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The Silent Dialog: Communication between Horse and Rider: alias The Rider's Aid
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The Silent Dialog: Communication between Horse and Rider: alias The Rider’s Aid

The rider’s aids (seat, legs and hands) are what create the communication between equine and human. The lower legs are in contact with the horse’s barrel; the seat balances the rider’s torso and provides a base from which the legs and arms perform. The rider’s hands (and whole arms) are in contact with the horse’s mouth through an extension of the rein. Riding is a nonverbal communication between horse and human. The rider’s muscles, via leg, seat and hands, talk to the horse by asking it to either go forward, turn, slow down or speed up. At the same time, the rider’s muscles also have to be receptive to feel what the horse is telling the rider through its body language. Riding a horse is a constant communication of muscle to muscle.

The horse is on the rider’s aids when it strides from the rider’s driving or directing leg through the rider’s torso (seat) and into the rein which captures the horse's present state of impulsion. Then the rider’s hands aid, or signal, this captured energy back into the horse’s forward movement via a half halt. Throughout training, there is this constant interaction of communication between the rider’s aids and the horse’s muscular body. This is called a feedback loop. In this feed back loop of nonverbal communication, the rider aids the horse, and the horse is responding to the rider’s aids. The horse and rider communicate second by second, and stride by stride. In order to attain the above feedback loop, the proper basic riding position is required. An effective rider’s body position must be relaxed, aligned and symmetrical. The rider’s aids must learn to coordinate to give clear signals to the horse, but it’s also important not to interfere with the horse. A stiff or unbalanced rider will restrict the horse’s movement and there will be a constant short circuiting between what the rider asks the horse and how the horse receives the communication. In other words, the feedback loop will not be working. Have you ever said to yourself, "Gee, my horse just does not get what I’m asking him to do…."

Acquiring the correct riding position is like learning how to play a musical instrument. If you are learning to play the piano and your fingers are on the wrong keys you will always play out of tune. The same applies with the basic position riding a horse. Your body must be in the right position to correctly aid the horse. Otherwise, the horse and rider will do what I call short circuit and not be able to understand one another’s signals! Once the body (or in the case of the piano player’s fingers) are positioned correctly, the rider (or piano player) can learn how to ride or play harmoniously, rather than always be out of tune.

Once a good riding basic position is acquired, a rider then needs to learn how to coordinate his/her aids not only without interfering with the horse's movements, but also without interrupting his/her own body position as well. For instance, the rider must be able to coordinate an outside leg aid without the torso shifting weight or twisting. Or, be able to use a rein aid and not lean in either direction with the upper body. The rider’s hands (arms) and legs are required to work independently of one another while the torso stays square and centered on the horse. To continue with the music analogy, this stage of riding would be similar to a musician trying to play the notes they learned on an instrument and attempt to string them together into a song.

Reading literature about how to ride helps a rider to intellectualize about the use of the aids but reading is not enough. Having a knowledge that the aids can be broken down into two categories such as parallel and diagonal aids provides the rider with a abstraction of what should be happening. But, as all riders eventually learn and most trainers teach, is that riding as a process of kinesthetic feeling is not just a concept of abstract knowledge. Once again, riding is a relationship of nonverbal language, comprised of your muscles communicating with the horse’s muscles via your leg on its barrel or abdominal muscle, your seat straddling its back or dorsal muscles and your hands communicating to its tongue and bars of its mouth through the extension of the rein.

Acquiring this feeling of applying aids in order to communicate with the horse to have a feedback loop of nonverbal communication, is accomplished by correct riding, correct riding and more correct riding. Also, riding as many horses as possible will enhance one’s ability because each horse’s need for a leg aid and or half halt varies. Thus, the rider learns to not only feel and be receptive to the individual horse through the aids, but learns to apply the aids in a positive yet influential manner.

Riding is a dynamic activity. One cannot be stagnant and expect to influence the horse. When a rider begins to tread down the path of equestrian pliability and tact with a clear feed back loop, there is no doubt that his/her personal dynamics of communicating to the horse through the aids will eventually perpetuate harmony into a pulse of two rhythmic bodies moving as one.

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