From the moment we sit on the back of a horse, we are looking for ways to communicate with our equine partner. This can be achieved through the use of aids. Riding aids are any cue given to a horse to communicate what we would like the horse to do, and they can be broken down into two separate groups – natural aids and artificial aids.
Natural aids are considered to be part of the human body and should be used as the main form of communication between horse and rider. The natural aids are:
- The seat – this is the part of your body that is sat in the saddle, and can include your hips, pelvis and upper thigh. The seat can be used in a variety of ways as an aid: if you deepen your seat (that is, sit heavier in the saddle) your horse may slow down or if you lift your seat lighter and more forward, you are encouraging the horse to go faster.
- The leg – this is any part of your lower leg that is making contact with the horse’s sides. The leg is considered to be the main aid used in riding, in conjunction with the seat. Your legs are used to make the horse go faster, to increase impulsion or to change the bend through the horse’s body, especially in lateral work. The exact cue given by the leg is most often determined by the placement of the leg as well as the pressure applied.
- The hands – your hands communicate with your horse through the reins to the bit (or bridle if you ride bitless). They are primarily used as the slow down aid, but they can also be used to control the direction of the head, neck and shoulders of the horse as well as the direction of movement. You can use your hands by either pulling back towards your body, opening your hand away from the horse, or by laying the rein against the horse’s neck, called neck reining. And don’t forget, they can also be used to pat your horse during your ride.
- Voice – your voice can used as an additional aid to the other natural aids. We have all been heard clicking up our horses when we would like them to go faster, or using a ‘wooooaaah’ when we need them to slow down. Voice aids can also be very helpful when lunging a horse, as it is the only natural aid we have at our disposal to make the horse go faster or to go up or down a gait. It is also useful when praising a horse and reminding them how wonderful they are!
The artificial aids can include:
- Whips – this a stick that you carry when riding, that will either have a piece of leather on the end or a short single tassel. They are primarily used in supplementation with the seat and leg to ask the horse to move faster or more forward. Whips are banned in some equestrian competitions so it is important to make sure to check the rules before you compete.
- Spurs – these are small metal attachments strapped to the back of your riding boots and are used to reinforce the rider’s leg aids. There are many different styles and sizes, which are highly regulated and most often used by professional riders. As with whips, some levels of competition restrict the use of spurs or make them compulsory, so it is important to check the national rules.
It is important to note that any overuse of artificial aids can be deemed to be abuse of the horse and they should never be used as a form of punishment. You should always check with your riding instructor about introducing artificial aids to your training schedule to make sure that you and your horse will be communicating in harmony with each other.