Seat, legs and hands: independence and coordination
The aids of seat, legs and hands are independent of each other but are at the same time co-ordinated
Each body part of the horse must be, and be able, to act independently. When we have acquired the natural fluency and correct balance, we can make the aids independent. The independence of the aids allows us to coordinate them with each other. The aids for legs, seat and hands analysed separately
The legs have the function of:
- creating forward movement while keeping the back of the horse active
- indicating the direction and 'channeling' the horse, keeping it straight
- moving the horse sideways (after achieving a good level of mastery of the aids)
The legs can be used together or separately. They are used simultaneously in the area of the belts (immediately behind the girth) to move the horse forwards. They are used separately distinguishing the inner leg from the outer leg when asking the horse to turn, when entering an angle, drawing a circle, starting at a gallop, and so on, that is, in all situations where the action of the inner leg (on the right hand this is the right leg, that is, internal to the turn) is behind the girth to maintain forward motion while the outer leg (on the right hand this is the left leg) reverses slightly to control the back and to stop is swerving outside of the curve so that it remains active.
The legs remain in light contact with the side of the horse and act when necessary. The ideal situation is where the horse moves forward thanks to more pressing of the inside of the leg as far as the heel. Pressing need not be constant; the action must be followed by the reaction of the horse. Where this is not the case, repeat the action. Giving repeated smacks or misusing the spurs are inadvisable actions that lead the horse to stop reacting with its legs.
Seat is able to determine and influence:
- the impulse
- the exercises to be performed
- the direction in following the path that we have set ourselves.
Seat can only be well used if we have a correct position in the saddle, if we are soft and relaxed, able to stay both seated and with a lightweight posture with the weight evenly distributed on both stirrups in equal measure. Our seat must allow the horse to be in turn soft and loose and have a free back. If we are beginners we must try to follow as much as possible the movement of the horse, moving with it softly without becoming rigid, and to maintain correct balance. It is only when we can feel the movement of the horse, to harmonise with it remaining in constant balance, both sitting and with a light posture, that we can begin to use our seat to help, intervening to improve the gait and supporting the coordinated actions of legs and hands. The weight of the body plays a major role. When moving in a straight line the body's weight must be absolutely equally distributed on the two stirrups. In turn, in a circle, in side work and when galloping, the weight is slightly moved to the inner stirrup. At the same time the shoulders, which are always parallel to the horse's shoulders, follow the movement of the horse, turning slightly inwards in the direction of the turn. The torso unequivocally influences the balance of the horse. In light seat and increasing the speed, the torso is slightly tilted forward according to the movement. With short gaits and in seated seat, the torso is vertical, but never behind the vertical. The straight torso helps the horse to slow down, the torso leaning forward in light seat supports the action of the leg to implement forward movement.
The hands are essentially used to:
- contain the impulse
- to control speed
- to help the balance of the horse (having reached a good technical level)
- to indicate the direction
- to control bending and to remain on the defined course
It is important to know that hands are only supplementary and complementary to the legs and seat. The rider should always follow the rule of acting first with seat and legs rather than with the hands. With the reins and the bridle, the hands are in communication with the horse's mouth, which is extremely sensitive, and therefore have a strong influence both mental and physical on it. To act correctly and effectively the hands must:
- never pull
- always accommodate the movement of the horse, therefore of the neck, and remain independent from the rest of the body
- maintain flexible, light and constant contact with the horse's mouth (except when working on a long rein). The horse loses its confidence when left to itself
- always maintain the same soft contact and the same weight of the hands when walking, trotting and galloping, taking care not to act harshly due to fear when speed is increased.
When moving in a straight line the hands are equal and in line with the mouth of the horse. When turning or galloping, it is important to distinguish (as for the use of his legs) the inner and the outer rein:
- The inner rein (meaning inside the curve, thus on the right hand the inner one is the right rein) maintains light flexion of the horse's body (from the head to the neck) generated by the inner leg and seat. Contact is soft and constant, the hand opens slightly towards the inside of the curve away from the neck.
- The outer rein supports the impulse generated by the inner leg (on the right hand side, the inner leg is the right one, the outer rein is the left leg). To exercise this control, the outer hand keeps constant contact, without pulling or coming away, following the bending of the neck, maintaining contact and remaining near the neck without exceeding the withers. The concept is that the outer rein maintains contact and assists balance while the inner rein is more flexible and controls flexion.