Jane Savoie – Use of the Aids Lesson 2

Think about how it feels to have someone speak to you in a foreign language. If you don’t know the language, you can’t understand them. If they speak slower, you still won’t have a clue what they’re saying. If they shout at you, you still won’t understand.

That’s how it is for your horse. When you train, you’re developing a non-verbal language with him.

When you learn a foreign language, you first need to learn the letters of the alphabet. Once you know the letters of the alphabet, you can put them together to form words. Then, eventually you can put the words together to form sentences. Your horse has to go through this same process as you develop your non-verbal language with him.

For example:

1.    The letters of your equine alphabet are the different actions of your seat, legs, and hands.

2.    When you put the letters of the alphabet together, you form words. For example, you’ll see in Lesson 6 on Connection that the combination of the driving aids, the bending aids, and the rein of opposition create the word “connected” or “on the bit”.

3.    Finally, you’ll put words together to make sentences. For example, if you want to do a transition on the bit, you’ll form a sentence by using two sets of aids at once. You’ll give both the aid for “on the bit” and the aid for the transition itself. In your horse’s language, you’re saying, “Do this transition on the bit.”

Here’s what we’ll be covering:

1. What does each aid control?

2. How do I use the aids to get a particular response?

  • You need to know the action of each aid. You also need to know how the use of an aidhappyhorse_150x380 affects your horse’s body. This is your alphabet.
  • If you’re not clear with your aids, your horse has to play “multiple choice” and try to figure out what you want.
  • Remember, one aid should mean only one thing. When you want to ask for something different, there should be a subtle variation of your aids.

What Does Each Aid Control?

Your SEAT controls:

1.    Rhythm

2.    Speed

3.    Length of stride

4.    Downward transitions

5.    The position of your horse’s body

Your LEGS control:

1.    The position of your horse’s hind legs

2.    They give aids.

3.    They ask for activity.

Your HANDS control:

1.    Flexion at the poll to the left and right

2.    Flexion “in” at the jaw

3.    The length of your horse’s neck

4.    The position of the forehand

How Do I Use the Aids to Get a Specific Response?


You’ll probably be tempted to control the first four things on the “seat” list with your reins. But, if you pull on the reins to steady rhythm, slow speed, decrease the length of stride or do downward transitions, you’ll also BLOCK the hind legs from coming forward. So, make it your goal to develop a knee jerk reaction to use your seat instead of your hands for each of those four things.

The seat can be used in four different ways:

1. Passive Following Seat

  • Your passive, following seat tells your horse that everything (his rhythm, speed, and the gait) stays the same.
  • Simply open and close your hips to follow the current movement of your horse.

2. Driving Seat

  • Your driving seat tells your horse to increase his speed or length of stride.
  • Think of pushing the back of saddle toward the front of the saddle, polishing the saddle from back to front, or pretending you’re pushing a swing higher in the air.

3. Retarding or Stilled Seat

  • The stilled seat steadies the rhythm, slows the speed, decreases the length of stride, or asks for a downward transition.
  • Sit in a “ready” position by stretching up tall so you have a gentle curve in the small of your back.
  • Then, contract or tighten your tummy muscles like you’re doing a sit-up. This action braces your lower back and stops your hips from following your horse’s movement.

4. To Control the Position of Your Horse’s Body

  • Your shoulders should be parallel to your horse’s shoulders, and your hips should be parallel to his hips.
  • Here’s an exercise that shows how your position affects your horse:

1. Do some shallow loops, turning to the right, and then to the left.

2. Initiate each turn by bringing your new inside shoulder back.

3. When you turn to the right, bring your right shoulder back.

4. When you turn to left, bring your left shoulder back.

5. Notice how your horse’s body turns when you turn your torso.


Use your legs to:

1. Control the position of the hind legs

  • When you place one leg behind the girth, you prevent your horse’s hindquarters from swinging out.
  • When you use one leg behind the girth, you’re asking your horse to displace his hindquarters sideways. (Jane’s dyslexic moment: In the renvers example, I say my right leg is behind the girth. I should have said that my left leg is behind the girth.)

2. Give aids

  • Close both calves to ask for an upward transition either from gait to gait or within the gait such as a lengthening.
  • Swing your outside leg behind the girth in a windshield wiper-like fashion to ask for a canter depart.

3. Ask for more activity.

Squeeze with your inside calf on the girth to ask for more activity or energy. (i.e. A lazy walk, trot, or canter becomes a more active walk, trot, or canter.)


Use your hands to ask your horse to:

1. Flex to the left or right at the poll

  • For the sake of clarity, when your horse’s head and neck is straight, with his chin lined up in the middle of his chest, I’m going to call that a “neutral” or “zero” position.
  • If you rotate his head one inch to the left or right, you’ll just see his inside nostril or inside eye. When you flex him 1 inch to the inside, I’ll call that a +1 flexion. When you flex him 1 inch to the outside, I’ll call that a -1 flexion or counter-flexion.
  • To get flexion or counter-flexion at the poll, turn your entire fist or wrist as if you’re unlocking a door.

For example, when circling, turn your wrist so your thumb points to the inside of circle and your baby finger comes as close to the withers as possible without crossing over them. At this moment, your knuckles or fingernails point up toward your face. After this quick turn of your wrist, immediately resume a normal hand position with your thumb the highest point of your hand.

  • Important: When you turn your wrist, support with your other rein so that your horse just flexes at the poll rather than bending his neck. Think of your other rein as a siderein.

2. Flex “in” at the jaw

  • When your horses flexes “in” at the jaw, he closes the angle where the throatlatch is on your bridle.
  • To ask your horse to flex “in” at the jaw, move the bit in his mouth with one rein only. Moving the bit encourages him to chew. When he chews, he flexes his jaw.
  • Some people describe moving the bit as vibrating the rein, squeezing and releasing on the rein, squeezing water out of a sponge, or “twinkle, twinkle, twinkle” on the rein.

IMPORTANT: Do not saw on your horse’s mouth by alternately squeezing and releasing on both reins. This is “front to back” riding. It will also close the angle at his throatlatch too much.

3. The length of his neck

  • The length of the reins determines the length of your horse’s neck.
  • Short reins create a short neck. Medium length reins allow for a medium length neck. Long reins allow for a long neck.

4. Control the position of the forehand

  • To move your horse’s shoulders, keep your two hands equidistant from your body and move both hands to the left or to the right.
  • For example, if you want to move your horse’s shoulders to the left, use an opening left rein (bring your left hand in front of your left hip) and also bring your right hand to the left (very close to the withers).

How Do I Put the Letters Together to Form “Words” or Movements?

When you put the letters of the alphabet together to form words, do it in this order:

  • First, use your seat.
  • Then, use your legs.
  • Lastly, use your reins.

When putting the letters together to form “words”, you’ll find that many of the aids are very similar. So, in order to be clear about what you want, there has to be at least one subtle variation between the aids for the different “words”.

Jane Savoie is a 3-time Olympic Coach and Clinician. To learn more about Jane visit her website: www.janesavoie.com.

To learn more about Jane’s A Happy Horse Home Study Course click here.

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