Developing Independent Aids in Your Riding

Developing Independent Aids in Your Riding

Developing Independent Aids in Your Riding

Ask any rider what they want to make happen when it comes to their riding aids and, hopefully, creating truly independent aids will be high up there on that list.  Because, let’s face it, your aids can only be as clear and useful in direct relation to how independent they are. But saying you want independent aids and working towards developing independent aids are two very different things.
Especially when, as a whole, your aids are almost always used in conjunction with each other – not independently on their own…
And yet, for each aid to become a useful member of your team of aids, I believe that you should first isolate each one and develop it intentionally and individually. Having one ‘strong’ independent aid when the rest are flapping about won’t be enough to create clear conversations with your horse.
Each aid must be strengthened in its own right and then be allowed to contribute to the overall team effort.

Intentionally Isolating Your Aids

How well can you use your left leg without moving your right leg at the same time? Or for you, perhaps it’s your inside hand that, when actively engaged in communicating with your horse, causes an involuntary movement from your inside leg?
When we can’t easily move one body part without unconsciously moving another, there is no way that our aids can be truly classed as independent.
And yet, this can be quite a challenge for most riders initially – until they begin developing each aid in its own right and then putting them together. I prefer starting riders off with their more obvious aids first.  Their hands and legs. I bring their attention to previously unconscious and unintentional linked movements between these aids.  And whether you are just getting started on your riding journey, or you’ve been at this for a while, it can be eyeopening once these related movements – and their overall influence on the horse – are pointed out.

Obvious Versus Subtle Aids

As a rider, your aids can be loosely grouped into two different categories.  Subtle and Obvious.  As mentioned, your obvious aids are the ones that anyone can see and pick up on if they were watching you ride.  Bigger movements happening in your limbs are the obvious ones.  But so could your voice and position if not carefully applied.
Your ‘obvious aids’ are usually the ones you rely on most when starting your riding journey.  So it makes sense that you work on creating independence in them first as a rider.
Your subtle aids will then, over time, begin to take on a bigger role in your and your horse’s communication and conversation. These have more to do with your weight, your seat, and your thoughts. The things that are not as easily picked up on by an observer or cannot be seen at all.
Your subtle aids will create the secret conversation between you and your horse and require true, independent aids to make a reality.

Start with Obvious Aids First

Next time you’re in the saddle, ask your horse to walk a 15m circle in the walk.  Spend a few strides making sure that you are in the correct position up there in the saddle.  Check your lines (‘head shoulder hip heel’ line and also the ‘elbow, wrist, thumb, rein, bit’ line).
Then check that you have your obvious aids in the right place to create a channel or flow for your horse’s body and energy. 
When on that circle, use your aids to ask for appropriate bend and flexion through your horse’s body while asking your horse to continue to move forward.  So, for example, your outside leg will be slightly behind or further back than your inside leg.
Once you are correctly positioned, begin experimenting with using a single aid without it having an effect on your other aids. 
Can you slide (or swing) your outside leg back without moving your hands or tilting/twisting your upper body?  What about gently squeezing the outside rein without lifting or gripping with your inside leg?  Or are you able to ask for ‘over’ using your inside leg without shoving with your seat?  How about asking for a canter using your legs and seat without tipping forward through your upper body?

Then Work on Subtle Aids

Why? This question runs through most riders’ heads when they are told to wait before developing their more subtle aids.  And I get it… The subtle ones are the ‘fancy’ ones. They are the aids that everyone speaks about. So why the wait?  Diving into developing independent ‘subtle aids is a complete waste of your time until those more obvious ones are under your control!
The rest of your body must first learn to be ‘quiet’ in the saddle, so that your horse can really ‘hear’ your more subtle aids, such as your seat, weight aids, breath, etc. 
You can of course begin training yourself to be in the best position to use these aids from Day 1 in your riding. So ensure that your seat, position, and posture are good. But to truly be fair to your horse, it’s best to have everything else under control and like I said, quiet.

Your Independent Aids

My final piece of advice for you developing your independent aids is to develop your physical fitness… And not just in the saddle.  When you are fitter and have more stamina, you will naturally have more control over your body.  And I find that when riders take the time and work on this OUT OF THE SADDLE, it really benefits them in the saddle.
When you gain more control over your own body, and then understand your aids, you will naturally increase your ability to communicate effectively with your horse…
And this is why I am rebooting the Equestrian Fitness Challenge for 2024.  Make sure you are on the list to get this year’s brand new challenge sent straight to your inbox by signing up HERE. This year we are focusing on walking… Yep, walking and expanding our knowledge, enthusiasm, and confidence in our abilities as a rider.
Visit to get the brand-new challenge!
Happy Riding

Equestrian Fitness Challenge ’24

Let’s walk together for 21 days and have a chat about how you can do much more than you think you can as a rider and an equestrian… I am so excited to bring you along on this journey for the 100% FREE 2024 Equestrian Fitness Challenge
There will be a daily walk, a 10 minute daily yoga practice, and lots of tips, ideas, exercises, and ways to improve so that you can show up as the best version of you – for you and your horse.
Sign up today and let’s transform your riding – one stride at a time! 100% FREE 2024 Equestrian Fitness Challenge
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Happy Riding

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