The signals which a rider uses to transmit his wishes to his horse are called the AIDS. We can divide these into two categories: the natural aids such as the hands, arms , legs, seat (the influence of the spine) and the weight (centre of gravity) : and the artificial aids such as spurs, whip or the voice. While performing a dressage test the use of the voice is not permitted, but we will find that when training- especially young horses- we do use the voice often.
In order to succeed in getting the horse to obey our wishes, we must combine all the aids in such a way as to make our intentions clear to him, as well as shaping his body into a suitable state as to be physically prepared and capable to carry out our orders. This means that the rider needs to possess a profound technical knowledge regarding the horse’s body and his system of locomotion, in order to decide within a split second as to which combination of aids ought to be applied, and with what intensity (this being a continuous process, not just a method to start a new movement).
The horse’s sensitivity to muscular pressure coming from our body is infinite and it will never cease to amaze us how such a subtle touch can influence such a big body. We teach the horse to ASSOCIATE the application of a combination of aids (always based on the physical influence of the rider on the horse’s body) with the execution of a certain movement which we have provoked by the use of the voice, the whip, by unbalancing the horse or through the application of aids which have been given with too much emphasis.. By means of repetition the horse will learn to associate the signals he receives with the performance of the movement, until he reaches the point where he will react to the reception of these signals with the execution of the movement.
The use of the artificial aids to show the horse how to do certain exercises can create many a problem. For example, in Spain, we often encounter a young horse who has learnt how to piaffe by the use of a long schooling whip, but who cannot move properly in walk, trot or canter. In this case, the execution of the movement has not been reached through a process of progressive physical preparation, reaching a maximum of collection by using natural aids (in combination with light applications of whip, spurs and voice). When a horse is taught to respond to an indication which is not part of a logical chain of aids, technically based on the physical influence of the rider on the horse’s body and on his system of locomotion, we submit ourselves to the horse’s desire and willingness to respond or not to our indications ;a nasty, uncontrollable and possibly unsafe situation.
We must not take for granted that because we apply the correct aids in order to obtain the execution of the corresponding movement, the horse will also be physically able to carry these out. The horse should be considered an athlete. If we have the right raw material, the animal’s fitness and condition will depend on the training and care he receives. Other factors which have an influence on the horse’s performance are the equipment used (the saddle, the type of bit), the shoeing, the schooling area and its surroundings, the climate, etc.
The horse should be physically capable of carrying out our orders. Any physical problem – stiffness, lack of adequate natural gaits, muscular pain, etc – will impede him to perform the exercise required by the rider. Wouldn’t we all love to dance like Nureyev or sing like Placido Domingo?
It is important that the horse UNDERSTANDS our indications. We know what we wish him to perform, but we have to communicate with him in such a way that he will be capable of interpreting our intentions. When he is unable to understand us, a considerable state of stress is created, so we must have enough patience to seek the adequate methods to make ourselves understood by him, using plenty of imagination at times.
We must be aware of the fact that fractions of a second pass from the moment we decide to apply the aid until the actual execution of the exercise by the animal. These indications should pass through a whole chain. A message goes out from our brain to our muscles, which is then translated into the application of the aids. The horse receives these indications by touch or through hearing if given by the voice, and assimilates these with his brain, deducting the rider’s intention and then reacts by sending instructions to his muscles to carry out the corresponding movement. The duration of this process depends on the horse’s skill (dressage level) and the compenetration that exists between horse and rider, reaching occasionally the point where the horse anticipates the riders wishes with the slightest of touches or even just by a mere thought.
It is extremely important that the applied method is used in a CONSISTENT manner. Changes in the system of aids will cause confusion and stress in the horse.
An essential condition for the correct application of the aids is that these have always been decided on beforehand (even if in a split second) and that the rider at all times masters his own body, mind and mood.
Copyright Miriam Frenk 2023 – these texts are not to be reproduced without permission from the author.