If a horse can feel a fly land on his flank, he can feel the slightest aid from the rider.
If you’re an equestrian, you’ve likely heard some version of the above statement. It’s true: horses are incredibly sensitive creatures, capable of feeling even the subtlest shifts in energy or weight from their rider.
Why, then, do so many of us struggle to achieve real responsiveness to our aids? If my horse can feel my aid, then why isn’t he listening?
We enlisted the help of U.S. dressage Olympian Laura Graves, who shared her philosophy on responsiveness to the aids in a new Equestrian Masterclass 3-part series.
Laura knows a thing or two about creating a stellar horse from scratch. Growing up in Vermont, life was all about riding whatever horses came her way. “I never had a ‘dressage’ horse or a ‘jumping’ horse. I just had a horse,” she explains. “We had free horses, we had horses that were dangerous for other people, we had horses that would bolt.”
Having this “motley crew” of different types of horses, each with their own baggage, taught Laura to love the process of training and understanding each horse that came to her. After dipping her toes in other disciplines such as three-day eventing, she eventually found herself drawn back to dressage for its refinement of the skills she had picked up along the way.
“It just became a super complex relationship and language that I was hooked on,” Laura says. Those skills would serve her well as she got to know Verdades, the horse purchased as a foal when Laura was just 15. In the beginning, “Diddy” was far from the Olympic superstar he grew to be. He had a unique conformation – he was half Dutch harness horse, after all! – and way of going, and as a result Laura had to use all of her skills to produce the best movement from her horse.
For Laura, training horses like Verdades requires an understanding and empathy toward each horse’s individuality.
So, how does this relate to teaching a horse to be responsive to the aids?
As riders, we have all built up a database of knowledge. Thanks to the amount of readily available information now at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to maintain a sense of curiosity about training and communicating with horses. After all, that is exactly what training responsiveness entails: understanding and communication.
Laura uses a "teeter-totter" analogy in her Equestrian Masterclass on Responsiveness to Aids.
Before we can progress with creating a well-tuned horse, we must first understand a few fundamentals:
First, we must make sure that we are in check with our position and the delivery of our aids. In the first course of Laura’s Equestrian Masterclass, you’ll go through a self-diagnostic ride to check in on your position and how your horse currently responds to aids you deliver.
Second, we need to understand how our aids relate to how our horses travel. In her Equestrian Masterclass course, Laura uses the analogy of a teeter-totter and how a rider’s leg and hand aids must strike a balance between the two ends. A correct response to aid is important not just in a competitive landscape, but also for long term soundness and longevity, as a horse that travels correctly, in balance and self-carriage, will not put as much wear and tear on her limbs and tendons.
Third, we must meet our horses where they are in that moment. Not every horse will respond to every aid in the same way, and not every horse learns or is motivated similarly. At any given stage in a horse’s training, they have options to pull from their “box of answers” to a question (aid) posed by the rider. As the horse progresses in her training, her box of answers will get smaller. In this way, we are able to train more technical movements.
Laura’s methodology for creating a responsiveness to aids comes from her extensive background working with all different types of horses. The language she speaks is simple yet complex, subtle yet clear.
In her three-part Equestrian Masterclass series, Laura will teach and demonstrate the concepts she refers to, at the core always encouraging students to learn more about their horses and work to gain a better understanding of them. Through this, we can work through frustration with a sense of curiosity and arrive in a stronger relationship with our horse.
Want to dive deep into Laura’s training philosophy and learn which exercises she uses to develop a horse and their responsiveness?
Then make sure you check out her newest Masterclass.
In this series, you’re going to learn…
✅ How to be a teacher for your horse
✅ Why dressage is an important foundation for all disciplines
✅ What a correct response is from your horse and how to achieve it
✅ Learn what important tools are needed for a proper flatwork foundation
✅ Why getting frustrated at your horse gets you nowhere and what you should do instead
✅ How to bring out the best in your horse
✅ What to do if you ride a hot horse, dull horse, and everything in between
✅ Why cavalettis aid in essential flatwork
✅ Identifying your horse’s personality is key to have successful communication together
✅ How pressure and release play a crucial part in your horses training
Ready to get access? CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LAURA’S NEW MASTERCLASS.
Since its release, hundreds of dressage riders have been raving about it’s impact on their riding, and their understanding of their horse.