How to Use Voice, Leg, & Rein Pressure
Natural riding aids come from the rider’s body and include your legs, hands, voice and seat. Natural aids are used for the majority of cues and commands you use when riding your horse.
HOW TO USE YOUR VOICE
Your voice is an example of a classically conditioned aid. For example, if you say “whoa” right before you cue your horse to decelerate or stop with your rein aids, the horse will learn to associate slowing down or stopping with the voice cue. It is important that the voice cue is given right before the already trained cue.
Watch this video [1.51 mins] by Equitation Science International about training horse voice commands:
HOW TO USE YOUR LEGS
Leg aids are used to ask the horse to move forward, for acceleration, and lateral movement.
HOW TO USE YOUR HANDS
Your hands or rein aids can be used to decelerate the horse’s speed, stop (halt) the horse, or cue the horse to turn in a particular direction. You should apply minimal rein pressure and release pressure as soon as the horse performs the desired response. Remember, your reins put pressure on the horse’s mouth, which can cause pain or discomfort if used excessively or forcefully, or confusion if rein pressure is not released or the release of rein pressure is delayed.
Your hands are used to guide and help your horse. Use them lightly, so that your horse will react responsively to rein pressure. Never pull steadily as this will cause your horse to become confused, as there is no release in applied pressure. This can also cause pain if enough pressure is applied or applied constantly.
Equipment is just a tool that we use to communicate with the horse, but you first have to be able to use your hands correctly with any equipment.
HOW TO USE YOUR WEIGHT AND SEAT
The seat of the rider needs to stay in balance with the horse’s movement during riding. To move with the horse, use longer seat movements with longer stride gaits, such as a lengthened walk, trot, or canter, and shorter seat movements with shorter stride gaits, such as a shortened walk, trot or canter. The seat frequency should also be adjusted to match the horse’s rhythm, such as moving the seat faster during accelerated movements or gaits.
The seat does not cue the horse on what to do, it simply moves with the horse’s motion to ensure you stay in balance.
Watch this video by equitation science practitioner, Jody Hartstone, for a demonstration of how to move the seat with the horse’s movement:
To use your weight vertically over the horse you need equal weight in both stirrups and with your centre of gravity balanced over the midline of the horse’s back. If you shift your weight in any direction the horse will notice. In order to use the position successfully, you must keep your body in a vertical line from the shoulders down to the saddle.
Posting to ride a brisk trot is an example of a vertical movement. The height and speed that you post can impact your horse’s locomotion.
Using your horizontal weight means shifting your weight from one seat bone to the other while keeping your body straight up and down. This weight shift can be used in preparation and during lead departures, turns, sideway movements and circles.
Illustrations and information adapted with permission from the “Riding” section of the 4-H Horse Reference Manual from the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.