Cen­ter Aisle

U•e de­gree• of pre••ure to get your hor•e to re•pond to light aid• in•tead of wear­ing your•elf out with nag­ging leg and rein aid•.

Practical Horseman - - Features - By Holly Hugo-Vi­dal

Rider, trainer and judge Holly Hu­goVi­dal ex­plains how to cre­ate a re­spon­sive horse from light aids.

Are you as strong as your horse? Of course not. Then why do some rid­ers use so much leg un­til they are com­pletely worn out yet their horses are still not go­ing forward? They use their spurs in­ad­ver­tently ev­ery time they use their legs, some­times go­ing so far as to make spur marks on their horses.

This is un­for­tu­nately quite com­mon. Many rid­ers don’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween us­ing the leg and us­ing the spur—to them, the two go hand in hand. Soon the horse be­comes dead to the nag­ging leg-spur com­bi­na­tion and the re­sult is a lack of re­sponse and a spur mark that some­times can ac­tu­ally draw blood. A bloody spur mark is cause for elim­i­na­tion in a dres­sage show.

A well-trained horse will move away from the leg, ei­ther forward or lat­er­ally, which­ever is asked for, without ex­haust­ing the rider. If your horse will move away only from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leg or the equiv­a­lent, then he needs to be trained.

An Ed­u­cated Leg

I am in fa­vor of us­ing a spur if ap­plied in an ed­u­cated way, not in­dis­crim­i­nately. I

have never left a spur mark on a horse and would be up­set if I did. In­stead, I ask the horse to move forward from my leg with light, ac­tive pres­sure. The lower leg,

A well­trained horse will move away from the leg, ei­ther forward or lat­er­ally, which­ever is asked for, without ex­haust­ing the rider.

I like to teach this sup­port­ive leg as op­posed to the con­stant nag­ging or kick­ing leg. The horse must be trained to ac­cept these aids. The end re­sult is bal­ance with the horse in front of the rider’s leg.

below the knee, is to what I am re­fer­ring. If the horse re­sponds by go­ing forward, I ease my leg pres­sure and let him travel forward by him­self.

If he doesn’t re­spond, I use more ac­tive leg pres­sure and add a cluck. The next step, if needed, is a quick prick with a spur as a backup. Still no re­sponse? I add a stick be­hind my leg in con­junc­tion with the leg and the cluck so the horse as­so­ci­ates the leg with the cluck, spur and stick as he goes forward. He then should stay in front of the leg with min­i­mal pres­sure and, if needed, lit­tle re­minders. I like to teach this sup­port­ive leg as op­posed to the con­stant nag­ging or kick­ing leg. The horse must be trained to ac­cept these aids.

The end re­sult is bal­ance with the horse in front of the rider’s leg.

I once heard trainer Frank Mad­den say that he works on the “ask­ing, telling, mak­ing” premise. I like that pro­gres­sion and use the ter­mi­nol­ogy of­ten. In this case it is leg, cluck and spur and then the stick in that or­der. Ask­ing is done with the leg and then adding a cluck. Telling is with the spur, and mak­ing hap­pens with the

stick. These aids are used con­sec­u­tively—if one doesn’t work then you go to the next one.

I came across an ex­am­ple of a rider us­ing the wrong leg or mis­us­ing the leg re­cently. I was teaching a be­gin­ner and she was un­able to keep her horse can­ter­ing. He kept break­ing to the trot. She squeezed with ev­ery bit of strength she had but couldn’t keep the horse go­ing. She had been mis­us­ing the leg aid—mak­ing it stronger and stronger without get­ting a re­sponse un­til he even­tu­ally tuned her out.

I hopped on and though this rider was many times stronger, I had ab­so­lutely no dif­fi­culty main­tain­ing the can­ter. How did I do it? I used my leg lightly yet ac­tively (no spurs) with de­grees of pres­sure while main­tain­ing con­tact with my leg. I also kept my hands soft and my bal­ance con­sis­tently in the mid­dle of the horse. It is more feel than strength.

An Ed­u­cated Hand

The same goes if your horse pulls you or lays on your hands for sup­port and you con­tin­u­ally take hold of his mouth. This numbs his mouth and in­evitably, he’ll lean on your hand even more. Or if he’s look­ing for sup­port and you oblige him, he will ex­pect you to hold him up in­stead of car­ry­ing him­self. Work­ing on the knowl­edge that it takes two to pull, I don’t have to tell you who will win this tug of war.

In the case of pulling, go back to the ask­ing, telling, mak­ing method.

Ask­ing trans­lates into clos­ing your hand, telling in­volves us­ing the hinge in your arm and bring­ing the closed hand back to­ward your waist. Mak­ing is adding your body weight by bring­ing the shoul­der be­hind the ver­ti­cal.

Once your horse re­sponds to any of these steps, you must give or re­lease with your hand, which will re­ward him for do­ing the cor­rect thing and en­cour­age him to give the same re­sponse the next time.

The Re­sult: Self-Car­riage

The re­sult of the take and give of the hand in elas­tic, small in­ter­vals and the ed­u­cated use of the leg to en­cour­age the horse’s hind legs to step un­der is a lighter horse and self- car­riage. Again, em­ploy­ing de­grees of pres­sure in­stead of nag­ging, dull aids will re­sult in a more re­spon­sive horse.

Up­ward and down­ward tran­si­tions are per­fect ex­er­cises for re­mind­ing the horse to re­spond to legs to go forward and hands to come back. Ask­ing the horse to back up is an ad­di­tional re­minder to re­spond to hands. This is not to be done in a pun­ish­ing way but in a nice rhythm in a straight line for about four steps, fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by mov­ing forward into a work­ing walk. Pat­terns in all of your school­ing, such as cir­cles and ser­pen­tines, not only keep the work in­ter­est­ing for your horse but they help bal­ance and soften him, en­cour­ag­ing self-car­riage.

All of these drills must be trained and prac­ticed with ed­u­cated hands and legs—not brute strength—and never with tem­per. The re­sult will be a more highly trained and re­spon­sive horse who is ea­ger to please and eas­ier to ride.

My friend and men­tor Ge­orge Mor­ris is de­mon­strat­ing the re­sult of the take and give of the hand in elas­tic, small in­ter­vals and the ed­u­cated use of the leg to en­cour­age the horse’s hind legs to step: a lighter horse and self-car­riage.

Many rid­ers don’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween us­ing the leg and us­ing the spur. To them, the two go hand in hand. Soon the horse be­comes dead to the nag­ging leg–spur com­bi­na­tion and stops re­spond­ing.

I ask the horse to move forward from my lower leg with light, ac­tive pres­sure. If he doesn’t re­spond, I use more ac­tive leg pres­sure and add a cluck. The next step, if needed, is a quick prick with a spur as a backup. Still no re­sponse? I add a stick be­hind my leg in con­junc­tion with the leg and the cluck.

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