Leg position plays a critical role in your communication with your horse, whether you’re riding on the trail, showing in the arena, or taking a stroll through a pasture. Being able to ask your horse to independently move different parts of his body, will allow you to execute maneuvers in a fluent manner, and advance your training. This will not only build confidence in your horse, but deepen his understanding of how to respond to your cues. Riding with your legs allows you to not be dependent on the reins, and to give clear signals to each part of your horse’s body.
Basic Leg Position
When riding, I often think about where my leg position is, and where it’s connecting to my horse. If my leg is back, it’s connecting to my horse’s hindquarters, and I can move his hind leg. When I put my leg forward, it should connect to his shoulders or front legs. Then, if my leg is in the neutral position, it should move all four feet laterally. Or by connecting both legs I can move all four feet forward.
Separating the Body with Leg Position
If your horse struggles to understand your cues from specific leg placement, you’ll benefit from working on separating the body.
Try to introduce leg pressure on the hindquarters, by bending your horse in the same direction as your leg pressure. Use your right leg near your horse’s hindquarters and bend his neck to the right as well, so he yields away from the leg pressure with his hind. Switch sides to perform the same move to the left.
I will often ask my horse for his shoulders, as I flex him to the outside. Moving my right leg forward, I pull my left rein to the outside, and apply rein pressure to the right side of my horse’s neck. His nose will be tipped to the inside as his shoulders move away from my leg pressure. This helps my horse understand the connection between the inside leg, and the outside rein.
Reins vs. Leg Pressure
I like to think of my leg as someone gently poking you in the side, which will encourage my horse to step away from the pressure. In contrast, I consider my reins as someone tugging on your arm, which would encourage my horse to follow the pressure. By being aware of how I can bend my horse, I know I have the control I need to be able to move other parts of his body.
Benefits of Leg Pressure
Mastering leg pressure will benefit you outside the arena, in unfamiliar situations or on the trail. The better control you have over his body, the more you can keep your horse and yourself out of trouble.
Your horse will begin to correlate your leg pressure with a specific answer and will know how to respond. This is vastly different than just trying to escape the pressure. With young horses, I might be a little more dramatic with my leg cue to help them learn what each leg position means. When my leg is farther forward, I’m asking for his shoulder, and when it’s farther back, I’m asking for his hindquarters. I want him to know that when I pick up on my reins I want bend, and when I apply leg pressure, I want him to yield.
Once your horse understands your cues, he’ll continue to become more confident and calmer in his training. You can then add in more complicated tasks without adding anxiety, because he understands what you’re asking of him.
I have found that if a horse is asked to do something he doesn’t know, it can create panic and fear about getting in trouble. This can often reflect in his attitude. By being intentional with my leg pressure and asking my horse to move specific body parts, he’s more likely to build in confidence and progress in his training.