How the young horse comes to trust the rider’s aids

In this article, we discuss how the young horse comes to trust the rider’s aids in order to develop impulsion. Apart from the voice, whip and spurs (although the last are not used in the initial stages of training), we are familiar with the weight, leg and rein aids. To help the young horse develop further his understanding of the rider’s aids there are certain exercises ridden on the bit that are useful. Riding theses exercises can improve obedience to individual aids, as well as improving the way the horse works overall, for example when riding the movements required at Novice level dressage. Further specialized dressage training follows the required movements at Elementary, Medium and Advanced levels. Every successive level requires a certain standard of training which takes about one year to achieve. Throughout basic training, movements should be consolidated to ensure that the horse understands them before progressing further.

The horse’s natural ability should be developed with gymnastic training. We want to make the horse more beautiful and improve his condition. We want to train using the art of dressage, and not by teaching tricks in the arena.

One cannot be warned enough about the dangers of spoiling the gaits through taking short cuts in training. Unfortunately we see a large number of competition riding horses who, by performing poor exercises just to make them obedient, have lost the expression of movement. The danger of such developments is that the horse does not work correctly on the bit. Because of the dramatic growth in the number of competitors, perhaps the dressage tests should be shortened, which would place more emphasis on the ability to perform a sequence of movements (transitions and changes of direction, etc.) in quick succession. More emphasis is already placed upon the clarity of the gaits at the lower levels.

Obedience to the forward-driving aids

We continue with the training of the young horse. Now, when the young horse is relaxed and ready to proceed after loosening up, the driving aids need to be developed further. The lower leg is placed more firmly in position and driving can be helped by use of the voice. Once the horse reacts he should be rewarded immediately. If he does not react, the aids must be firmer.

Through repetition of the voice/leg aids supported, when necessary, with a whip aid, we want to reach the stage where the young horse will respond purely to the leg aid. We will not then need to use the voice or whip anymore, except on those occasions when he does not react of his own accord to leg pressure.

Response to the driving aids is absolutely necessary for the development of the carrying power of the haunches. It is not achieved in any other way. However, the ability of the hind legs to take weight cannot be achieved just by driving; the support of the reins in the rider’s hands is also required, that is a steady contact.

In order for the horse to develop his individual length of stride and power he must work on the bit, flexing at the poll and being in the required outline for the stage of training. A good test of whether the training has been correct is to lengthen the steps two or three times on the long sides of the arena at the end of the training session.

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