Riding with Precision

As riders, we often hear the advice to “use more leg.” In my experience, this often leads to riders that are squeezing and kicking, and horses that are desensitized to leg pressure. When we are using the leg to try to make our horses go forward, we are blocking the ability of our hips to follow the movement of the horse’s back, in effect we are saying “stop” rather than “go” with our bodies. This can be confusing to the horses and cause them to brace against the pressure even more.

I will let you in on a little secret… I barely use my leg at all when I’m riding. Instead, I use a very slight movement in my body to request that the horse go forward (or sideways or backwards). All horses can feel these tiny movements, yet they may not always respond to them. They may be distracted, desensitized, or have another opinion of what they want to do at that moment. When this happens, using more of the movement does nothing to change their response. In fact, doing more will only cause the rider to be out of balance or contorted. There is no “more” when we talk about making a tiny movement, it is about sensitizing the horse to what they are able to feel without adding more.

With a horse that isn’t responding, I use a gentle but active tapping to bring attention to what I am doing with my seat (which doesn’t just mean by bum but all of my core). This sensitizes the horse to my aids without the need to add more pressure. It is not punishing, forceful, or painful in any way, yet it will get a response from even the most reluctant horses.

My mare Daisy (aka Rolling West) is a good example of a horse that does not respond to more pressure or a rider that is out of balance. Like the princess and the pea, she has no tolerance for anything that isn’t just right. My student has learned to keep her moving freely forward by using her seat with clear intention, maintaining good rein contact, and keeping her aligned in her body. None of these things require more pressure, just precise and light riding that keeps our princess happy! Though Daisy isn’t a lesson horse for just anyone, she does a great job of teaching my more advanced students how to ride without using “more leg.”

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