3 ways riders communicate with horses – Horse Tips for Writers

Rider communication with horses

If your horses are in a fantasy world, try telepathy.

For those of us stuck in mundanity, ways to communicate wishes/instructions to a horse come broadly under 3 categories:

  1. Natural aids (no, not the marital type!). These consist of a rider’s hands, legs/feet, and weight.
  2. Voice
  3. Artificial aids – whips, spurs, gadgets.


Natural aids Debbie Lush

can be as crude as kicking the horse in the ribs with the heels, or yanking at the reins, through to the most sophisticated use of the rider’s body position and weight in the saddle. Horses will respond to crude aids, but depending on the horse’s sensitivities that response may not be what the rider intended!

At the crude end of the scale – pull the right rein to turn right and vice versa; pull on both reins to stop; kick with both legs to go.

At the other end of the scale, the slightest shift of the rider’s weight in the saddle to the right, or a tiny nudge with one part (might be knee, thigh, or calf) of the opposite (left) leg will turn the horse to the right; the tiniest closure of the fingers will stop the horse, or even as subtle as the rider drawing their body up into a taller posture can have the same effect. The lightest squeeze of the calf will ask the horse to move forward.

Two main factors will determine the level of sophistication in horse and rider’s communication: training level and sensitivity of the horse, and the rider’s ability to control their own body.


Horses can be fully trained to respond to voice commands, to produce almost any variation of movement. The actual words used have some impact, but more important is the tone, modulation, pitch and volume of the voice command. Like all other training in horses, precision and repetition are key factors in what a horse will learn. For example, saying ‘trot’ as a command will only be effective if said in the right manner – the word alone will not do the job.

Artificial aids

Spur2[1] All manner of spurs, whips, riding crops and varieties of artificial gadgets exist to enhance or enforce a rider’s commands. How they are used determines whether they are assistance or abuse. Try imagining them being used on your own person – that might give you some clue.


If you’d like any clarification, or further discussion on related issues, please leave me a comment.

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