October 8, 2012 – No matter where I travel, the most frequently asked questions I get are, “How do I put my dressage horse on the bit… and how do I keep him there consistently?” This concept baffles many riders. My hope here is to simplify the process for you by explaining how to give what I call “connecting aids”.
First, you need to know that the “connecting aids” are the SPECIFIC AIDS you’ll use to put your horse on the bit. It’s an AID just like there is a specific aid to ask for canter or for a leg yield.
Now for some information on the connecting aids:
1) The reason we give connecting aids is to bring the horse to a more perfect state of balance.
2) The connecting aids are important not only because they are the aid to put your horse on the bit, but also because they are the doorway through which you do every change of gait, balance, movement, or exercise.
3) Every set of connecting aids contains the power, the surge, or the thrust from behind that you’d have if you asked for a medium gait.
4) The “connecting aids” consist of the marriage of 3 sets of aids.
- Driving aids (seat and two legs)
- Bending aids (inside rein and both legs)
- The rein of opposition (outside rein)
5) These 3 sets of aids are applied for about 3 seconds. (Not a MOMENTARY closure of seat, legs, and hands!)
6) To the naked eye, the aids are given at the same time.
7) However, if you had freeze frame photography, you would see:
- First, close both calves as if you’re squeezing toothpaste out of a tube to create that surge of power from behind. (You’ll only be using your legs as your driving aids at this point. I’m purposely leaving the seat out for now to keep things simple.)
- Next, close your outside hand (rein of opposition) in a fist to capture, contain, and recycle the energy back to the hind legs.
- Finally, give 3 little squeezes and releases on the inside rein to keep the neck straight. (If you don’t use your inside hand, your horse will bend his neck to the outside because your outside hand is closed in a fist for so long.)
- After 3 seconds, soften everything. Go back to the light, maintenance pressure of legs and hands you had in the beginning before you gave the connecting aids.
8) Putting your horse on the bit is as simple as giving any other aid. Don’t make it complicated by searching for exercises to connect your horse. (Don’t get me wrong. Exercises like leg yields are helpful. They give the novice horse or rider the “feel” of connection. But at the end of the day, you need to train your horse to come on the bit from an invisible aid that you can use anytime… like in the show ring!)
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