August 23, 2002, Newsletter Issue #87: Use of The Natural Aids

Tip of the Week

This week we will discuss the seat, legs, and feet. The seat, legs and feet all work together to control the direction of the body of the horse, while the upper body controls the head and neck by use of the reins and thus the bit.

The seat influences the horse more than any rider realizes. Take this test. Take a large piece of plasterscene. Using a rolling pin, roll it out til it is a square or circle that is approximately 6" X 6". Get on and ride your horse and both of you warm up. Now take the plasterscene and place it in the area where the fullness of your seat occupies on the saddle. (If you have an expensive leather saddle, put a sheet of Handy Wrap on the seat first). Now simply walk and use your seat to influence the impulsion of the walk. Only walk along one rail. Now lift up out of the seat and notice how deeply the impressions are. If you have someone to roll out the plasterscene right away for you, now replace the plasterscene on the seat of the saddle and do eye exercises only (trying not to allow your seat to change) while the horse is standing still. Look up, then look to the right, then left, then down. Do not let the horse move, keep the horse stationary. Now lift up and view the impressions made in the plasterscene. This is what your horse feels when you are jumping, the movement of your eyes makes impressions into the horse`s back. You have done this exercise trying to keep your seat stationary and not flexing or moving about, can you imagine the effect when you are not conscious of your seat on the horse`s back?

The Legs help to give added reinforcement to the direction, control and commands of the shoulders-arms-hands-seat. The Legs are the primary control of the body of the horse. Whatever the upper body is requesting of the horse, the legs should support that request in the commands given by the legs. One leg is usually passive, the other aggressive; except when you are requesting straight continuation of direction and pace. Legs are expected to lengthen and shorten, apply pressure forward-central-backwards depending on the requests given. Should you ever have the opportunity to ride a properly trained Jumper or Dressage horse, you will notice that if you give a strong leg aid (which is to squeeze the horse`s sides strongly and together) how much the horse responds by wanting to move forward in a strong motion of pace and impulsion. Trying this exercise over fences, will give your the sensation of the horse`s movement saying "look ma, no hands" over the fences. Providing you with an understanding of the minute force of your seat-legs in the control of the pace/impulsion of the horse.

The Feet maintain a triangular balance in the saddle, of left foot anchor-seat-right foot anchor. The Feet assist the body in anchoring the Rider`s frame in the saddle. The angle of the Foot, (heels well down with toes ever so slightly directed out and away from the horse) constitutes the anchor and security of the seat of the Rider in the saddle. The feet through the ankles, must be the shock absorber for the motion created from the horse`s hocks, yet maintain the Rider`s weight in the ball of the foot in the stirrup in order to keep the anchor. The single most important lesson to remember in Beginning Riding is to keep the Heels Down and the Toes Up, with the more severe the angle the better. This base will always keep you deep and secure in the saddle.

In Saddleseat and Western the leg is considered to be much more passive than in Hunters or Jumpers or Dressage. The last three Disciplines require aggressive legs-seat as instruments in Riding.

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