Seat, Leg, Hand… Are my riding aids effective?

What are my riding aids?  How does my horse respond?

I reflect back on how I know what to do when I ride.  How does my horse know what that means?  I real­ize that as Dancer approach­es show­ing 4th lev­el dres­sage, he knows a lot of aids.  He has a lot of but­tons and with his ultra sen­si­tive nature, I bet­ter be sure which ones I am press­ing.  I think back on our strug­gle to get those aids and respons­es cor­rect and can’t help but real­ize if I knew then what I know now, the process would have gone a whole lot smoother.  My guess is I will have the same ret­ro­spec­tive look ten years from now.  Ahh the joys of pick­ing dres­sage rid­ing as your “thing”.  I guess that’s why every­one is for­ev­er a stu­dent in dres­sage and why even the great­est of rid­ers have coach­es.

How­ev­er, hav­ing a sys­tem to effec­tive­ly teach your horse what those aids mean is quite anoth­er thing.  I guess that’s why they tell you to ride school mas­ters, not have your first upper lev­el dres­sage horse be one you had to make.  That way your horse can help teach you the aids.  Even so, after all these years, what I’ve found is a sys­tem to effec­tive­ly teach hors­es what our aids mean.  How to quick­ly tell them when they have respond­ed cor­rect­ly, that they have done it right.  It’s been right under our noses for decades.  It’s called Reward Based Train­ing.

Dancer loves this stuff and it’s made the biggest change in him.  He learns faster, stays calmer and focus­es bet­ter.  Just this week, we rode with sev­er­al hors­es in the indoor and although he was a lit­tle ner­vous he stayed total­ly focused and on the aids.  I attribute that ALL to reward based train­ing.

So what are we work­ing on now?  Today, we worked on the aids for con­nec­tion, reward­ing Dancer for allow­ing the aids to go through his whole body in his new lev­el of col­lec­tion.  Last week we con­cen­trat­ed on him let­ting me sup­ple and straight­en his counter can­ter in prepa­ra­tion for mak­ing his fly­ing changes better…all the while reward­ing his cor­rect response to my aids.  Next week, our plan is to revis­it our con­cen­tra­tion on our col­lect­ing aids for pirou­ette work.  Wow, I love this stuff.  Can’t wait for what’s next!