Saturday, November 21, 2015

Simplifying Communication: Analyzing Aid Use

Have you ever gotten the comment that you, or a part of you, is busy? Your legs are busy, your hands are busy, your aides are busy... These are all criticisms that we are familiar with, at one point or another. Even if you've had a trainer speak to you with more tact, a comment like "Get your horse in front of your leg!" or "Stop nagging!" can be seen as being in a similar vein.

Riders are always developing new patterns and habits in their day-to-day. The thing is, when we fall into these patterns without thinking, they can become subconscious, and when they become subconscious, they can become ineffective.

An example of this would be overuse of the leg. When you have a horse that is sneakily behind the leg (for whatever reason), you may find yourself inclined to use your leg more often. At first it may take a couple of nudges to keep your horse at the desired tempo, but if you're not careful before long it can devolve into a flurry of fluttering, tickling, coaxing, nagging leg movements. You've fallen into the trap of "busy legs" and your horse, now used to this constant wiggle, has tuned you out. Your legs have become nearly useless! The same thing can happen with any aid. I often tell my students to think of it like a nagging parent or boss... If your parent/boss is constantly using the same phrase to try to get you to do something you may not want to, you may find that before long it's easy to ignore this phrase.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." – Benjamin Franklin

There are few quotes that hit home with equestrians as closely as this one, simply because we can often actually measure the severity of our aids in weight.

This is where intent and analysis come into play. If I am working with a green horse, I often spend the first several minutes of a ride making deliberate movements to implement my aids. I break it down into a tediously slow process of analyze-process-react, wherein I ask myself "What is lacking?" and then answer myself something to the effect of "My horse is crooked at the base of his neck." I then consciously implement my upper leg and give my horse a very clear, concise aid to straighten himself. The intent behind an aid needs to be clear and concise, not simply for the sake of the horse, but so that the rider clearly forms a process of using the aid. When riding with intent, there is a new level of focus and clarity to the movement of my body. If I simply think "use inside leg to step horse out" I am focusing on the aid and not the intent. If I analyze the goal and add intent to this process, I find I will use my body as a unit - my inside seatbone sits down, my inside leg stabilizes and I shift my core to better accommodate my horse's shifting weight. It's a considerably more natural, clear way to communicate with your horse.

Remember: Your horse speaks in body language almost exclusively, and you are sitting on his spine. This means that every shift of your weight, every tension of your muscles, becomes a language - whether you intend for it to, or not! By pausing to analyze the use of your aids, you are giving yourself focus and clarity in the way you communicate to your horse.

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