Think of the riders you know who appear absolutely effortless on the back of a horse.
When they are riding, you can’t even see what they are asking their horse to do.
It looks like the horse is just responding to the rider’s thoughts… and from the rider’s perspective, it can feel like this too. What creates the ability to communicate with these subtle cues?
We all want to be light with our horses and we want to achieve the ideal of having invisible aids, but how does it really happen?
In today’s video and article, we are going to explore this question.
The first answer to invisible aids is through a process called fading. Fading means that we can make our cue or our request for something more and more subtle.
Let’s take an example of a teaching basic steering to a young horse. When we are first working with that horse, we are going to be using the cue of the movement of our body, but we may also be using a big opening inside rein.
As training progresses, we are going to use less and less of that opening rein to guide the horse and they will learn to move just off the cue from our body.
For us as the riders, there is also a process of increasing skill that leads to more subtle cues. Good movement is a process of slowly eliminating all the excess.
If you are just learning to ride, there will be times where you feel like you lose your center and need to catch your balance.
As you get better and better at your riding, you’ll be able to just do the necessary movements. This is what we are seeing when we watch riders that look so still and poised on the horse, but yet they are very soft.
When we are controlled in our movements, and there is not a whole lot of excess there, it only takes the smallest movement, even one that is triggered by a thought to cue the horse for what we are thinking and what’s coming next.
Another piece of rider skill is being able to pick up on changes from the horse, even the smallest changes in the horse’s balance, in their rhythm, in their strides. Think of a horse that tends to drift and lean in around turns. One person might ride that horse and it will look like they are hardly working to keep them on the rail, but then another person rides and the horse is careening to the inside.
What makes the difference here is that the rider who is able to easily keep the horse on the rail is picking up on when the horse is first starting to think about drifting in. There is a small change of balance from the horse and the rider gives a subtle cue to straighten them out. It might be just closing their fingers on the outside rein. It might be a little bit of tightening on their inside leg. To someone watching it could look as though nothing happened.
The better you become at noticing the changes in your horse, then you can ask for corrections more quickly and with more subtlety.
Think of developing subtle cues in three parts. First is teaching the horse and then fading the cue.
Second is becoming more stable in our own balance so that we do not have a lot of excess movements and our cues can be very small and precise.
Third is being able to notice the smallest shifts in the horse and asking for a needed correction in balance before the horse is very unbalanced and is either going much faster, or falling in one direction or the other.
After you watch the video below, leave a comment with one cue that you would like to become more subtle between you and your horse.