Monday, March 7, 2011

Rider Aids: Tools to Teach

The way a horse learns is really quite simple. It's the rider’s responsibility to keep it simple. The simpler you can keep your schooling program the better. It all comes down to a few simple teaching tools and how you use them.

The horse learns and performs through aids from his rider. Every basic exercise is taught with these aids; every reining maneuver is executed with these aids.

What are the natural aids?
• Hands
• Legs
• Voice
• Seat or weight

Applying aids and the order with which you apply them is important. Different maneuvers require the rider to apply the aids in a different order for the desired result. Sometimes aids are applied as a progressively more demanding signal if the horse is not responding. I ask; I demand; I correct; and I always release when my horse gives me a response.

Ask. Demand. Correct. (Then release)
The first aid you apply to ask your horse to do something should be soft (ask); the next one you apply (but only if he does not respond to the first!) is more intense (demand); the third one should leave no doubt in the mind of your horse (correct). Then release all aids when the horse responds.

Example 1: You want your horse to move forward from a standstill. First, "lighten" your body in the saddle and move your hand forward a little. If he does not walk, say “walk”; if he still does not walk, bump with your legs. Ask. Demand. Correct. (Order of aids here is body/hands, voice, legs where legs are the correction). Release all aids when your horse walks forward (don’t keep saying “walk” or kicking).

Example 2: You want your horse to come down from a jog to a walk. Without lifting your hands to pull on the reins, change your body position by stepping into your stirrups, locking your hips and squaring your shoulders (ask); if he does not respond, say “walk” keeping your body in the “behind the center of balance” position; if he still does not respond, slowly apply rein pressure. Ask. Demand. Correct. (Order of aids is body, voice, hands and the hands are the correction). When your horse has stopped, release all aids (release rein pressure and bring your legs and body back in the center of balance).

Example 3: You want your horse to spin to the left. Assuming nothing in your body language is telling him to move forward, raise your hand in the direction of your left shoulder without pulling; if he does not step into the spin, bump him with your right leg; if he still does not move, bump him harder. Ask. Demand. Correct. When he is spinning, do not keep right leg pressure on him; if you do, soon your “correction” with a leg will not mean a thing!

Example 4: You want your horse to stop. Without lifting your hand (your rein hand is low, isn’t it?), change your body from forward motion to a position behind the center of balance (more about that later) as in example 1; say “whoa”; if he does not stop or is not getting into the ground as he should, slowly apply rein pressure. Ask. Demand. Correct. Keep your position until he has completed the stop, then release your aids. (Order of aids is body, voice, hands and the hands are the correction). In a reining pattern, there may be another maneuver such as a rollback or backup after the stop. If so, you will still release your aids and apply aids for the new maneuver.

Very important! In both these cases, the next time you ask for a response, use the softest aid first, etc. When the horse responds to the first signal (ask), you do not need the others. Consistent repetition of the aids is the key to consistent response.

If you train your horse this way, everything you do will mean something to him and he will perform with almost imperceptible cues. I've often been told that it doesn't look like I am doing anything to ask my horse (of course I am!) to perform, My answer is: "Good. That's what it's supposed to look like!" That can only happen if my horse believes I will correct him with stronger aids if he does not respond to the soft one.

I initiate all the reining maneuvers – circles, lead changes, spins stops, rollbacks and backing up – with rider aids. I ask for the maneuver with the softest aid first for the prettiest picture, and hope my horse responds because he understands (from the many schooling hours on a consistent program) that I will back up what I asked with a more demanding aid if he doesn’t. If I have made a believer out of him, he does!


  1. Thanks I just bought a reining horse and he is better trained than I am, so I am still learning what to do.You're web site is very helpful.

  2. Thank you! I'm glad it helps! Good luck with your new reining horse.