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 instructions.
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 halt.
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, and back.
Boost your confidence
Build your skills
Enhance your lessons
Put 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