Leg Aids that Help Your Horse

“If you’re not supposed to squeeze with your calves, how do you use your leg?”

This question comes, like so many good ones, from my Riding With Confidence egroup. Here’s my response:

I learned this from Nuno Oliveira many years ago, and it was one of the major learning moments of my career.

When you squeeze, it creates tension that prevents the horse from going forward easily. He may move because he’s tense, but it’s not what you want. Same with leaning forward. He may move to catch his balance, but it isn’t correct.

If possible, read either HYHW or MHYHW on leg aids to understand this better.

You use your legs either tapping or rubbing forward. Tapping gets increased impulsion, rubbing gets increased engagement.

You tap as though you were going to tap the horse’s barrel with your toe. When you do that, it makes your calf tap his side, but the calf muscle isn’t tense. similarly, when you rub, you bring your toe in, then forward, then out, and your calf actually makes the contact, again without tension. The whole method is called soft leg.

Note that turning the toe out puts you on the back of your calf and tenses buttock and upper thigh muscles. The Oliveira method is to bring your toe inward to apply the aid, not so much by turning it as by rotating your whole foot.

Try it in a chair. Pretend you want to scratch the inside of your left foot with the edge of your right foot. You think to bring your toe in, and that rolls your right foot so that the inside edge of the foot comes up and in, and the outside of the foot is lower. That movement also opens your thigh so that there is no squeezing. That’s more or less the way you use it to tap the horse’s barrel with your calf. Bringing your toe out is the release of the aid. The whole thing is a horizontal circle that brings your toe and calf in to tap, then a little forward and out to release.

There are some clear pictures and description on p 302 of HYHW.

You do not need strength. All aids are signals, not punishment. The horse can feel a fly landing on his body, so if he isn’t responding, it’s not because he doesn’t feel it. Either he can’t respond, or he doesn’t understand, or he’s learned to block it out.

You train him on the ground using ‘Dingo’ (Linda Tellington-Jones). Facing forward yourself, you tap lightly with the stick on his rump. If it would hurt you to do it on yourself, it’s too hard. Look for any sort of response at all–flick of the ear, tension in the quarters, swish of tail. If there is even the slightest response, do NOT use any more force than that. He heard you, he just doesn’t know what to do about it. You can then follow the tap with a cluck, or a little leading, or anything to get him moving and associate the tap with moving forward quietly. Followed by much reward. You can teach him to move from halt to walk, and walk to trot (adding voice commands if you want).

When he gets it on the ground, then try it mounted. Soft leg taps, stick taps, add cluck and voice if necessary. Reward even the slightest effort to move. Most horses learn it very quickly.

And oh yes, if you haven’t been using the Seven Steps for your tension problems, you should cert ainly start using them. They work better than almost anything. and anyone can learn them.


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