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MAY 2011 THE RIDER /47

When a horse has a problem picking up the correct lead, the most common cause is that the rider is not maintaining the proper form and balance. The rider is not properly controlling his/her body position during the jog/trot to lope/canter transitions. To achieve proper control requires an understanding of the rider’s turning aids.

Let’s review the importance of the rider’s turning aids and how they are used to position the horse.

The Turning Aids Building A Partnership

with Your Horse Communicating with Your Aids - Keys to Success, Part 7

By Lynn Palm

The seat is one of the most important, yet often overlooked aids. Using these simple exer- cises, you can improve communication using your seat.

Walk-Jog/Trot Transitions Using the Seat The goal of this exercise is to use your seat, rather than hand or leg aids, to signal requests for upward and downward transitions from walk to trot. Start by asking your horse to walk forward on a large circle. Gently follow his movement with your hips. Prepare for an upward transition to the jog/trot using your seat as the main tool for communicating to the horse. Do this by first putting more weight in your seat. As you do, rotate your hips to follow the horse’s movement and to encourage him to increase his speed through the action of your seat. Support this action by lightly applying leg aids (if needed) and slightly releasing the reins to encourage his forward movement. If needed, reinforce your requests with a “cluck.” He should pick up the jog/trot. Continue following his motion with your seat.

Jog/trot a segment of the large circle, and then turn him to make a smaller circle within the large one. We will use the smaller circle to ask him for a downward transition back to the walk. Jog/trot a portion of the small circle, and prepare for a downward transition using the seat. Once again, put weight in your seat, but this time decrease the movement and rotation of

your hips with the horse’s movement. He should make a transition from jog/trot to the walk in response to your seat aid. Praise him if he does. Do this exercise in both directions. As your practice this exercise, your seat aid will become more effective and your horse more responsive. You will notice that less leg and voice aids are necessary to achieve the transi- tions.

Jog/Trot to Lope/Canter Transition Using the Seat

When the horse is comfortable and under- stands how you are communicating with your aids for the walk to jog/trot transition, it is time to try transitions from the jog/trot to the lope/canter. This exercise should be done in a large fenced paddock or pasture. Be sure the horse is warmed up before starting this exercise. Repeat the walk to jog/trot transition exercise to reinforce the effectiveness of your seat, leg, and hand aids.

Start by trotting the horse on a large circle. The rider should post to the trot even if using a western saddle. Encourage the horse to depart into the canter by using the word command “canter.” (The horse already should have learned this voice command from ground train- ing on the longe line or round pen or liberty work.) At the same time you give the voice command, use your seat and leg aids to encour- age him to move forward into the canter. Keep a loose contact on the reins, lightly positioning him on the arc of the circle. Continue following his motion with your seat while posting as he increases his speed and makes a transition to the lope/canter. At this point, it is important that he canters but not important which lead that he takes. When he begins loping/cantering, sit and follow the rocking motion of the gait with your seat and hips to encourage him to continue can- tering.


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Turning or “bending” aids include our hands, through the reins, and our legs. They control the horse’s direction of travel and his body position. When the bend through the horse’s side is correct, his body conforms to the arc of whatever curved line he is on. If a horse is bent properly on a circle, we say he is “straight” because he is properly following the arc of the circle. His hind feet follow in the tracks of the forelegs on a curve. To be able to do this, he must bend.

The primary aids to turn or bend a horse are the rider’s outside leg and outside rein. The outside is the side of the horse opposite from the direction of the turn. To turn my horse in a circle to the left, I use my outside aids—the right leg and right rein. The job of my inside (left) leg is to keep the horse for- ward and out on the turn. My inside (left) rein is used to lightly position my horse’s

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head so that he is looking in the direction of the turn.

The outside rein functions as the turning rein. It asks the horse to move his shoulders to follow the arc of the circle or turn. When using the outside rein, be careful not to move the outside hand over the crest of the horse’s neck.

The outside leg is positioned slightly behind the girth. It helps to bend the horse’s body around the inside leg and keeps his hindquarters from swinging out and off the arc of the circle or turn.

The inside rein lightly positions the horse’s head in the direction of the turn. Do this by slightly rotating the inside hand as if turning a key or opening a doorknob and slightly opening the rein in the direction of the turn to position the head.

The inside leg is positioned at the girth. It helps keep the forward momentum. Also, as my friend and Olympic rider, Jane Savoie, describes in her wonderful book, Cross Train Your Horse, “the inside leg serves as a pole for the horse to bend around.”

My five-part visual series, Dressage Principles for the Western and English Horse and Rider, available in DVD or video tape, will enhance this series on Aids Communica- tion. For this and other Palm Partnership Training™ products or information on clin- ics, go to or call us at 800-503-2824.

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