Although it does look at lot like telepathy is at work when you’re watching brilliant dressage riders, it’s actually precisely the opposite. Communicating with your horse is a physical pursuit and although he can pick up on your state of mind, the way you let him know what you’d like him to do is by physically asking him.
Your natural aids are all the bits of your own body you use to communicate with your horse. Of course, all horses are different: a well-trained schoolmaster will respond to the most minuscule shift in your seat, while an errant pony will pretend he hasn’t understood a very obvious command. You need to learn best practice from the very beginning and this involves using your hands, your legs and your seat all together.
Your hands are in physical contact with your horse’s mouth through the reins. HIs mouth is incredibly sensitive, and as such you need to be careful with how you use your hands as they can hurt the horse if you’re not careful.
Your legs wrap around a large portion of the horse’s body. From your thighs to your calves, ankles and heels, your legs are able to pass on an enormous amount of information, again, in combination with your hands and your seat. For instance if you’re going to ask for a change of pace from walk to trot, you gather up your reins, which tells the horse to expect something new, and then your legs and seat urge him forward.
Your seat is an incredibly powerful aid when you know how to use it properly. When you are learning to ride, you will first learn a neutral seat as the default way to sit but, once you’ve mastered this, you’ll be able to move on to shifting your seat as part of your riding technique. For instance, you will be able to shift a horse’s pace with your seat with practice.
Many horses respond to voice commands; they respond for the most part to the sound of the command rather than the word itself, although some horses do learn and respond to the words ‘walk’ ‘trot’ and ‘canter’, as well as, hopefully, ‘whoa there’! The voice is also used to calm.
A riding crop or stick is a long, thin aid which can be tapped against a horse’s shoulder or his hindquarters. It can be used as a back up when your natural aids are being ignored but shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily.
Spurs are metal attachments which are fixed to your riding boots by the heel. They are used by experienced riders with particular horses which they know well, but for the majority of horse riding, spurs shouldn’t be required.
Training young horses always involves lungeing, and it is also a very good way of continuing to develop they way your horse moves, his outline and his paces throughout his life. However, you have to be properly trained in lungeing to do any good; as with so many other horsey exploits, if you’re not doing it properly, you can cause real harm to the animal, so as a beginner, it is bes t to turn to someone who has lungeing experience.
The main equipment you’ll need for lungeing are a cavesson for the horse’s head, and a lunge rein to attach to it, as well as a roller which goes around his belly; a breastplate can be used to prevent the roller from slipping. The lunge rein goes in your left hand and the right hand holds the lunge whip.
This basic equipment is what most people would start out with, but there are a number of other bits and pieces people use in addition, depending on what they are working on with their horse.
These include Side Reins, which get a horse used to contact through the reins, a Kincade Chambon which is used for encouraging a horse to lower his head; a Kincade DeGogue encourages a more rounded outline, or a Pessoa which is a system of ropes and pulleys used to encourage him to use his muscles properly.
A Market Harborough works like a martingale and discourages the horse from raising his head too high, while Draw Reins can be used to help a horse to go forward while still keeping a good light contact with the rider.
These are all specialist pieces of equipment for those confident in the art of lungeing and you will learn more about them as and when you come to need them.