What are aids?

ArticleHow to - horse trainingThursday 01 September 2011
by Caroline wood
Aids are used to communicate with the horse.  So what do we use as aids?  Natural aids are the leg, hand, seat and voice.  An aid that probably goes unnoticed is the back. Horse riders user their backs a lot to control their horse.  The hands are there to guide and steer the horse.  The hands are also there to support the leg and seat in controlling the horse.  
The seat and leg aids are the most used aids if not the most important.  A well schooled horse will be responsive to the aids applied so these aids may be light and not harsh.  We must not forget the voice as this is equally important.  Far too many people forget to talk to their horses or praise them equally a growl or stern voice will let your horse know he has been naughty.  
The word ‘stand’ has got me out of trouble when in a difficult position either in traffic or trying to get on a fresh horse. I always think the horse is so good at interpreting our aids when the ones to increase speed are also similar to those to decrease the speed.  How do they know that the extra pressure with the seat and legs means walk to canter and not walk to trot and also visa versa.  How do they know a strong aid from the seat and legs means stop?  How do they know our aid to leg yield means go over and not go faster.  I know this is supported with the correct pressure on the rein contact but I still find it amazing.  There are those who can achieve canter to stop dead without any reins at all!
A lot of riders tend to use their reins far too much to control the horse for stopping and turning with not enough seat and legs.  
Whips, spurs and martingales
To back up our natural aids we have artificial aids which are whip, spurs and martingales.  These should be used to back up our natural aids and not instead of.  A long schooling whip can help back up our leg aids without having to resort to kicks to the horse’s side.   A short jumping whip can also help when a little more effort is required.  In some cases you only have to carry a whip for it to be effected without having to use it.  
Spurs are again used to back up the leg aid or produce a more refined aid especially in dressage where the position of the leg produces different results such as flying changes etc.  Spurs should only be used by experienced riders who have a strong lower leg position.  
Martingales are used to help the rider keep the horses head in the correct position.  This is particularly useful when jumping as it is more difficult to control the horse if he is allowed to raise his head to high.
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