-speed truck; you don't have to use
every gear (aid) when down shifting -- you can use only those you know you need.
The pure and simple aids to the halt (with some added explanation) are:
Aids to the Halt
1. Sit down. You don't just sit down, you drive with your back. In other
words, you rotate the top of your hips toward your back pockets, but
not so much that your feet come forward.
2. Set your hands. Stiffen them by pushing thumbs onto forefingers.
Your hands do not give to pressure.
3. Squeeze with your legs. Use your very upper calves in an elongated
4. Push with your back into your hands. From your driving seat, bring
the top of your hips farther back, collapsing your spinal column.
(When I say collapsing your spinal column, I don't mean letting it
slide under the rib cage).
You have just pushed with your back into your hands, providing a forward impulse. It may seem odd
to be driving Watergate forward when trying to make him stop. But remember, you're driving him into
your hands. This increases rein pressure more effectively than pulling your hands back.
There are two ways to get rein pressure, or get the bit to close in your horse's mouth: You either pull
back your hands, which at best is ineffective, or you can drive him forward, forcing him to close the bit
on himself. The latter works better.
Why doesn't pulling back on the reins work very well? First of all, you're using only one-third or less
of the control you have over the horse by depending exclusively on the reins. The horse can evade
the rein aid simply by inverting his back, sticking out his nose, and raising his head. You end up
pulling on his back teeth, which won't slow him. The whole purpose of the aids is to prevent this kind
of evasion from occurring. (You'll learn more about evasions in the next lesson).
What to do if...the horse still isn't stopping.
He's not running away with you, he's just not stopping easily. So make the aids more severe. But
remember, pulling back on the reins is not going to get you anywhere.
Try raising and bringing your hands in toward your body a bit, closing your fingers, and cocking your
wrists slightly. Take a very extreme forward posture with your back: Pull your legs back four inches
from the girth, slap with your legs, and then collapse and stiffen your back. Can you see how this is
all much harsher than the original set of aids?
What to do if...the horse still isn't stopping.
You need to get results, so try a modified pulley rein. Instead of positioning your hands two-thirds of
the way up the horse's neck, modify the pulley rein by holding your hands at the withers. This action
is not as severe as a traditional pulley rein.
If that doesn't work, go straight to a full-blown pulley rein, and I guarantee you that you'll get a result.
You're on track if you can:
can also cite the aids to bend and add impulsion to the walk and trot).
- Cite the aids to the halt, walk, and trot. (Extra kudos if you
- Explain how a jointed snaffle bit works and how it differs from a
- Demonstrate each of the five basic rein aids.
- Bring your horse to a halt using the proper aids.
the desired result.
- With increasing frequency, select the mildest rein aid that achieves
employing all aids, no matter how minor.
- Increasingly use your legs, back, and hands together when
Riding Is a Fine Art
Don't expect to remember, let alone apply, all the information in this lesson any time soon. But it's
important to realize that learning to really control a horse is a fine art. Do you need all this detail for a
trail ride? Absolutely not. For training a horse? Probably not. To get the very best performance out
of your horse? Absolutely so.
Think of riding as a giant combination lock. Now calculate all the possibilities. You have five rein aids,
three hand heights (high, normal, and low), and six distinct ways to use your hands. You have two
basic leg positions (at the girth and behind, with innumerable gradations), and two basic ways to use
your legs (slapping or squeezing), either independently or together, and from the top of your calves to
your heels. There are three seat positions (driving, passive, and light), and with each of these
postures your back can either encourage or restrict motion.
I'm not a mathematician, but it would be impossible to pick a lock with so many permutations. But in
essence that's what you're trying to do when you ride a horse. So should you give up riding right now
because there's no way to pick the lock? No. For now, if X doesn't work, try Y. If that combination
doesn't work, try another. You'll never run out of combinations. And you'll be a much better rider if
I've convinced you that to learn to ride well, you must think.
With my students I like to use another analogy. When learning to drive, you have to think about using
the turn signal when you approach a corner. But it soon becomes automatic, and soon your riding
aids will, too. Getting to that point takes practice, practice, practice. Meanwhile, always try to use the
most complete aid that you possibly can, incorporating the necessary nuances with hands, legs, seat,
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