I don’t remember when it happened or what horse I rode. But I do remember it was during a specific riding session in my arena, when I suddenly realised, I knew exactly what do to in every single situation, to guide the horse to better balance. I realised I knew what every aid actually did to the horse’s balance. Not only what I wanted with it, how I wished the horse to respond, but how it influenced the horse’s movements and balance in a plain physical way.
During my first eight years as a rider, I wasn’t even close to this insight. I learned a lot of aids in riding school and with private dressage trainers, but no one taught me why. So, when riding without my trainer, I was bound to just guessing. For me back then, riding was all about using a lot of aids, and there was always something more to do. More outside rein, more leg. But the instructions always seemed so random, and I couldn’t figure out the bigger picture, the one my trainer obviously saw.
When I was 14, I switched discipline from dressage to western performance. It was hard to re-learn how to ride, hard to let the reins hang loose and to only use one aid at a time. Completely the opposite to everything I’d learned so far. However, it went quite quickly. Why? Because finally, someone taught me a logical system, brick by brick. Aid by aid. When, how and why. And between the aids, just sit there. Be a nice passenger. Don’t bombard your horse with constant and confusing information. Ask him something, then be quiet and let him answer.
A few years later, I got horses who loved dressage, and through them, I learned how to ride the basic dressage movements with my new aids system. That’s when I begun to wonder; how far could I go with this?
Was it possible to educate a horse to a higher level in both western performance and dressage, without painting myself into a corner aids wise?
I understood from the start that it was all about finding a true and complete aid system, and never build any movement on a “single island”. You can, after all, teach a horse to do anything as a response to any aid, but to create a system with never-ending possibilities, I had to build it on how my aids actually influenced the horse in every detail, even before the horse had learned the aid as a cue.
The movements that taught me the most was how to separate the spin from the pirouette. What aid made the horse rotate around his pivot hindleg, and what aid made him keep taking steps with it, but still centre around it? And what was the difference between a stop and a halt?
How about timing and situation? How does, for example, the very same left rein aid influence the horse, if you time it with the rising of left hind leg, right hind leg, left front leg, right front leg? When going in a bow or circle to the left, or to the right, or on a straight track? When rounded to the left or to the right? In walk, trot or gallop?
After some years, I’d educated my quarterhorse to National Championships level in Reining and Trail, and at home we practised piaffe, passage, canter pirouette, counter canter, school canter, terre-à-terre, and so on.
As all riders know, you’ll always keep learning how to ride. You’re never done. That’s why it’s so important to use an aid system you can use to keep develop and improve your skills, no matter what you want to explore next.
All riders strive to help their horse into better balance. To know your aids is an important part of your education to become a complete rider. No matter if you focus on one discipline or several, my tip for you is to find a trainer who really can explain how, why and when, to help you become a trainer-independent rider.
Do you want to dive deeper into how to develop a complete aids system?
Keep an eye out for my next article!