Skill: Timing the Application of Aids

I recently read an interesting article called “Kindergarten Exercises to Learn the Aids” by George Williams with Beth Baumert on Dressage Today, which you can read by clicking here. It is a series of exercises “for horses and riders needing to learn more about the rhythmic application and timing of aids”. I thought the exercises were very interesting and helpful for teaching beginners to learn the timing of the aids.  I am condensing it for the instructor, and I will quote the article throughout this post.

Timing the Application of Aids


  • Applying the aids at the right time helps the horse respond correctly to the aid, while staying in balance. For example, it can be harder for a horse to move his foot over if you ask him to do so when it is on the ground, versus when it is in the air.
  • Applying the aids rhythmically helps the horse relax, so he can be more obedient and yielding to the aids, and learn to be quick and light in his responses.

The long explanation…

  • The horse’s hind legs work in 3 ways:
    • thrusting
      • pushing off the ground
      • to influence, apply the aid when the hind leg is on the ground
      • ex) ask for canter depart when the outside hind is on the ground
      • ex) ask for extended trot when the inside hind is on the ground
    • reaching
      • bringing the leg forward through the air, closing the joints – greater articulation of this joint closing causes greater reach
      • to influence, apply the aid when the leg is at its highest and most articulated
      • ex) ask for leg yield when posting on the wrong diagonal so he can move his inside leg farther under the body and over
    • carrying
      • hind leg is on the ground, all three leg joints bent equally to carry the weight
      • ex) apply the half halt when the outside hind is on the ground to ask him to slow down and carry more weight

Repeat the following exercises until correct application of the aids becomes automatic.

Exercise 1: Inside Rein for Inside Flexion

  • “Apply the inside rein aid rhythmically by closing the finger of your inside hand every other sitting moment of the rising trot” 6x over 12 strides
  • It helps to say in rhythm withe the aid “‘Horse … here … is … my … inside … hand.'”
  • The horse should “acknowledge your rein aid by softening his jaw and beginning to flex and bend his neck slightly to the inside.”

Exercise 2: Outside Rein for Softening

  • “Squeeze the fingers of your outside hand on every other sitting moment.”  6x over 12 strides
  • It helps to say “‘Horse … here … is … my … outside … hand.'”
  • The horse should “acknowledge your rein aid by softening and relaxing in his poll and yielding longitudinally (from back-to-front)—not by bending to the outside.

Exercise 3: Inside Rein and Calf for Bending the Rib Cage

  • “Softly close the fingers of your inside hand and close the inside calf (not the entire leg) at the same sitting moment [every other time you sit]. Be sure to keep your leg long as you use it.”  6x over 12 strides
  • Say “Horse … here … is … my … inside … leg.”
  • The horse should relax his rib cage and relax in general. Your inside leg should be able to bring the horse’s inside hind leg under and increase his engagement.

Exercise 4: Outside Rein and Knee for Relaxing the Outside Shoulder

  • “close your fingers on your outside hand and close your outside knee against the saddle—again, on every other sitting moment.”  6x over 12 strides
  • Say “Horse … here … is … my … outside … knee.”
  • The horse should relax his shoulders.

Exercise 5: Inside Rein and Knee for Relaxing the Inside Shoulder

  • Next, do the same on the inside by closing the inside fingers and closing the inside knee against the saddle.”  6x over 12 strides
  • Say “Horse … here … is … my … inside … knee.”
  • “You and your horse will more clearly understand the basic concept that your hand and knee should be able to relax the horse’s shoulders and eventually control those shoulders.”

Exercise 6: Outside Rein and Calf for Relaxing the Rib Cage

  • “close your outside hand and your outside calf on every other sitting moment.”  6x over 12 strides
  • Say “Horse … re- … lax … your … stomach.”
  • From these outside aids, your horse might become a little rounder or slow down.

Exercise 7: Inside Leg on the wrong diagonal for Leg Yield

  • Use your inside rein and leg aids every other sitting moment while posting on the wrong diagonal, 3x over 3 or 6 strides.
  • Say “Over…2…3” or “over…relax…2…relax…3”. Make sure the rider really determines the number of steps the horse takes.
  • The horse should step away from it.  If you are riding a circle, he will enlarge it. Increase intensity if needed. Ideally, “When you want to enlarge the circle, he should respond within two strides.”
  • Post on the wrong diagonal in order to influence the horse’s motion by applying the aids when he can best respond to you, when the inside hind leg is off the ground. (On the correct diagonal you rise when the inside hind moves forward, to encourage it to stretch further under his body, and sit when it pushes back on the ground – but if you use the leg aid when you sit, you cannot influence the direction of the horse’s motion because that hind leg is on the ground and cannot move over.)

Exercise 8: Inside Rein on the wrong diagonal for Inside Flexion

  • Apply inside rein aid rhythmically every other sitting moment,3x,  posting on the wrong diagonal. Each application ask for a little more flexion. Step 1 ask him to look a little, step 2 look a little more, step 3 even more. These are subtle, no pulling or cranking.
  • Say “Look…more…more” or “Left…more…more”
  • Post “on the wrong diagonal again because it is easiest for the horse to flex and bend when the inside shoulder is back.” And you are applying the inside rein aid when you sit when the inside shoulder is back.

Exercise 9: Outside Rein for Shoulders Out

  • “ask your horse to follow your leading rein on the outside” by bringing the hand out “as far as—but not beyond—your left knee.” Don’t exaggerate.
  • Say“Lead … more … most.”
  • The horse should “yield by moving his shoulders out slightly.” This helps you move deeper into corners, and lead the shoulders with an open rein.

Exercise 10: Stretch Test

  • Every other time you sit, give your inside rein and encourage the horse to stretch into the outside rein. Say “Horse … stretch … into … the … outside … rein.”
  • Then do the same on the outside: Give with the outside rein to encourage the horse to stretch into the inside rein. Say, “Horse … stretch … into … the … inside … rein.”
  • The horse shoulder stretch his topline and confirm his willingness to work with the bridle.

Exercise 11: Outside Rein for Slow Down and Trot-Walk Transitions

  • When you sit, apply the outside rein in rhythm. Before this asked him to soften. Now increase in intensity 2x to ask him to slow down. Say “Slow…down.”
  • When you want to transition down to a walk, apply the aid a 3rd time. He learns that “The first half halt slows him down; the second half halt slows him down a little more—without losing activity. By the third half halt, the horse knows to make a smooth transition to the walk.” Say “Slow … down … walk.”
  • “Over time, the desired effect of a half halt is to be able to shift some of the horse’s weight back to his hindquarter.”

End results (hopefully!)

  • The rider…
    • learns to feel how to coordinate the aids
    • learns how to use the beat to apply the aids rhythmically and establish the horse’s trot rhythm
    • gains an understanding for how the aids work in communicating with the horse
    • learns to “create a “web of aids” around your horse that help him to balance and stay relaxed and on the aids” by using the exercises alternately on both sides of the horse, so he is surrounded by the aids and relaxed within them.
  • The horse…
    • accepts the aids with relaxation
    • maintains rhythm in the trot.
    • is relaxed with a soft jaw, ribcage, and back
    • becomes more obedient, understanding, and willing to engage and carry weight
    • the horse learns to understand what you want. “Before a rider can demand, the horse has to understand.”

How do you teach coordination of the aids?


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!

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