Using Artificial Aids in Your Riding

Using Artificial Aids in Your Riding

Using Artificial Aids in Your Riding

Artificial Aids and Using Them in Your Riding

What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-

  • Identify the types of artificial aids
  • Know when you need to back up your natural aids
  • Understand the relationship between your inside leg and inside hand when using a whip
  • Follow through and allow your horse to respond

Hands up if your communication with your horse, using your natural aids, leaves you feeling like there’s quite a bit being lost along the way?  Your hand is one of a sea of hands, so don’t feel too alone!  Many riders become frustrated over time due to the lack of effectiveness of their aids.  Luckily it is something that can be worked on, starting with the next time you are in the saddle.

Using artificial aids are one of the ways you can begin improving your overall communication with your horse.  They work by drawing attention to those missed or ignored natural aids. 

I realise that this is a topic that has the potential to divide riders; some are on the fence, some are in the ‘yes, use them’ camp and others are in the ‘no, they’re cruel’ camp.

I personally feel that artificial aids are a great resource if used responsibly and carefully.  They can definitely add to the overall conversation with your horse

In this weeks episode of the Daily Strides Podcast I will help you to feel more confident about using your artificial aids to improve the overall conversation with your horse.  I will explain how to use these additional tools responsibly and in a way that can only add to the overall ride.

The Types of Artificial Aids…

Artificial aids are anything that you carry or wear which will add or enhance how you can communicate with your horse. Your ‘riding’ artificial aids are whips and spurs. There are many other aids, or ‘gadgets’ which can be used, more by the horse wearing them.

In this episode I want to focus on the artificial aids available to you in your riding, ones you can use in the saddle to back up your natural aids. Specifically whips or crops.  I feel that spurs are the next level up when it comes to artificial aids and should only be used by competent, ‘quiet’ riders who have already refined their aids.

There are two types of whips, a jumping whip or crop which is shorter and a schooling or dressage whip which is longer. The lengths will vary, but are around 60cm and 90cm respectively. 

A Jumping Crop Versus a Schooling Whip

As well as there being a difference in length, there is often also a difference in thickness and weight as well.  The jumping whip is shorter and ‘sturdier’.  The dressage or schooling whip is longer, thinner and more elegant looking.

The reason I am going to suggest that you begin with a schooling whip is due to your hand being able to remain on the rein while you are applying the aid.  

A jumping crop requires you to place both reins into one hand first and then apply the aid.  The schooling whip only requires a simple ‘flick of the wrist’ to activate it.  This allows you to remain consistent with your contact while using the aid to back up your leg.

Because your artificial aids are used to back up your natural aids, it is important to remain as consistent as possible when applying them

Backing Up Your Natural Aids

The only reason you use artificial aids is to back up your existing natural aids.  Your whip should never be used on its own or independently.

Natural aids often require ‘backing up’ due to the horse either ignoring them, or not being as responsive as you want or need him to be. 

Before you begin using your whip, it is important to make sure that your horse is not either of the above because of how you trained him.  Continuous nagging with your legs will often result in a horse who ‘zones out’ from the rider.  Similarly, inconsistent use of the aids will also cause confusion and a ‘lag’ in the horses overall responsiveness.

Your whip should only ever be used responsibly, which means you are being clear and fair in how you are communicating and asking your horse to do things.

Your Inside Leg & Your Inside Hand

Hmmm… We always hear about the relationship between our inside leg and our outside rein, not the inside and the inside!  However, when it comes to whips and crops, this is the relationship we want to focus and become clear on.

Your inside leg a bit like your ‘go’ button when riding.  Therefore in most (not all, but most) circumstances, your crop or whip should be carried in your inside hand to back up your inside leg. 

This means that when you change rein or direction, your whip or crop will change hand to the ‘new’ inside hand.  Now, obviously there are times when you will actually need to back up your outside leg.  However, when getting started with using a whip, work on always carrying it in your inside hand ready to be applied when needed.  

Applying Artificial Aids Responsibly

I want you to think about how your artificial aid is only ever there to back up your natural aid.  It should not be used alone or independently.

Simply put, you must always first ‘ask’ with your natural aid.  If your ‘ask’ is ignored or the response is slow, then you can immediately use your whip to back up your leg.

Coupling the ask with correct timing is essential.  Your horse must associate the tap – an important word – of the whip to your ignored leg aid. Which is why ‘where’ you ask is also so important when applying the artificial aids.

Your whip will ‘tap’ your horse directly behind your inside leg immediately after your original leg aid was ignored. 

The whip is only to bring his attention to your leg aid.  It is like a pointer on a blackboard.  The pointer in and of itself is not the lesson.. It is just a way of turning the student’s attention to what really is important on the black board.

Adding to the Conversation

One of the side effects of refining your aids is how the overall communication becomes quieter between rider and horse.  You will begin to see how much of the ‘stuff’ being said, particularly by your aids, is actually taking away rather than adding to the conversation.

Make sure that, before you go backing up an ignored natural aid, that it was indeed a necessary aid in the first place

In order for your horse to respect your leg, your leg has to be worth respecting. The more responsible you are in how you use your leg aids, the more responsive your horse will become to your leg aids. 

It all starts with you and how you are leading the team that is you and your horse. 

Other Uses for Your Whip or Crop

There are other uses for your crop or whip, other than just ‘going forward’.  Very often a tap on the shoulder can encourage a horse to remain straight if they are running out through the shoulder at a fence.  Or a tap can bring the attention to the outside leg.

What is important is that the whip or crop is never used to substitute the natural aids.  Only when the horse is ignoring or failing to respond to the natural aid.  

My biggest fear when giving riders a whip is that they start to become a little lazy in the saddle.  It is much easier to ‘flick the wrist’ than it is to truly engage your core and your seat.  It is easier to use the whip to keep the horse moving forward towards and over the fence than it is to truly channel the direction using your natural aids.

When the whip is used correctly, it is a fantastic aid.  A tap that brings your attention to something is far nicer than being kicked hard repeatedly. 

Allowing the Horse to Follow Through

The final piece of using a whip, or any artificial aid really, is to make sure you are allowing the horse to respond and do what you have asked.  If you asked him to go forward; allow him to go forward.

Keep in mind that your horse might be a little ‘over responsive’ initially to your tap – meaning he shoots forward.  Allow him to go forward and then slowly and gently bring him back. 

Make sure you are not confusing your horse by blocking him going forward, and therefore giving him conflicting aids.  Your job is to allow your horse to respond to whatever you have asked him to do.

The ‘balance of aids’ applies here just as much as when only using your natural aids.  It is only through time and constant adjusting will you be able to successfully find the balance that best suits you and your horse.

Happy Riding


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