The Rider’s Aids: Independent and Interdependent

I was watching a video on The Horse Forum and noticed how the rider’s hands were moving up and down as she posted, greatly affected by the lack of a stable lower leg. When the lower leg is secure, the upper body can be independent-–i.e., can do whatever needs to be done without the lower leg negatively affecting it. Also, when the lower leg is secure, the upper body can work interdependently with the rest of the rider’s body—i.e., 1) the legs, 2) the thighs and seat (or “base of support”), 3) the torso, neck, and head (or “upper body”), and 4) the hands and arms. All of these can be coordinated to get the best performance from the horse.

Each part of the rider’s body should be stable and balanced, in sync with the movement of the horse, rather than being slung around.  Everything goes back to the rider’s legs and base of support. The rider should be forked in tight, just behind the pommel of the saddle. There should be an equal distribution of contact at the rider’s inner thigh, inner knee, and inner calf. The stirrup should be straight across the ball of the rider’s foot, and the heel should be pressed down as a means of holding the rider on the horse through downward pressure. (This is the same concept as the way that a bag of grain stays on a donkey’s back. It is the downward sifting of the grain on each side of the animal that holds the bag on. Downward pressure should be equal on each side to keep the bag of grain—or a rider—on the animal.) The position of the rider should be contoured to the horse, with everything lying flat against the saddle and against the flesh of the horse where the rider’s inner calf has contact with the horse’s flesh.

If the rider in the video mentioned above had had this level of security in the legs and base of support, then the hands would not have been moving up and down as she posted, but would have remained in a straight line from her elbow to the bit, in light and steady contact with the horse’s mouth.