The Hierarchy of Aids, By Steve Lantvit
When instructing horse and rider teams it is important for the rider to understand that there is a logical progression of what to do. I like to think of the riders learning progress as a series of plateaus. First the basic understanding of riding, then the direct rein, then understanding leg cues and hopefully then the understanding of the outside rein. Once the basics of this is understood then the rider needs to learn when and how much to use to convey the message. I call this the understanding of the escalation of aids and the hierarchy of aids.
The hierarchy of aids is the sequence of what has to happen first and in order for the maneuver to be successful and correct. Like with real-estate where location, location, location is important, in riding, it’s all about position, position, position. The horse needs to be in the correct position to perform the task that is asked of him; relaxed in the pole and in a collected frame, level top-line, an elevated shoulder, a rounded back, and an engaged hind end. It is the responsibility of the rider to position the horse so that the maneuver is successful. The rider is constantly making minor adjustment to correct the position of the horse.
There are four natural aids; hands, legs, seat and voice, all of which need to be applied at different times and in different ways. When instructing students I always want the rider to learn to minimize the use of their hands. A great exercise for a student to fully understand the importance of hierarchy of aids is leg yield drills. For example, when schooling the horse and rider in lateral work exercises, have the rider position the horse in the correct collected frame. Have the rider tip the horse’s nose slightly to one side without altering the direction of which the horse is heading. Wait a second and see what happens. If the horse is pulled off course, the rider has applied too much hand. We are trying to achieve a position in the horses’ frame that makes success possible. Remember that the quiet and responsive horse is what we are after. Then, have the rider shift their weight slightly to the same side and apply a little inside leg at the girth. Remember that the cue is to last no more than one second at a time. The outside leg needs to be removed from the side of the horse as well as the outside rein. This will give the horse a release and a place to go. Ask the student how the horse feels underneath them. For example, if the horse feels like he is charging through then the outside leg might have been left on to long when the inside leg was applied, or, the rider never shifted weight to the inside seat bone. Have the student help critique their ride. As they understand what needs to happen and when for each maneuver, they will gain the knowledge of hierarchy of aids and thereby truly own the knowledge.
The hierarchy of aids is as simple as this. However, this simple exercise can quickly go wrong if certain aids were applied before others. If the horse was not in the collected frame with an elevated shoulder and the rider started pulling on the reins, the horses head would most likely rise and go further out of position. If the rider applied leg and did not remove the other in this exercise the horse would end up rushing through the bit, thus resulting in the rider hanging on his face.
The secret to good horsemanship is having the understanding that there is a time and a place and a sequence when applying aids. Just like when learning a new language certain words come before others, the same applies in horses. It is the riders’ responsibility to communicate effectively to the horse and make the cues easy to understand. The next time you are riding and schooling your horse pay attention to the aids that you are using and make sure they make sense to your horse. Pay attention to common faults such as closing one door and not opening the other as this may cause the horse to feel claustrophobic and tense. Think about pushing a ball on the table, if the other hand is in the way the ball stops traveling or you have to push harder to move the ball and your hand. Our goal should be that of a light and willing horse, that is responsive to the slightest touch.
When riding remember to be an effective communicator so you build the relationship that your horse deserves. There is an order of aids that makes it easier for the horse to understand what the rider wants. But it all starts with position, position, position.
Steve Lantvit is a professional trainer/clinician whose goal is to contribute to the betterment of the relationships between man/woman and horse. Steve’s focus on training is that of all around Horsemanship and the creation of the versatile horse. He is an active competitor with the American Ranch Horse Association where he has earned World Champion and Multiple Reserve Champion Titles. Steve takes his skills to the equine world through his appearances at equine expos, clinics, and his television series, “Sure in the Saddle” airing on Rural TV/FamilyNet on Saturdays at 3:30 cdt.