The Magazine July 2018

Improve his response to your aids

Posted 29th May 2018

Teaching your horse to respond to pressure and release can fast-track his schooling. Showjumper Holly Smith explains how

Hollie Smith - Improve reaction to your aids

When training my horses, I follow the principle of pressure, release and reward. This is a really clear, simple way to teach your horse something new or refine what you’ve already been working on.

If I want my horse to make a halt–walk transition, for example, I’ll apply pressure with my legs to ask him to move forward. If he walks forward, that’s great – I’ll release the pressure, which is his reward for doing the right thing. However, if he doesn’t respond I’ll keep applying pressure until he walks on. Sound simple? That’s because it is.

Timing is everything

The most important factor with this training approach is your timing – you need to be spot on and release the pressure at exactly the right moment so your horse understands that he’s done the right thing. How much pressure is also key and with repetition, you’ll find that you get the right results with lighter pressure.

Exercise: leg-yield

Once your horse understands the basics of pressure, release and reward, you can use it to ride other exercises such as leg-yield. A common fault riders make in this movement is constantly kicking at their horse’s side as they try to push him across the school. Apply pressure to ask for the sideways step, then remove it immediately so he has time to process your request and respond. Start in walk to make it easier for you both.

Hollie Smith, horse leg yielding


Here’s how to do it…

  1. Turn down the three-quarter line and ride straight for a few steps.
  2. Ask your horse for a little inside flexion, then apply pressure with your inside leg just behind the girth to ask him to step across with his inside hind – apply this pressure for no more than a second, then remove it. Your other leg sits behind the girth to control his quarters and your outside rein controls the amount of bend.
  3. After your horse has made his sideways step, apply pressure again but this time with both legs to ask for a forward step. Keep it short and sweet, so give him a squeeze, then release.
  4. Use your inside leg to ask him for another sideways step. Repeat this sequence for a few strides, then ride forward or if your horse is more established in his lateral work, you can leg-yield all the way to the track.

Once you’ve mastered leg-yield in walk, have a go in trot. Then you can use the same principle to ride shoulder-in, and to ask your horse to extend and collect his paces.

For more easy exercises to help you achieve quicker reactions to your aids, pick up the July issue of Horse&Rider, on sale 31 May.

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