Riding Aids - Understanding

A certain level of riding knowledge and experience needed to the comprehension of this article.

    The word aid is referring to the help or assistance, the riding aids are something that helps or assists us in controlling (guiding etc.) the horse while riding it. This is pretty much the popular understanding of the use of riding aids. These riding aids can be implemented in various forms for different reasons. 
    In just about all cases that you will see most of the riding aids serve to the mediocre rider for controlling the horse's motion either by way of interfering with that motion or by setting the horse out of balance. You may have heard some fools saying that when controlling the horse's head you control his motion. Well, this may seems like it but the reality is fairly simple. By offsetting the horse's head and neck one simply messes with the horse's balance, because the neck and primarily the head serve to the horse as some balance stick, whether we are talking about the forward and lateral balance or the energy balance. All these aids seem to work for most people because of the simple nature of the horse, which is about adaptation to the situation and environment, if he cannot runway from it. 

    A simple example: when a young horse is being ridden for the first few times and you pull on the rein two things will more likely happen. The horse will either fight it by pulling the other way, throwing its head up, and/or just simple pulling in the opposite direction, or he will give in by flexing his neck in the direction of the pull. In both cases the horse will more likely step in the opposite direction of the pull to regain its balance, since the pulling on its head and/or its fighting motion in relevance to the same offset its balance. 

The hand aid is the most important, followed by the seat and then leg aid. All this has to do with the ability of the rider and the refinement of the horse. In the more refined riding the leg aids are hardly used and most of the riding is done by the hands and by the seat. The seat aid is however not available in most riders, hence they cannot ride, they can only appear as that only to the less experienced eye. A poor seat eliminates or at least reduces dramatically the function of all riding aids. In such case the riders use various amplifying equipment as by  half deaf man is the hearing aid (nose bands, curb bits, martingales, spurs and forceful seat.)

Grinding gears, burning the clutch while the gas is stalling. A typical forceful way of riding, the seat bones of the rider buried in the horse's hunched back, causing discomfort and pain, hence the horse runs forward. In addition the spurs are buried into the horse like in some bull riding, testifying to the horse's poor responsiveness to the aids, since the function of the hand aid is completely eliminated by the bit being below the energy line and out of sync with rider's aids, as well as, the horse's motion and strength. In short BRUTAL!

To feel the horse's energy and to know where and what the legs are doing comes to the rider from the high (end) point of the energy field (the poll) into the riders hands via the jaw. A supple jaw and the poll being the highest point is of the essence in implementing all aids in precise strength, speed and timing in harmony of the horse's strength and motion. All flow together in absolute harmony.

The leg aids and the seat aid are synchronized in and through the rider's hands, not to be confused with "felt in the rider's hands". The gears (seat aid)  and the gas (leg aid - RPMs) join via the clutch (hand aid)

    This of course feels insecure and uncomfortable to the animal, hence it may keep fighting or looks for a solution to adapt to what is happening. In time most will do the most natural thing, they find the solution and adapt. Hence in time the horses become aware that when they feel a pull to the right they will regain their balance by moving their body in that direction, which is also "rewarded" by the second fact, the pulling ends once he moves in that direction and the rider stops pestering him. 
    The same goes pretty much for all the mediocre riding style aids, once when the horse becomes aware what the person wants, or better said how to adapt to these movements by the rider, the horse ends up doing what is requested from him. The correct term for such riding should be more or less "trick riding", and so as it is many people call it the cues, this type of riding aids application. 
    People that talk about cues have no concept of what riding a horse actually is and more likely will never understand it. There is a big difference between riding a horse and riding on a horse. This article should help you see the difference.

     Riding aids implemented by a genuine rider completely differ from the riding aids mentioned above. The riding aids by the genuine rider also to some point serve in the communication, but primarily they serve to the management of the horse's energy and its direction. In other words the on-the-top rider steers the horse while the genuine rider directs the horse. The formal is done via the horse's head (interfering with the horse's balance) while the latter is done via directing or redirecting the horse's energy.

     In today's age we have cars and all sorts of technology that was not available to the writers of the past. I will use a comparison to something that is familiar to most people of this age for the sake of better understanding, the car. 
     When we ride a horse we are being transport it by the animal, similarly the car serves the same purpose. In the car, when functioning properly, we are in control and when we make mistake, well, we know the consequences. On the other hand the horse has its own mind, hence fortunately for us when we make mistake the confident horse will often correct it somehow, even over a jump. Therefore the most important part in this comparison, and not to be forgotten during the following, is that the horse has its own mind and is a living creature, while the car is not, obviously.

    To break it up to various parts would go like this:
    Genuine Rider:
    The  hands operate the clutch, the seat the gearbox, leg aids, among others, are the gas pedal (RPMs - energy - impulsion). The breaking and the direction of going is managed by all aids working harmoniously together. (The leg aids have a dual functions (also guiding), separate issue in the article "Leg Aids"). There is simple no steering wheel or brakes and in genuine riding it is about collecting and releasing (managing) the horse's energy in the desired directions, whether left, right or up. The stopping or slowing down is done by releasing less energy than collected, hence the stopping or slowing down horse is throughout the downward transition more collected than in previous gait and speed, the same goes for the acceleration. 
     Uncollected and unbalanced horses have difficulty in slowing down or in accelerating, but most will manage. 
     In the light seat the leg aids are almost useless and are hardly used, while the hands take over their function in adding or reducing the collection, gathering and releasing energy (RPMs and clutch). During the light seat the seat aid becomes limited and again the hands take over the part that the seat can no longer do. 
     Henceforth the hand aid of a rider is the most important part in riding and takes a lifetime to refine. Now when you will hear some one say: " I can ride my horse without hands", you will not need anyone to tell you just how stupid that sounds. All these riding aids must be implemented harmoniously as when driving the car (gas, gear, clutch), otherwise similar problem occurs as when driving the car, however in much more accelerated speed. 
     People riding on the so-called contact are actually the same people that are riding the clutch, or people leaning back are "frying the gears", both interfering with the horse's movement. Too much RPM will burn out the engine and tires (gaited horses, specifically Paso Finos present wasted energy when on the go, also need often frequent reshoeing of the rear shoes since most drag their feet in the process)
     Hanging on the mouth will burn out the clutch (horses pull or hang their heads in the rider's heavy hands, which present a difficulty in shifting gears (transitions)) and so on and such. As the clutch burns out (the jaw stiffens up) it becomes difficult to shift from one gear to another by the car, as well as, by the horse. Once when this happens horses do not respond to the
seat aid, unless the seat is implemented via forceful fashion by interfering with the horse's back, to which these nincompoops refer to as driving the horse forward via the seat. Hogwash! (More in the "Seat Aid" article). This brutal way of riding can be noticed in the collapsed lower back of the rider that sits far on his ass, which is then obviously and always accompanied by the bit being below the hip line
     All in all when we are speaking of riding in harmony there are two elements that must be in harmony, the riders aids, or better said his riding with the horse's motion and energy. In the so-called trick riding (using riding aids as some cues) the horse responds to the aids. Hence the rider thinks of something, implement certain aid and the horse responds, or he may wish he would. 

      In the genuine riding the implementation of aids is not determined by the rider but by the horse. And so the fine rider uses his riding aids within the motion of the horse and not out of it, unlike in the "cue style" riding aids implementation where the cues are applied out of the motion of the horse. In cartoon like terms; by the fine rider the horse "tells" the rider what to do and how to do it, by the mediocre rider the horse responds to the rider's request, or he may not. Hence the green and uneducated horse is easily manageable for the fine rider, while with the mediocre rider the poor horse is clueless until it get familiar with the cues.

     The riding by cues, as said before, is nothing but a trick riding that is done purely by a communication, or better said an aid "language" that the horse learned how to respond to. In this case one cannot, and will not, experience the true riding of the horse, since he is not part of the horse's energy and body, hence he is not part of the animal. In this case you cannot do things together with the horse, because the horse is doing it by itself according to your request, since all you can do is either ask him by conveying desired movement via the communicative style of these riding aids.
   Furthermore there is the other option where you can interfere with his balance and motion via your riding aids. This is done pretty much by most of the successful and famous riders today, this to be the so-called forceful riding (hence the curb, spurs, various additional riding equipment, special bits etc. to amplify the riding aids, since the horse becomes dull to them due to such rough riding), to which the brave horses will adjust in time, and still become great (consequently often getting permanent injuries), while the less brave horses will often lose their minds and become nervous, lacking confidence during motion and often getting completely unmanageable, in extreme cases insane ending up on the butcher block. The tough horses on other hand will often rebel and attempt to get rid of the rider either by bucking or rearing up, which can be actually seen at the Olympic level Dressage and Eventing. How absurd is that?

    The mediocre rider manages to go along with the horse's motion, often mistakenly perceived as being one with the horse since he is not (seemingly) interfering with the horse's movement. The being one with the horse means to merge your own energy with that of the horse into one strength merged into a combined motion. 
    Since most of the mediocre riders tend to think of them selves as successful they never reach this stage of being one with the horse, because they do not even know there is more, much more to riding than they are aware of. This is because they are listening to people, instead of listening to their horses that they ride, because any form of problems with a horse while riding it is a fault of the rider or the unsuitability of the horse for such purpose (lame, sore or just unsuitable type of an animal). 
    In both cases the rider is to be blamed, for either not being able to understand the situation that presented the problem or just for being stupid and riding an unsuitable horse.

    In conclusion a very important fact; the riding aids of the rider, his seat, leg aid and hands work harmoniously together but independently of each other. This means that the rider must be supple, athletic and balanced enough to be able to separate in the crucial parts of his body, thus separating these aids from each other. 
    The hands depart from the body movement at the shoulders while the legs do not move with the seat aid (in the heavy seat) and work independently of the seat but in synchronization with it and the hand aid. When we say that the aids are working together it means they work synchronized with the horse's energy and motion independent of the riders over all body motion. 
    The leg and seat aids are synchronized in the rider's hand aid because the hands "plug" directly into the horses energy if executed within the timing (rhythm). There are various exercises that can improve this in the rider, like vaulting and other, when practiced adequately. One needs to first learn not do things on the horse, before he can learn what to do on the horse from the horse, and needless to say that the latter is a subject to the rider's ability to feel the animal.

Edited by J. G. May 21st, 2006
Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek 2005