Natural aids – how we communicate with our horses – Horse Tips for Writers


You may wonder why you might need aids to ride a horse, natural or artificial, but believe me, you do.

Aids are the umbrella term for the methods we use to communicate our desires to a horse. They are split into two categories:

Natural aids

Leg, seat and hands - our main means of communicating with our horses

Leg, seat and hands – our main means of communicating with our horses

  • Legs
  • Hands
  • Seat / body weight
  • Voice

Artificial aids

  • Whips
  • Spurs
  • Gadgets
Whips and spurs

Whips and spurs

Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking the later, in particular, apply equally to sex, here we are only going to look at them in relation to horses.

NATURAL AIDS are, as they sound, those available to us without any artificial additions. They can be used in a range of ways, from subtle, sensitive and educated, to rough, aggressive and rude, with all variations between.

For the most basic rider, the instructions most often heard are: kick to go, and pull on the reins to stop.

Whilst these might achieve the desired result with an insensitive, crudely trained animal, if applied to the wrong mount they may cause disaster!

Putting your horse into forward gear

BASIC VERSION: kick with your heels

MOST SOPHISTICATED: a light squeeze of the calf followed by a relaxation of the leg muscles, accompanied by an easing of the rein contact and possibly a slight feeling of forward/upward springing of the seat in the saddle.

Slowing down/stopping

BASIC: pull hard on the reins (with the wrong horse, this might have precisely the opposite effect!)

SOPHISTICATED: a small closure of the thigh on the saddle accompanied by holding the pelvis still instead of following the movement, and possibly (but not essential in all cases) a small closure of the fingers on the reins.


BASIC: pull hard on the rein on one side to turn that direction (again, this may not have the desired result, as horses can easily turn just their head in one direction in response to this pulling, yet continue to move in the opposite direction)

SOPHISTICATED: a subtle shift of the rider’s weight into, say, the left seat bone, will turn the horse to the left. A turn of the rider’s torso towards the direction they wish to go will also achieve this, both by shifting the rider’s weight in the above manner, accompanied by a small movement of both hands (or hand, if reins are both held in the one hand) towards the desired direction. A small push with the outside leg (or knee) may also be employed.

Debbie Lush

NOTE – to TURN a horse one must turn the animal’s SHOULDERS, not the head and neck.

Using body weight

In addition to the use of weight aids for turning, leaning the body forward or backward will affect the horse, but in different ways according to its training.

LEANING FORWARD on, say, a racehorse, will increase speed. On a sophisticated English trained horse it would result in the horse stepping backward.

LEANING BACK and so pushing the seat bones forward in the saddle can have either a driving (go faster) effect or a slowing effect if accompanied by a still pelvis. A western trained horse may move backward.


Horses become accustomed to certain words or sounds, associating them with desired behavior patterns, but these may be modified by the TONE used. Horses can be trained quite readily to respond to certain auditory cues, but bottom line is that quiet, low tones can be pacifying, while high, excitable voices (such as children have) may cause anxiety and nervous behavior.


So that is ridden communication in a nutshell. I’ve outlined each end of the scale – in your writing you could use anything in between those two extremes and be correct, but if in doubt – ask me!


  1. Long live the reasonable dressage lessons! 🙂
    I appreciate your ‘MOST SOPHISTICATED’ paragraphs. Finesse is what riders and writers really need to apply.


    1. That would be nice, but I guess not all characters are going to be sophisticated… 😉


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