How to use your aids effectively in Dressage

Brett Parbery Beanz Dressage

Following the training article about how to unlock the activity and motivation in your horse by making him in front of the leg, it makes sense to now further explore which aids you’re using, and how you’re using them.

Essential Aids

If you break it down, you need to be able to achieve four key types of transitions in dressage:

  • Upward transitions
  • Active and forward transitions within the pace
  • Downward transitions
  • Balancing and collecting transitions within the pace

For these four outcomes, we need four clear sets of aids.

Upward transitions

Upward transition aids are the ones you use to get from halt to walk to trot to canter. Take some time to think about what your own personal upward transition aids are. They are personal and there is no right and wrong, but you do need to have a clear idea of what they are so you don’t confuse your horse by using them for other reactions.

Once your horse is in a pace, you’re then either usually training the pace to improve it by frequent adjustments, or training gymnastic exercises for suppling and obedience. You should aim to make frequent adjustments such as asking your horse to respond quicker to you, asking them to try harder within the pace, or alternatively, responding to your half halt to come back into balance or collect the pace.

Activity-within-the-pace transitions

Responses for activity within the pace begin from your leg. Here are my aids for activity within the pace:

  • More activity in walk: alternate legs on the girth in the rhythm of the walk
  • More activity in trot: both legs on the girth
  • More activity in canter: inside leg on the girth

Downward transitions

Downward transitions are canter to trot to walk to halt. If you have an issue with your horse ‘falling’ into downward transitions, or beating you to them, your job is to work on the preparation for the transition (rather than the transition itself). The preparation is the use of the half halt (see below).

For a good downward transition, your horse needs to be in front of your leg in the preparation. This is the most important part of the transition, and if you haven’t already, I’d recommend you read this training article about being in front of the leg.

The series of half halts that you use in the preparation for downward transitions creates the same responses that you need to achieve and sustain collection as your horse gets stronger and more educated.

You need to practice the preparation!

Prepare your horse, then move out of the preparation, and repeat. Then you choose when the transition happens, and that could be in 2 steps, or in 50 steps. You’re searching here for that feeling of balance, collection and being in front of the leg. Then the moment of downward transition comes through your downward transition aid.

For me, my downward transition aid is a signal down one rein, usually the outside rein of the flexion, or if I’m on a straight line it’s the last outside rein. I accompany the signal down the rein with a soft low tone voice aid which helps the horse determine the moment when the transition is permitted.

Balance and collection aids

To rebalance the horse, my half halt aids begin between my shoulder blades, go down through my core and into my seat. If there is no response I will reinforce the half halt aid by using both reins together. Remember the half halt is complete once the horse is rebalanced or shown a response of collection. There’s no need to over-ride the half halt.

The importance of using shades of aids

When using an aid – any aid – it’s important that you have several shades of the aid at your disposal – softer, little bit stronger/quicker, stronger/quicker again – and as soon as you get a response, reward your horse with pressure removed and soft gentle voice praise.

Having these shades of aids, like turning a volume knob, is vital to create the kinds of reactions that are essential in dressage.

ACTION: Take a few minutes to jot down your aids. Do you have a crystal clear structure of aids?

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