Using your legs to control your horse's movement by using the Resistance Free leg aids, will take your riding to a much higher level. It will also give you the skills that will let you ride and enjoy most trained horses in any discipline.
Wouldn't it be an honor to have a top Western or English trainer ask you to ride their horses? When you learn how to use your legs in the proper way, this can happen.
In this article, I will explain the three buttons and their positions, plus what part of the horse's body they control. By control, I mean that they have been trained to move away from the pressure of your leg. I then show you how to use them for the different movements that you ask of your horse.
First, you must understand that when we say using your leg means using the lower or calf of your leg as the aid. When sitting on your horse in the Resistance Free position, your lower leg will drop directly under your hips and your shoulders should be positioned right at the cinch, just behind the horse's elbow. This is what I call button #1. It will be primarily used to control your horses shoulders. Button #2 is located approximately 2" back from #1 toward the horse's rear. Button #2 controls your horse's rib cage. Button #3 is located approximately 3" behind button #2 in the belly area of your horse. Button #3 controls your horse's hindquarters. When you are able to control these three parts of your horse; shoulders, rib cage and hindquarters, you will have a horse that you can do anything with. This allows you to execute lead changes, collection & balance, circles, spins & turns. With practice, you will be able to do this with control and efficiency.
When you have trained your horse to move away from the pressure of your leg, you can start using your leg to position your horse's body for a movement. Let's say that you want your horse to take the left lead at a canter or a lope. Your left leg will be at button #1 to hold your horse's shoulder up. This is much like a barrier keeping it in place and not dropping to the inside. Then you use your outside leg in the button #3 position with your right leg to push your horse's hindquarters to the left. In this position, it will move your horse into the left lead. You will do this just the opposite for the right lead.
By using your legs to position your horse, you will realize almost 100% accuracy. When you use your legs as a "queue" without position, you are depending on your horse's memory to respond. Then if your horse is out of position when you give his the queue or signal for the canter or lope, you will end up on the wrong lead.
Now I will explain a great gift that you can give your horse. This is when you can position your horse to cross over in front or behind with his legs. You will be teaching your horse balance and collection. The horse that is balanced and collected is always in the position of advantage. If your horse is only ridden as a trail horse, it means that it will keep him from stumbling or falling. Each time you ask your horse to move laterally or cross over front, behind or both, inner self-balance and self-carriage is an automatic device within your horse.
Self-carriage is easy to spot for a good horseman. It is the one thing that all well trained horses must have. The next time you see a hunter or jumper jump a fence, notice their leg and hindquarter position just before they leave the ground. They must have the self-carriage and balance to make the jump safely for both the horse and rider. Watch a cutter work a cow. With each turn the horse must have self-carriage and balance to have the athletic control of the cow to receive a high score. When this is not present, the will lose the cow by being behind and out of position. It is easy to spot self carriage in the dressage horse. Each movement of collection is a slow motion movement of balance and self-carriage. If the rider tries to force their horse with too much leg or rein, the horse will over react and resist the movement. This is easy to spot because there is usually a "tug of war" between the horse and rider, which makes everything fall out of balance.
Remember, the next time you go for a ride on a well trained horse that has been taught to respond to your legs, start out by using the three buttons. First, move the shoulder with button #1; second, the back end or hindquarters with button #3; third, the rib cage with button #2. Each time that you make these lateral movements, you will know it is correct by the self carriage and the balance you feel from your horse.
May you always rider a good horse........Richard Shrake