Understanding Your Leg Aids

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Understand Your Leg Aids
The “natural aids” are the tools that you were born with that allow you to communicate to the horse what you want him to do while you are riding. Traditionally, there are four natural aids, the seat, the legs, the hands and the voice. If you have attended one of my clinics or seminars, you already know that I feel very strongly that the primary natural aids, the seat, legs and hands, should always be used together, in a coordinated fashion, stemming always from the use of the seat aid first. I also teach that there are actually seven natural aids, the others being your breathing, your eyes and your brain.

For riders learning to use the aids to stop and go, I teach the “gears of the seat,” neutral, forward and reverse, to ask the horse to keep doing what he is doing, move more forward or stop or slow down. Neutral gear is sitting straight up over your seat bones in a relaxed and balanced position with your center of gravity right over the horse’s. Neutral gear tells the horse to keep doing what he is doing until you tell him something different. You should ride in neutral almost all the time. To ask the horse to move forward, you inhale; shift your center slightly forward (a clear signal to the horse to move forward); at the same time allowing your arms to move forward giving a release to his mouth and your legs to fall slightly back, closing on the horse’s sides and asking him to move forward.

The aids are reversed to ask the horse to stop or slow down: exhale, shift your center of gravity slightly back, while you arms come slightly back and up, closing the front door for the horse, your legs relax on the horse’s sides. As a rider progresses, the leg aids become more articulate to control different parts of the horse’s body for turning and more refined and controlled movements. The rider’s hands control the horse from the withers forward, but the seat, legs and hands together control the horse’s body from the withers back to his tail.

To simplify the use of the leg aids, I teach that there are three leg positions, using the terminology neutral, forward and back. The neutral leg position is when the rider’s leg hangs straight down, close to the horse’s sides, in the balanced position with ear-shoulder-hip and heel in alignment. Light pressure on the horse’s side from the neutral leg position will cause the horse to move his rib cage away from the pressure. This would be useful when asking the horse to arc his body and bend in a circle, as the rib cage moves out, the shoulder and hip bend into the circle. The forward leg position is applied by reaching toward the girth with your calf. I find it easiest to apply forward leg cues by twisting my lower leg and allowing my heel to come toward the girth or cinch.

Pressure from one leg at the forward position will move the horse’s shoulder away from the pressure or ask him to bend in the shoulder. When horses turn, they prefer to lean into the turn like a bicycle, thus dropping the shoulder and lurching onto the forehand. Light pressure with the forward leg position will ask the horse to keep his shoulder up and bend properly in the turn.

The back leg aid is applied when the rider’s leg shifts back a few inches behind the neutral position and it will ask the horse to move his hip away from the pressure. Again, this leg aid might be used in turning and bending the horse, to keep his hip in toward the center of the circle in order to be properly bent. Good hip control is also important for leads and lead changes and more advanced movements such as leg yielding (two-tracking) or side passing.

Leg aids work together but the rider might be using each leg in a separate position. For instance, if you are using the forward leg position with your inside leg to achieve an arcing turn, your outside leg would be in the back position to also keep the horse’s hip in place.

An ancient saying in horsemanship is that the inside leg gives impulsion and the outside leg gives direction. In other words, the inside leg is the gas pedal and the outside leg is the steering wheel. To control the horse’s entire body, the rider must be able to control the horse’s nose, the shoulder, the barrel and the hip. While the hands control the nose of the horse, the leg and rein aids work together to control the shoulder, barrel and hip.

Experiment with applying a light pulsating pressure with one leg in either the forward, neutral or back positions and feel how the horse will yield that part of his body to the pressure.
–Julie Goodnight
Coming Next on Horse Master and in print:
Julie Goodnight helps you put the techniques she demonstrates on her Horse Master show into action with your own horse. Watch NEW Horse Master episodes shot in Texas at the Banshee Ranch (http://bansheeranch.com/) throughout May, 2010 on RFD-TV every Wednesday at 5:30p EST —Direct TV channel 345, Dish Network channel 231 and on many cable outlets then visit www.horsemaster.tv and www.juliegoodnight.com for articles related to each episode, the gear used in each show, and for training DVDs and publications. Goodnight will feature a main training theme first shown on Horse Master in every column printed here. Plus, see clips from each show at: http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/episodes.html and check out specials and even more clips on Julie’s Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/horsemaster.tv.
###

Gears Of The Seat

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Gears of the Seat

Question: Hi Julie,

I got to watch one of your clinics at your horse expo last weekend about using your natural aids and how your pelvis has 3 gears: forward, neutral & reverse. I just read your article about “How to open your pelvis for smoother riding”. I guess I have a couple of questions I’m trying to sort out in my head.
1) I’m working on my Parelli Level 1 right now. He says we are to “smile with all 4 cheeks”. Is your “forward gear” & opening your pelvis basically the same thing?
2) When I use my psoas muscles like you described that feels more like what I would call a “driving seat”. Is that correct?
3) Is your opening your pelvis similar to Centered Riding? I want to be a better rider for my horses and I want to be as natural as possible. Sometimes some of these things seem contradictory, but maybe it’s just the way they are worded. I really enjoyed your clinic and thought you were a terrific clinician. Keep up the good work!
Thanks,
Jane Cozad

Answer: Jane,

Thanks for your questions and I think I can help clarify things for you. As for your question regarding Parelli’s teaching technique of having riders “smile with all four cheeks,” I am not sure exactly what he means. Although it’s a clever and amusing thought, it does not really explain what specifically you’re supposed to do with your seat when you ask a horse to move forward. To me, it implies clenching your buttocks muscles, which you definitely don’t want to do. Clenching buttocks muscles sends a message of tension to your horse and it will often cause a horse to tense (butt clenching riders make for butt clenching horses). I think that what he may mean is to increase the energy in your seat and legs to ask your horse to move more forward, and in this regard, it’s similar to what I teach.

I use the “gears of the seat,” as a simplistic method to teach people to use all three of their primary natural aids: seat, legs, and hands, in a consistent and coordinated fashion to signal your horse to slow down or speed up. It’s also a technique that teaches people to use their seat/weight aid first and foremost and to use the legs and hands secondarily, in response to what the seat is doing. Your seat/weight aid is the most important natural aid, the aid that is in the most contact with your horse, but unfortunately the least likely to be used since most riders rely on their hands and legs. So often, riders are confused in their aids and are giving conflicting signals like pulling back on the reins to stop at the same time their weight is moving forward, which causes their legs to move back and close on your horse. So the hands are saying, “stop,” while the seat and legs are saying, “go.”

I like to teach people to ride in neutral gear, in the vertical position with the pelvis open (back flat), which tells your horse to keep doing what he is doing. You ride in neutral gear almost all of the time, using forward and reverse momentarily when you want your horse to speed up or slow down. The “gears of the seat” technique gets your horse and rider both to feel the rider’s center of gravity move as the primary signal to stop and go (forward and reverse gear). For instance, when you shift into forward gear and you relax your stomach muscles and let the top of your pelvis tip slightly forward so that there’s a little bit of weight on your crotch, this moves your center of gravity forward, a clear signal to your horse that you want him to move more forward (at the same time your hands move forward giving a release on his mouth and your legs move back, closing on your horse’s sides). When you want your horse to stop and you shift into reverse gear by exhaling and compressing your shoulders down toward your spine, it moves your seat bones forward and down at the same time your center of gravity moves back and this asks your horse to slow down and drop his back, bringing his hind end up underneath him and stopping on the haunches (at the same time your legs will relax on your horse’s sides and your hands will come slightly up and back, applying resistance to your horse’s mouth). As a rider advances in her riding, she will learn to use her aids in other combinations for more specific transitions, collection and lateral movements.

Using your psoas muscles to engage your pelvis is basically the same thing as using a “driving seat,” because it’s asking your horse to engage his hindquarters (which he needs to do for both speeding up and slowing down) but it depends on what you do with your other aids (legs and hands) that will cause your horse to move more forward, to move into collection or to stop. In other words, once you engage the seat, you could apply resistance with your hands and relax your legs and your horse would stop. Or you could apply legs and resist with the hands and your horse would drive up into the bridle in collection. Or you could apply legs and release slightly with the hands and your horse would drive more forward. The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not use your buttocks muscles (or cheeks) to engage your seat bones. Instead, you use the abdominal muscles, more specifically the psoas muscles (similar to the muscles you use to cough).

You will find the technique of opening the pelvis in many riding theories because it’s an essential part of proper riding position; it’s not necessarily a cue. It’s only through an open pelvis (opening the angle on the front of your hips between your hips and thighs) that you can learn to absorb the motion in your horse’s back and learn to use your seat aid to communicate with your horse. Some of the confusion you’re having has simply to do with semantics. If you tip the top part of your pelvis forward, the bottom part goes back; if you tip the top part of your pelvis back, the bottom part goes forward. So sometimes people refer to moving your pelvis forward or moving your pelvis backward and they actually mean the exact same thing, they are just talking about opposite ends. When you tone your psoas muscles, it will cause your pelvis to open and your seat bones (the lower part of your pelvis that is in contact with the saddle) to push forward and down. When you relax your psoas muscles and push your stomach out, it causes your seat bones to lighten and weight to come onto your crotch.

Although there are varying techniques in teaching riding, for the most part clinicians are saying the same thing, just explaining from a different perspective, some more clearly than others. My approach is always first and foremost to help riders understand the theory behind what they are doing and how to use their aids in a natural and relaxed manner. The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re studying a variety of techniques is to keep your mind open, try new things, but come back to what works best for you and your horse. Good luck!

Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician
www.juliegoodnight.com

Riding Skills: Understanding Leg Aids

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: Understanding Leg Aids By Julie Goodnight

The “natural aids” are the tools that you were born with that allow you to communicate to the horse what you want him to do while you are riding. Traditionally, there are four natural aids, the seat, the legs, the hands and the voice. If you have attended one of my clinics or seminars, you already know that I feel very strongly that the primary natural aids, the seat, legs and hands, should always be used together, in a coordinated fashion, stemming always from the use of the seat aid first. I also teach that there are actually seven natural aids, the others being your breathing, your eyes and your brain.

For riders learning to use the aids to stop and go, I teach the “gears of the seat,” neutral, forward and reverse, to ask the horse to keep doing what he is doing, move more forward or stop or slow down. Neutral gear is sitting straight up over your seat bones in a relaxed and balanced position with your center of gravity right over the horse’s. Neutral gear tells the horse to keep doing what he is doing until you tell him something different. You should ride in neutral almost all the time.To ask the horse to move forward, you inhale; shift your center slightly forward (a clear signal to the horse to move forward); at the same time allowing your arms to move forward giving a release to his mouth and your legs to fall slightly back, closing on the horse’s sides and asking him to move forward.

The aids are reversed to ask the horse to stop or slow down: exhale, shift your center of gravity slightly back, while you arms come slightly back and up, closing the front door for the horse, your legs relax on the horse’s sides. As a rider progresses, the leg aids become more articulate to control different parts of the horse’s body for turning and more refined and controlled movements. The rider’s hands control the horse from the withers forward, but the legs control the horse’s body from the withers back to his tail.

To simplify the use of the leg aids, I teach that there are three leg positions, using the terminology neutral, forward and back. The neutral leg position is when the rider’s leg hangs straight down, close to the horse’s sides, in the balanced position with ear-shoulder-hip and heel in alignment. Light pressure on the horse’s side from the neutral leg position will cause the horse to move his rib cage away from the pressure. This would be useful when asking the horse to arc his body and bend in a circle, as the rib cage moves out, the shoulder and hip bend into the circle.The forward leg position is applied by reaching toward the girth with your calf. I find it easiest to apply forward leg cues by twisting my lower leg and allowing my heel to come toward the girth or cinch.

Pressure from one leg at the forward position will move the horse’s shoulder away from the pressure or ask him to bend in the shoulder. When horses turn, they prefer to lean into the turn like a bicycle, thus dropping the shoulder and lurching onto the forehand. Light pressure with the forward leg position will ask the horse to keep his shoulder up and bend properly in the turn.

The back leg aid is applied when the rider’s leg shifts back a few inches behind the neutral position and it will ask the horse to move his hip away from the pressure. Again, this leg aid might be used in turning and bending the horse, to keep his hip in toward the center of the circle in order to be properly bent. Good hip control is also important for leads and lead changes and more advanced movements such as leg yielding (two-tracking) or side passing.

Leg aids work together but the rider might be using each leg in a separate position. For instance, if you are using the forward leg position with your inside leg to achieve an arcing turn, your outside leg would be in the back position to also keep the horse’s hip in place.
An ancient saying in horsemanship is that the inside leg gives impulsion and the outside leg gives direction. In other words, the inside leg is the gas pedal and the outside leg is the steering wheel.To control the horse’s entire body, the rider must be able to control the horse’s nose, the shoulder, the barrel and the hip. While the hands control the nose of the horse, the leg and rein aids work together to control the shoulder, barrel and hip.

Experiment with applying a light pulsating pressure with one leg in either the forward, neutral or back positions and feel how the horse will yield that part of his body to the pressure.

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Riding Skills: Natural Aids–Using Your Legs

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: How should I use my legs to cue my horse? I learned to ride with my reins and I know I need to know more skills–to cue my horse with my whole body.

Answer: The “natural aids” are the tools that you were born with that allow you to communicate to the horse what you want him to do while you are riding. Traditionally, there are four natural aids, the seat, the legs, the hands and the voice. If you have attended one of my clinics or seminars, you already know that I feel very strongly that the primary natural aids, the seat, legs and hands, should always be used together, in a coordinated fashion, stemming always from the use of the seat aid first. I also teach that there are actually seven natural aids, the others being your breathing, your eyes and your brain.

For riders learning to use the aids to stop and go, I teach the “gears of the seat,” neutral, forward and reverse, to ask the horse to keep doing what he is doing, move more forward or stop or slow down. Neutral gear is sitting straight up over your seat bones in a relaxed and balanced position with your center of gravity right over the horse’s. Neutral gear tells the horse to keep doing what he is doing until you tell him something different. You should ride in neutral almost all the time. To ask the horse to move forward, you inhale; shift your center slightly forward (a clear signal to the horse to move forward); at the same time allowing your arms to move forward giving a release to his mouth and your legs to fall slightly back, closing on the horse’s sides and asking him to move forward.

The aids are reversed to ask the horse to stop or slow down: exhale, shift your center of gravity slightly back, while you arms come slightly back and up, closing the front door for the horse, your legs relax on the horse’s sides. As a rider progresses, the leg aids become more articulate to control different parts of the horse’s body for turning and more refined and controlled movements. The rider’s hands control the horse from the withers forward, but the legs control the horse’s body from the withers back to his tail.

To simplify the use of the leg aids, I teach that there are three leg positions, using the terminology neutral, forward and back. The neutral leg position is when the rider’s leg hangs straight down, close to the horse’s sides, in the balanced position with ear-shoulder-hip and heel in alignment. Light pressure on the horse’s side from the neutral leg position will cause the horse to move his rib cage away from the pressure. This would be useful when asking the horse to arc his body and bend in a circle, as the rib cage moves out, the shoulder and hip bend into the circle. The forward leg position is applied by reaching toward the girth with your calf. I find it easiest to apply forward leg cues by twisting my lower leg and allowing my heel to come toward the girth or cinch.

Pressure from one leg at the forward position will move the horse’s shoulder away from the pressure or ask him to bend in the shoulder. When horses turn, they prefer to lean into the turn like a bicycle, thus dropping the shoulder and lurching onto the forehand. Light pressure with the forward leg position will ask the horse to keep his shoulder up and bend properly in the turn.

The back leg aid is applied when the rider’s leg shifts back a few inches behind the neutral position and it will ask the horse to move his hip away from the pressure. Again, this leg aid might be used in turning and bending the horse, to keep his hip in toward the center of the circle in order to be properly bent. Good hip control is also important for leads and lead changes and more advanced movements such as leg yielding (two-tracking) or side passing.

Leg aids work together but the rider might be using each leg in a separate position. For instance, if you are using the forward leg position with your inside leg to achieve an arcing turn, your outside leg would be in the back position to also keep the horse’s hip in place.
An ancient saying in horsemanship is that the inside leg gives impulsion and the outside leg gives direction. In other words, the inside leg is the gas pedal and the outside leg is the steering wheel. To control the horse’s entire body, the rider must be able to control the horse’s nose, the shoulder, the barrel and the hip. While the hands control the nose of the horse, the leg and rein aids work together to control the shoulder, barrel and hip.

Experiment with applying a light pulsating pressure with one leg in either the forward, neutral or back positions and feel how the horse will yield that part of his body to the pressure.

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Issues From The Saddle: Pulley Rein

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Julie,

I’m sure you deal with loads of emails, I hope you get this one. I’ve been taking riding lessons every week for a few months (I used to ride when I was younger). The school I go to is very good, the horses are very fit and mostly well behaved. My instructor is a retired show-jumper. We are riding in an arena and at the moment and there have only been 4 or 5 people in the lesson the past few weeks and the horses are getting a bit excitable/fast. I can control my horse alright at the beginning of the lesson and the speed is ok when I’m using the space but when it comes to pick up the pace my horse is fine to start off with but it’s hard to keep a controlled canter after a certain amount of time. I find my horse raises his/her neck and really wants to go for it. I find I stop myself from going into a canter as the horse is hard to slow down when excited. We have had a couple of instances where one horse plays up and gallops uncontrollably upsetting the other horses. There are also instances where a horse passes another and they decide to have it out, this ends up in a small gallop/tantrum. I feel nervous with this and my horse knows it. Does this sound like a controlled lesson? Are the horses badly matched for the lesson? How can I get my horse’s attention away from the others? And what is the best way to get a controlled canter when the horse is excited? Can I add that it’s now -5 degrees C, so I don’t know if the horses are reacting to the cold too? Look forward to your reply.

Lindy
SCOTLAND

Answer: Dear Lindy,

Thanks for your questions. It sounds like a bit of a wild ride you are taking in your lessons. Without actually seeing the horses and riders, it is difficult for me to make judgment, but it does sounds like perhaps some of the riders are over-mounted and the lesson is a bit out of control (or “OC” as we say here in the Colorado 😉

Certainly cold weather conditions combined with stalled horses could contribute to the exuberance of the horses. Perhaps it would be useful to longe the horses or turn them out to play before riding. In this instance, I prefer to work a horse in the round pen or free-longe in a big pen, to take the edge off of him. In the round pen, I can also gain better control over the horse mentally and put him in a frame of mind to focus on me and be obedient. This attitude will carry into the riding arena quite nicely. I would hate to place judgment on what is going on in your lessons, without actually being there and seeing it for myself, but it seems like the horses are out of control and disobedient at times. I can tell you that if I had horses in a lesson that were out of control and feeding off of each other, I would change my lesson plan and revert back to improving control and work with the students on training and behavioral issues.

I think it is also a good idea to give people the tools they need to control fractious horses. For this, I teach riders two different techniques, one for every day use and one for emergency stops. The emergency stopping technique is known as the “pulley rein.” It is a rather abrupt motion that will stop any horse when done correctly, since you are able to apply significant leverage to the horse’s mouth. The two most common instances when I teach this technique is when I am doing a jumping clinic and we are jumping out on open courses (where horses tend to get very strong and can easily get away from you) and also when people are dealing with fear issues and need the confidence to know that they can stop their horse, ‘come hell or high water’.

The pulley rein is executed by shortening one rein as tight as you can and pushing your knuckles into the horse’s neck, with your hand braced and centered over its neck (it is important that this hand is pressed into the neck and not floating free). Then you slide your other hand down the other rein as far forward as you can and pull straight back and up with all your weight. Since the first rein is locked and braced, it is preventing your horse’s head from turning, so the pull on the second rein creates a lot of pressure.

If the pulley rein is executed correctly, you can stop a runaway horse on its nose. This is far preferable to pulling the out-of-control horse into a circle, since that may cause him to lose his footing and fall down. This technique requires some practice and the practice can be very hard on your horse, so many instructors do not like to teach this emergency stopping technique. However, when you are out of control, it is a great tool to have in your bag of tricks and it can be very useful for slowing down a strong horse, with a little pulley action every few strides then a release (use it with your half-halt).

One of the very worst things you can do, when trying to slow down or stop a horse, is pull back on both reins at the same time. This will almost always make the horse stiffen its neck and lock its jaw and may also pull you up and out of the saddle, or even right over the horse’s ears (ass over tea-kettle, so to speak).

Pulling on both reins continuously will often cause the horse to “run through the bridle,” and the harder you pull the faster it goes. Horses are way more responsive to using the reins alternately, which is far more likely to keep them soft in the neck and flexing in the poll. Ironically, most people have been taught to pull back on both reins at the same time to stop, when using one rein can be much more effective.

Therefore, the other technique I would teach for better control is a one-rein stop or a disengagement of the hindquarters. This is done as a training process at slow speeds, before the horse gets out of control. You execute the one rein stop by picking up one rein, and one rein only, and lifting it up, not back, toward your belly button or toward your opposite shoulder (it is an upward, diagonal pull on the rein). It is critical that the other rein is completely loose.

This rein aid will turn the horse’s nose up and toward you and as he arcs throughout the length of his body, the turn will cause him to disengage, or cross his hind legs. Almost any rider is capable of feeling the horse’s hips bend as he begins to disengage the hindquarters. Disengagement will help you control the horse in two ways: speed and subordinance. When the horse crosses his hind legs in disengagement, it ceases all forward motion. As you pick up slowly on the one rein, wait until you feel the horse’s back and hip bend (that is when he is crossing his hind legs) then release the rein suddenly and completely and he should stop. If not, just reapply the aid but be sure to release as soon as you feel the horse even begin to slow down.

It should be a slow and steady lift of the rein and an instantaneous release when you feel the horse’s momentum affected. You should alternate between the right and left reins, or the inside and outside rein, so you are not affecting just one side of the horse or getting him into a habit. The one-rein stop will cause your horse to turn at first, but with practice and a timely release, he will go straight and stop. Of course, you should be using your seat aid as well; for more information on how, see the article on “Gears of the Seat” on my website. Practice the one-rein stop at walk and trot until the horse stops when you just begin to lift one hand, before much pressure is actually applied to his mouth. Make certain that you are only using only one rein. Many riders, especially those dependent on riding on direct contact all the time, have difficulty using only one rein. Many riders are also very accustomed to pulling back on reins whether turning or stopping, instead of lifting or opening, and this can also be detrimental to the horse’s balance and relaxation. It is because most of us are taught from day one to use the direct rein, and most of the time, the rider never learns the other more useful and articulate rein aids (see my website for an explanation of rein aids).

The direct rein aid is moving your hand, from the correct hand position, up and back toward your hip. It is a backward pull or a rein of opposition, which means the rein, or the pressure on the horse’s mouth, opposes the forward motion of the horse. It is often useful to use a rein aid that does not have opposition, like lifting up on the rein or out to the side, but not back.

The second benefit of the one rein stop is that disengagement of the hindquarters creates a subordinate attitude in the horse.

Disengagement is a natural behavior of horses, but it is only seen in neo-natal foals (under one month of age). When the mother disciplines the foal, it will occasionally cross its hind legs as a sign of contrition. Since crossing the hind legs takes away the horse’s ability for forward motion (or flight), it puts him in a frame of mind to have to be submissive, since fleeing is not an option.

You should be able to disengage the horse both from the ground and from the saddle and use this technique every time your horse’s attention and focus is off of you or he is OC. This is not a harsh maneuver; it should be done very quietly and slowly. Be sure to release as soon as you feel the horse’s forward motion slow. Once your horse knows what this rein-aid means, you can gently pick up one rein at any time and the horse will slow down.

Both of these cues, the pulley rein and the one-rein stop, are difficult to learn from reading about them and it would be much more useful to have someone teach it to you in person. I’d love to come to Scotland sometime for a clinic, so just let me know! Good luck with your lessons and be careful. If you feel that the situation is out of control, take responsibility for yourself and remove yourself from the danger.

Julie Goodnight

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.