Are you giving your horse aids that you are unaware of? Horses show great sensitivity when you train them with soft aids that cannot be misunderstood by the horse. It is oh so easy to over-aid, but even old Dobbin, who seems to need a bomb to wake him, can be (and would rather be) trained with the lightest of aids. Nuno Oliveira said, “The secret in riding is to do few things right. The more one does, the less one succeeds. The less one does, the more one succeeds.”
I have heard interesting comments from people when they see pictures such as this one; comments such as: “That is trick riding.” “The horse isn’t on the bit.” and so on. And this is easy to understand. If you have been taught to put your horse into a frame with your hands/reins — using gymnastics to mold the horse’s frame is hard to understand (and makes the gymnastics harder to execute.) When a person does not have the background, training or perspective to achieve a result in a certain way, it is extremely difficult for them to understand how that thing can have come about.
As I look at this picture, I see a horse that has been taken step-by-step through the gymnastics necessary to develop — not force — this elegant frame. The work was always forward, always on a light rein until he was able to proudly step under himself in this magnificent piaffe. You then have a horse that has the muscling, suppleness and attentiveness to the rider to strongly engage his hind end when the rider asks with a light seat aid. The engagement shown here demonstrates that this horse is on the bit.
How do you get engagement such as this? Nuno again, “On a sensitive and well-trained horse, the midsection brings about the piaffe-passage and the passage-piaffe transition. The rider’s midsection must be very relaxed and his back must feel the horse’s back.”
But if the horse has been asked from the beginning to move into a blocking hand before his hind quarters and back are ready, you will have to use excessive forward aids and the horse will have a harder time engaging his hindquarters. If you have not trained the horse from the beginning to have his shoulders follow your shoulders, you are going to have to aid him more with your legs and seat. Your shoulders will also affect your seat aid and if you are not paying attention to your position, again you will need more aids. If your legs are not soft, the horse is less aware of quiet aids, and so on . . .
Are you really aware of all the aids you are giving your horse? Are you using your legs too much or are they too tight? Are your hands too heavy? Is your back soft and positioned correctly? Is your horse trying to tell you that you are giving aids that you are unaware of? Are you listening? Are you training and riding in such a way that your horse can respond to light aids?
A couple of quotes from Eloise King that are unendingly helpful when riding are, “One or two aids at a time, never more.” and “If the horse doesn’t respond to your aid, ask again. Again is never more; it is only again.” Become vigilant so you are very aware of when you are giving your horse aids. If you are not sure, ask your horse.