Many of us who’ve learned about riding horses from the leg into the hand have been taught to lay our legs on endlessly. This often makes a horse stiff, resistant, and requiring more leg aids. It can be exhausting! When I teach, many riders often complain about having to constantly push their horses with their legs. This is unpleasant for both horse and rider.
The truth is, the more leg you put on your horse, the more leg you will be required to keep on your horse. A bracing leg from a rider creates a bracing rib cage in a horse, and this makes their backs tense, which in turn makes it harder for them to go forward.
In riding a horse with lightness as the goal, we look for the horse to be responsive to the leg, and to carry himself. This means the seat is the first and most important message, and the leg is used as needed. Once the leg aid is received, it comes back off. Leg aids are never applied in a tight or “grinding” way, but rhythmically, to maintain looseness in the horse.
A horse in true self carriage is a joy to ride, but they can’t get there if we constantly hold them up.
Leg position and timing here is the key – if your low back and hips are tight, your horse will brace against your leg. Too, if your timing with the leg aids isn’t right, it will be hard to achieve lightness.
When I think about applying a leg aid, I think first:
-is my seat blocking what the leg here would ask?
-Am I asking with the leg at a time my horse would be able to carry out my request? Do I know what the order of footfalls is in the current gait and do I know when to take my leg off?
-Am I able to apply the leg aid without my hands, seat or body moving out of position?
Some food for thought in the journey toward self carriage.