BY GIGI NUTTER – Over the last five centuries, thousands of pages have been written about rider’s position and ability to influence a horse’s movement through physical aids. Correct position remains the number one “basic” since all the knowledge in the world is useless if a rider cannot clearly communicate his desires through correct use of seat and position. Most riders and instructors understand this and spend significant time developing the requisite motor skills.
Dedicated effort focused on rider position typically yields steady progress. Developing a rider’s base of knowledge and understanding of training concepts is significantly more difficult. Instructors begin by teaching simple ideas related to basic control of the horse’s movement and progressively add more complex training concepts. As a teacher, I know a student is ready to truly train their horse when they have gained the cognitive skills necessary to do their own problem solving. As my mentor put it, you create a “thinking rider.”
Giving clinics around the country, I consistently find riders without an elementary understanding of diagonal aids. Few know what it means to be on the “outside rein from the inside leg.” Far too many riders ride the horse with excessive inside rein and cause the horse to be unbalanced. In many ways, riding a horse on the outside rein is the key that opens the door for riding all movements correctly. That doesn’t mean that all other aids should be swept out the door. The diagonal connection is the main ingredient in the recipe of connection, alignment, and straightness.
A properly executed leg yield is a superb exercise to test your feeling of diagonal aid connection. Frequently, riders flex their horses too much and cause the horse to “fall” over the outside shoulder, never making a true connection into the outside rein. The purpose of the outside rein is to keep the horse straight. During the leg yield, while we are asking a horse to step sideways, we are also asking him to go straight in proper alignment. The horse needs to stay parallel to the line of travel in a correct leg yield. It is a good test to see if you can give the inner rein softly and still keep a correct leg yield for a few steps. Ask yourself, “Is he filling up my outside rein? Am I able to keep him going straight as well as sideways?”
The feeling of “filling up” the outside rein is an indication that you understand the diagonal aids. A rider with good basics realizes that this is the same outside rein “feeling” one should maintain on straight lines, curved lines, actually, all the time.
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