The Right Starting Point

If we don't start with the correct basic thoughts and ideas behind what we are doing or what we are trying to achieve and understanding especially why we want to achieve them, we can only fail, no matter how expert the instruction that we might receive.

Too many times we look at the aids especially at the rein aids as absolutes, as if the horse has preprogrammed buttons that ensure that every time you use a rein aid in a certain way that you will get a consistent result. This is an assumption that we build our horsemanship upon.  This has been true through the ages.  If you don't think this is so, think for a moment about any book on horsemanship.  Detailed will be instructions and possibly diagrams showing which aids you should use for a shoulder-in, versus the aids you would use to achieve a canter.  The movement or gait is described and then you are given a preprogrammed set of aids, which indicates use this one set of aids and you will get a shoulder-in, use this set and your horse will canter, use this set of aids and your horse will go into a reinback.  Of course, this is true to some extent, we do rely on certain aids to achieve certain results.  But this concept, or this idea can limit us as well.

If your instructor insists that you have to use a specific aid every time for a specific movement always for every horse and every time and that you should expect the same results you might want to question if they see the horse as something that that is variable and has a mind of his own.  His body can have different balance points and experience shows us that different aids have different effects depending on his balance point at that moment in time.  The horse is not an object with little variability.   This doesn't even begin to take into account how the body of the horse changes and how the pattern of movement changes as the horse progresses, or issues that the horse more than likely needs help with resolving. All of these create issues, problems and differences in the horse and as already mentioned how any aid will affect his body.

Aids are not absolute!  And if how you ride, how you teach makes that assumption that an aid is somehow compulsory if given exactly the same way all the time.  There is a much more in-depth advanced answer where it can seem as if an aid is compulsory, that their body becomes ours but even those cases or perhaps especially in those cases our aids are constantly being adapted to what we are riding.  The shape, the balance, the energy, the direction of the energy all contributing to what and how we use any aid at any moment in time.

We don't always turn with an outside rein.  We don't always turn with an inside rein.  The value or influence of any rein aid depends on so many different factors, the first being the current balance level of the horse.  Balanced, on the front end, on the hind end and to which extent.  A Weight bearing rein changes position on the horse's neck depending on the level of balance of the horse, sometimes it might need to be halfway up the horse's neck, sometimes at the base of the neck.  It changes and it works not exactly the same based on the variations that the horse offers us at the time.  Let alone calculating what other supporting aids should be involved at the time.

Once we truly take this on, when we take this concept and really incorporate it into our work it is so striking when I hear a rider talking about her latest lesson at a recent clinic, I just about had heart palpitations.  No instruction as to why in this moment in time what she was to use this particular aid.  The attitude seemed to be use your hand this way period.  !@#$%^&  I was just shell-shocked.  I know it was probably silly to be shell-shocked after all we see it everywhere, but I live such an insular life where it is me and my students and my horses that I live in this alternate reality it seems sometimes and I forget what it is like out there.

The aids.mp3

What I would like for riders to take out of this, is that the horse is not a preprogrammed robot.  Certain aids have certain influences, absolutely, which are definitely of value to learn, to try and to learn all of their variations.  But this is a conversation, and perhaps even more important from your point of view a treasure hunt. You need to go on an endless journey where you explore, discover, re-explore and be willing to try endless variations.  You need to become a detective, a researcher, a listener, you will need to theorize, you will need to test and then retest on different human bodies on different equine bodies.  Bodies that have different shapes, different strengths and different weaknesses.  One of my largest challenges as an instructor was a student that longer forearms than any other student I had ever worked with.  Nothing seemed to work the same way as other riders did even when riding the exactly the same horse.

Yes, eyes on the ground can be invaluable, students endlessly have very poor body awareness, not realizing the tension that they are putting into their reins, not realizing when one hand is consistently higher than the other, not realizing that their hands become fixed and end up working against the body of the horse.  First, we need to understand that we need to give as much freedom as possible to all movement to empower our horses.  

When you build on a false foundation the rest is not going to work.