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Teach Your Horse to Be Responsive to Your Leg

Every horse should be responsive to all of your aids, but some lazy horses will learn to ignore them. While others will move off, but not at the speed you want. Instead, they will plod along barely picking up their feet. This lesson will teach you how to make your horse listen to your leg, and go forward quickly at the speed you want.

First, you need to know what your go forward cues are and how to improve them. Start by looking where you want to go. Focus is extremely important while riding. It invisibly tells your horse where you want to go without any other aids. The second cue is to think about going forward, as silly as it seems, it works. When you think about going forward your body moves and your horse can feel it and may move off. Third, I use voice cues for each gait, which a horse learns first on the lunge line, then transfers to riding. For the walk I say “walk”, pause for a moment, then cluck. ( For the trot I say “trot”, then cluck twice. For the canter I say “canter”, then I kiss.) Fourth, preparing to squeeze the horse is the next cue. I move my legs toward the horse’s sides. This is an important cue to getting your horse light. If you instead just squeeze the horse hard, he probably won’t react well, by kicking out, bolting, or just being tense or nervous of your legs aids. Fifth, squeezing with your legs is the next cue you want to give. Be sure that it is a gentle, even squeeze. Sixth, if the horse still hasn’t moved forward, I start bumping his sides with my legs. I bump for about seven seconds before I start to tap him with the whip. Seventh, I continue bumping with my feet while also tapping him on the top of the hindquarters. Again, you want to start tapping gently, increasing your tapping strength every three seconds.

Always release all of your cues when the horse moves forward into the gait that you wanted. At the same time the horse goes forward and you release your aids, you need to click him for going forward. Most horses will stop when they hear you click. This is ok, just feed the horse from the saddle. I like to tap the horse on the shoulder to tell him which way to turn his head for a treat. I will then give the horse a handful of grain or a treat. After letting the horse chew, I will then ask the horse to move forward again. I will reward one step of forward movement of whatever gait you are asking for (I always start at the walk, then trot, then canter and gallop). I do this 3-5 times then I start reward the horse for 2-3 strides, then 3-5 strides, then 10 strides, 15 strides, etc.

Do not kick your horse kicking doesn’t make a horse want to go forward. Think of a jockey, they use a whip to encourage their horse to go forward, they don’t kick them. If he continues to ignore your aids or has a tendency to kick out or otherwise act up or resist when you ask him to move forward, have someone on the ground help you. Go through your aids until the horse hasn’t moved forward and you are bumping him with your legs. When you go to bump, have your ground person use a lunge whip and cue your horse to go forward just as you do while lunging. Have the helper on the ground lift the whip, then swing it, getting closer each time to the horse. Most horses will move forward in response to the ground person if they have been conditioned properly on the ground. If the horse still doesn’t move forward, have the ground person tap the horse on the hindquarters until the horse goes forward. Again, click and stop all the pressure the instant the horse goes forward. Repeat this lesson until the horse will go forward at all three gaits from the aids of only the rider. I also recommend doing this lesson in a round pen so that you don’t have to steer and interfere with the horse’s forward movement. Once the horse is responding in the round pen, do the same exercise in the arena. Try hard not to steer the horse a lot. You may have to section off half of the arena (with panels or electric rope that is not hot) at first so that you can get the horse forward in a larger area without steering. Most horses aren’t this difficult, but some horses are inadvertently taught to ignore the rider’s leg and they will take time to retrain to respond to your aids correctly.

The key to making your horse responsive to your leg is to use the least amount of pressure first and to slowly increase it until he responds; the moment he does release all the pressure and reward. Horses are motivated by comfort (release of pressure) and by food (positive reinforcement).  So the sooner you can release your aids and click to tell them what they did was right and they will be rewarded for it when he gives you the correct answer, the faster he will learn what you want. To review the aids to go forward are:

  • Focus
  • Think
  • Voice Cues
  • Prepare to Squeeze
  • Squeeze
  • Bump
  • Tap with the Whip
  • Use a Ground Person

A good exercise to teach your horse this lesson is to work on each gait in an arena. Don’t steer just focus on going forward.

It’s very important that you can slow down your horse as well. Having your horse move quickly off your aids will have no value if you can’t slow down or stop him. When he starts to get fast or doesn’t want to slow down when you ask, bend him to a stop. Use one hand to slide your hand down the rein as far down as you can. Lift your arm and keep it straight until the horse bends his neck. When he does, lift your hand up to the pommel of your saddle. Hold it there until your horse crosses over his hind legs, stops moving, and then moves his head toward you, getting soft in the bridle. Click and release the rein when the horse is soft, then feed. It is important to reward the horse for going slow as well to balance him. Some horses will catch on that you want him to go forward and will soon become too forward. If this happens reward going forward less and reward slowing down or stopping more. When you bend him, make sure that you don’t pull on his face and jerk him around. Be patient and take your time. He will soon catch on and only go the speed you want, when you want.