Have you ever wondered how on earth your horse knows the difference between some of the aids you give him? There’s more going on in his head than you probably give him credit for. Refining your leg aids can make things a lot clearer for him.
If you’ve read ‘The Other Way of Stopping’ you’ll know your upper leg can control your speed. Your lower leg controls energy and direction.
If you read ‘It’s in Your Hands’ you’ll know that your hands control everything in front of the saddle. Your lower leg controls everything behind it.
There are two parts to your lower leg: the inside of your calf muscle, just below your knee, and your heel. Your calf muscle is soft and should rest against your horse’s side to guide him. Your heel is hard and should only be used for orders or corrections.
Whereas your calf guides with constant ‘pushing’ pressure your heel stays off until it’s needed. It should be used quickly and sharply. If your horse is unwilling to bend or turn then a quick nudge with a heel will usually get him back on track.
When you ask for canter your outside calf should move back to tell your horse canter is coming but your inside heel should do the asking. Note the difference. The outside leg is preparing your horse for canter but your inside leg is giving the order. (See Popular posts/The Perfect Canter Transition)
To avoid working correctly your horse may swing his quarters to one side. Your calf muscles should lie against his side to keep him straight but if his quarters drift to one side move that leg back and use a quick nudge with your heel. Corrections should be short and sharp. Don’t nag! Put your leg straight back to its original position.
When you move a leg back be careful not to take it too far. A couple of inches is more than enough. Your heel should never be higher than your toe. Your horse is incredibly sensitive to your weight. Swing your leg too far back and your weight will tip to the other side. This will unbalance him and he’ll be unable to do as you ask.
This is one exercise which has little outward effect on your horse. It’s for riders rather than horses. If you’re keen to try some lateral movements spend time refining these aids. You’ll need to know how your legs work as well as your horse’s! Good luck.