What are rider aids? Natural aids include our leg, seat, hand, basically our whole body in general. Artificial aids include crops, spurs, whips, draw reigns, martingales, flashes, curb chains, bits and more. Artificial aids can be very useful tools in training horses, if used properly. In my opinion, less is more when it comes to artificial aids. They should supplement natural aids, not replace them. I use a crop occasionally just as a backup in case Chance decides to be silly at the jumps, or if he is particularly quiet I may give him a couple of taps to get him going (if he does not respond to my leg alone). Besides a bit and tack, that is all I use on him. He is not very tolerant of things, so for the first time I had to find a way to train and school a horse without extra help. Most horses are alright with artificial aids, but it is important that we do not solely rely on them for our ride.
In the past, when a horse was super dull and did not move off of my leg very well, I would ride in spurs. I typically started with a very short stubby spur and increase the length it the horse still was not responsive. In my opinion, spurs should not be used to make the horse go faster, but rather to compel him or her to listen to the rider’s leg. Leg is meant for so much more than speed. We use leg to make the horse bend and move from side to side, for example. Spurs can help when teaching a horse these things; however, they should not be constantly stuck in the horses sides, but only used when the horse is not responding to the leg alone. I never wear spurs on Chance, but I use a similar technique when I carry a crop or a dressage whip with him. If he does not respond to my leg, he gets a light tap behind it. Also, when I was first teaching him to be more responsive to my leg, I rode without stirrups a lot. This enabled me to feel more of what his body was doing, and to be more effective with leg pressure.
Draw reigns can also be a very useful tool in schooling green horses. I do not currently use draw reigns, but I have in the past with green horses. They are helpful when teaching the horse to get into a frame, and accept the bit. My advice on draw reigns is to not rely too heavily on them when working a horse on the bit. They should be used to supplement your connection – not create it! I always liked to stay relatively soft with them, and give and take rather than hold. Also, I advise only using them once or twice a week. I have ridden horses that unfortunately worked in draw reigns so often that they could not get into a frame, or on the bit, without them; without draw reigns they would go around with their heads in the air like giraffes and it was pretty much impossible to achieve a connection. It is always a shame when riders and trainers overuse aids. When used properly, things like draw reigns can greatly enhance the training of a horse; but when overused, they can stunt it. And it is completely possible to teach a horse these things without them! I have never used them on Chance, and while it took longer to teach him how to be on the bit and get into a frame, he still learned it. I have been riding him in a happy mouth bit for a while now, and I found that is what really helped. He is more accepting of it than any others I have tried on him. Sometimes we just have to figure out what works for our horses. They are not all the same, despite popular belief. Draw reigns make it easier to teach a horse to be on the bit, but they are not a necessity.
I know that I barely touched on rider aids, and that there are so many more to discuss, but these are the ones that I have had the most experience with as a hunter rider. Ideally, a horse should be responsive with nothing more than your leg and a bit. Artificial aids should be used a training tools, not everyday tack. Keep in mind also, that spurs, draw reigns, and other aids should only be used by experienced riders with good control over their bodies. They can do far more harm than good when used by beginner riders. Through owning a horse that does not tolerate much, I have learned that so many pieces of equipment that I thought were necessary really aren’t. It is completely possible to school a horse without spurs and draw reigns; I also think that it is more effective in the long run. Instead of relying on a piece of equipment to achieve a certain task, I have learned to rely on myself.
Have a great weekend, everyone!