Leg Aid Sensitivity
 
 

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Leg Aid Sensitivity

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  • Things that apply preasure to the leg
  • Horse riding chaps improve leg aid

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    11-13-2011, 11:03 AM
  #1
Foal
Leg Aid Sensitivity

I've been trying to read lots of books and articles about leg aides, but haven't really found anything addressing my concern so was hoping I could get some opinions and info about your experiences as a new rider (and now more advanced rider).

I've only had two lessons where I really rode, so I know some of this should just improve over time and I will ask my instructor next week, but for now:
- how is the sensitivity in your calves when trying to give leg aides? I feel that I can't really tell what I'm doing. Seems that books talk about applying leg pressure (and of course my instructor says that too) but they only talk about where along the horses body, only occasionally about how to actually apply that pressure and never about what it actually feels like.

It just seems that I can't feel the difference between neutral and light pressure. I can feel hard pressure if I'm really pressing with both legs and it's hard to do. But if I'm trying to apply pressure with just one leg there's nothing really to brace against so I'm unsure how much pressure I am applying.

I am riding in paddock boots, without half-chaps (as I was worried about my sensitivity and didn't want to spend the money immediately) but with two layers of leggings/light sweats, as it's too cold for just 1 layer now.

So is this an issue of: - poor leg position?
- lack of strength from my end?
- lack of sensitivity from the horse (as a lesson horse he's not that sensitive to the reins, so maybe he's not that sensitive to leg aides either)
- lack of experience?

Any tips? Did you have this issue when you started riding?

Have you ridden one horse and had to apply lots of pressure and then ridden another horse and what you thought was normal pressure was way too much for that horse?

I felt my contact was a bit better when I pulled my leg back just slightly, so I will work on that next time.

Also, there is the usual challenge of trying to get the horse to transition. You start with the pressure and then it turns into a bit more of a kick to get a result. This seems like I have to do this with my heels as you can't really kick with the calves. Is this at all correct, or is this just what you have to do when you are starting out and the horse isn't that responsive. Is there a way to kick/apply heel pressure without my heels lifting so much out of position?

Also, what is the difference between leg pressure to ask for a faster walk and to ask for the trot?

Sorry, this has gotten so long. I'd appreciate any answers you can give. And I know the answer is mostly: PRACTICE. But I get kind of worked up thinking about this stuff in between my weekly lessons. Can't wait until I can go out more often.
     
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    11-13-2011, 11:56 AM
  #2
Started
I have not been riding that long, and learned to ride as an adult, so I remember what you're going through! Other here who actually TEACH riding will likely have better answers.

"how is the sensitivity in your calves when trying to give leg aides?" You'll learn to feel it more when your riding is better. Right now, you're paying attention to twentymillionone things at once. The awareness of legs will come more easily once some other things become more automatic. Neutral pressure is just your normal leg and seat being there where it ought to be, light is a little more than that, and usually more deliberate. I doubt you are missing the strength, but learning to use your body differently takes time.

The lesson horse (if he's good) will ignore all the wrong things you do and wait for you to give strong, clear signals. That will take time. Lesson horses have to learn NOT to be overly sensitive since they have people doing all sorts of things on them all the time, most of which are NOT signals to actually do anything.

"Have you ridden one horse and had to apply lots of pressure and then ridden another horse and what you thought was normal pressure was way too much for that horse?" Yes. That can be a surprise too, if you're not expecting it!

"Is there a way to kick/apply heel pressure without my heels lifting so much out of position?" Yes. I asked my instructor this a million times, and he just had me do more work without stirrups and work on my seat. Then, magically, without me noticing, it happened. Sorry. ;)

"Also, what is the difference between leg pressure to ask for a faster walk and to ask for the trot?" Depends on the horse, depends on your seat, can depend on your reins. For my instructor's well trained dressage horse, you DON'T bump for a faster walk, you just lean forward a tiny bit and apply a little light pressure alternating legs.
tinyliny likes this.
     
    11-14-2011, 08:53 AM
  #3
Foal
Thanks for your answer. The reassurance is great.

Any other poster's responses would be most appreciated.
     
    11-14-2011, 11:23 PM
  #4
Started
I don't know how much this will help, but when I want my horse to move left or right I don't use the reins, I move the lower leg[calf] (opposite of the direction [right leg for left turn vice versa]) back a little and apply pressure with my heel and slightly with my calf.
It might work for you, or I may have just taught my horse to respond to this.
You'll get better!! Just keep trying!
     
    11-27-2011, 11:18 PM
  #5
Foal
With time you'll tone your muscles and that is when the fine adjustments can be felt. Light pressure is best described (or so I can describe) as the weight of your leg plus flexing your muscles. Moderate leg is just one step harder of a push against his sides.
You will likely feel pain in your legs from even light to moderate pressure because you are still working on the leg muscles (unless you're doing other sports and have toned legs to begin with)
Hope this helped!
     
    11-28-2011, 09:37 PM
  #6
Foal
Thanks for your response. I asked my instructor last lesson and it was somewhat helpful. But I'm still not sure if I'm understanding. I guess I was originally thinking that the horse had to feel my leg against it's skin, but my instructor said they do feel it through the saddle flap. Seems like my upper calf (the stronger part) is against the saddle flap and my lower calf and heel is more in actual contact with the horse's side.

Any more opinions/explanations about this? - Do they feel the pressure through the saddle?

As far as feeling pain from the pressure, I don't at all. I do have pretty good leg strength from previous sports and doing lots of leg lift type things with an exercise band. I wish I felt some pain as then I'd have a better idea I was doing it right.

But my horse does seem fairly responsive when I do the right things at the right time, so he must be getting some signals from he. He is a horse who tries to take advantage when he can and doesn't just automatically circle the arena so I have to work with hands and legs to keep him doing what I want him to do.

I'm bumping up to 2 lessons a week and hopefully 3 in January so more time should help.
     
    11-28-2011, 10:18 PM
  #7
Yearling
Hahaha...I have every single one of your questions too! It is the hardest thing ever for me to apply my leg aids without hiking my heels up! I hear about this every. Single. Lesson. I'm sure my trainer is sick of having to remind me.

My boy Huey is a Performance Horse, not a School Master, only we're learning dressage and his previous career was Show Jumping...so some stuff he has to unlearn and re-learn, and all of it is something I have to learn. But he is SUPER sensitive to the aids...usually.

Usually, because one day he can be so sensitive that I just have to think "let's make a circle" and whatever tiny little twitch I get in my seat from just thinking that, he hears, and he obeys. And if I'm not careful, and I put my leg aids on improperly, he'll try to launch directly into a canter from a walk. On the other hand, there are days like today, he didn't feel like working at all (and told me so five times before we got into the ring) I had to bump him a few times just to get him into a good walking pace for a warm up, and I had to squeeze like the dickens to get him into a decent trot.

I should say that today was super-funky weather here, all warm and feeling damp and with a breeze, and none of the horses with their winter coats wanted to budge one inch to do anything. So Huey is not totally random with this stuff...usually he is very predictable and very aware and if he's doing something that I didn't intend, it means that I sent him a bad signal. He's also very smart, so if I'm not being super clear with the aids, he'll start guessing what I might be asking for. All of this is very good feedback for me, because it tells me that I'm not doing something right, and the trick is just to figure out what it is. (I say this because lesson horses, especially School Masters, have learned to tune out all kinds of garbage, and a lot of time, they go a little too far in the other direction and you have to SHOUT with the aids to get them to notice.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kestra    
- how is the sensitivity in your calves when trying to give leg aides? I feel that I can't really tell what I'm doing. Seems that books talk about applying leg pressure (and of course my instructor says that too) but they only talk about where along the horses body, only occasionally about how to actually apply that pressure and never about what it actually feels like.

It just seems that I can't feel the difference between neutral and light pressure. I can feel hard pressure if I'm really pressing with both legs and it's hard to do. But if I'm trying to apply pressure with just one leg there's nothing really to brace against so I'm unsure how much pressure I am applying.
This will come. The thing is that "light" is a matter of how well the horse is listening to your aids. Usually, "light" pressure for Huey involves me giving the muscles in whatever leg a squeeze, and he feels that (yes, through the saddle, through the girth, all of that - if I so much as squeeze my butt cheeks together and leave the reins totally alone, he's going to hear that through the saddle, the riser, the saddle pad as a request to "stop"). Today, "light" pressure meant "squeeze like I wanted to crush a beer can between my thighs". Why? Because he was lazy, hot, bored, and not in the mood to work or listen to aids. It just wasn't one of our better days.

After riding a bunch, you will get a feel for this. Here is what my instructor told me: always start with a quiet request. If the horse doesn't listen to that, make a louder request. If the horse doesn't listen to that, do it again, and this time, shout. She said to give the horse 3 seconds to respond, and if he doesn't, that's when you need to crank it up a notch.

So you give a light squeeze, wait for a response, then a firmer squeeze, wait for a response, and then bump the horse or kick it, depending on how loud the last request was.

There are some training issues for the horse, but since I'm learning on my own horse and training him as well, I don't want to get into those. In general, the horse ought to be able to hear a polite and quiet request. Lesson horses, not so much. (a good reason to have your own! Hahah)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kestra    
I am riding in paddock boots, without half-chaps (as I was worried about my sensitivity and didn't want to spend the money immediately) but with two layers of leggings/light sweats, as it's too cold for just 1 layer now.

So is this an issue of: - poor leg position?
- lack of strength from my end?
- lack of sensitivity from the horse (as a lesson horse he's not that sensitive to the reins, so maybe he's not that sensitive to leg aides either)
- lack of experience?
I use paddock boots and half-chaps. This isn't causing a sensitivity issue for me. If I didn't use the half-chaps the stirrup leathers would be destroying my pants. I'd suggest investing in a pair if you're going to go a couple times a week. Also, sweats are going to be more slippery than half-chaps, so half-chaps will be more helpful in keeping your leg in the right position once you get it there.

Some of it is poor leg position. It might also be a saddle fit issue. Before I bought Huey and got our own gear, I was riding him for lessons in a borrowed saddle that was WAY too small for me. The saddle fit problem made it VERY hard for me to get an effective leg on. My trainer tells me the key is to have contact with the horse with your *lower* leg but to keep the knees nice and loose. What I had to do with the saddle issue was to turn my toes out like I had duck feet in order to lay my calves against the horse to get contact.

This part of the problem went away instantly when I got a new saddle that fit me and him. I still have to work constantly on my leg position, though. One thing that helped me with that was riding at a walk in half-seat (or two-point). That really tells you if your legs are in the wrong place - if they are too far forward, you will bump your butt on the cantle all the time. If they're too far back, you'll pitch into the pommel.

The other thing that helps me - I'm in a dressage saddle - is when I'm walking Huey out to warm him up, I stand up in the stirrups for a few paces and keep my body in the same (or same-ish) position when I sit back down in the saddle.

Both of these were very helpful in getting a good start on the right leg position.

It's probably not really an issue with your strength, just experience and the horse not paying attention to quiet requests.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kestra    
Any tips? Did you have this issue when you started riding?

Have you ridden one horse and had to apply lots of pressure and then ridden another horse and what you thought was normal pressure was way too much for that horse?
Shoot, I don't have to change horses to get this experience! Remember, they're critters, they've got moods, and thoughts, and interests, and physical sensations just like you do. Part of learning to ride is learning to deal with the day-to-day variability in the horse. :) And, of course, learning to deal with horse-to-horse variability.

Something that you should know if you don't already, do not just put an aid on and keep it there. Put it on, and if you don't get what you want within 3 seconds, take it off and replace it with a louder aid. If you just squeeze to get some speed, and keep squeezing, the horse learns that it doesn't have to go unless you are squeezing the heck out of it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kestra    
I felt my contact was a bit better when I pulled my leg back just slightly, so I will work on that next time.
Be careful, as putting one leg back and squeezing is a signal for a transition to a canter. I learned this the hard way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kestra    
Also, there is the usual challenge of trying to get the horse to transition. You start with the pressure and then it turns into a bit more of a kick to get a result. This seems like I have to do this with my heels as you can't really kick with the calves. Is this at all correct, or is this just what you have to do when you are starting out and the horse isn't that responsive. Is there a way to kick/apply heel pressure without my heels lifting so much out of position?
I have this problem too. Be aware of the habit of lifting your heels up when you bump, and focus on keeping them down. One thing that might help is to put your weight into your pinky toe not into your big toe. Another thing that might help is lifting your big toe up to rub it on the inside of the toe of your boot.

When you're needing to put on the gas at the trot, point your heels in to the horse's side and let them bump him as you come up to rise in the trot. Don't do it every step, but every few steps, until he's getting the trot you want. Be careful not to squeeze with your knees, if you focus on turning your toe out a bit that will help because your knee follows the toe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kestra    
Also, what is the difference between leg pressure to ask for a faster walk and to ask for the trot?
I think they are the same thing. It's just that with a trot, you're also telling the horse to get ready by organizing yourself with a shorter rein, probably shifting your weight forward a bit, and then squeezing him to let him know. When you want a faster walk, you probably aren't fooling with the reins or shifting your weight like you would for a trot. I mean "shifting your weight" too, not "leaning forward". If you don't shift your weight a bit, and the horse breaks into a trot, you're going to get left behind it. But if you lean forward, you're asking for other trouble. It's almost more like gathering your energy up in your core than it is making some change with your body position...but the horse can feel it and knows what that means.
     
    11-29-2011, 07:15 PM
  #8
Foal
ThursdayNext - Thanks so much for the great response! Tons of stuff to think about.
I will try to work on the applying the aids lightly then harder and also on only doing it for a short period of time. I guess at this point I'm not completely sure when I am squeezing and when I am not. But I suppose if I'm not actively doing anything with those muscles that means the horse shouldn't really feel squeezing.

Last lesson I tried to use more of a continuous squeeze to get my horse to not stop at the arena door. Just when we were passing by it and it did work well so I suspect that was the right thing to do.

I'm so not concerned about speed at the trot yet, but his walk is pretty lazy. Another thing I have to work on.

Too bad with a lesson horse I don't get any choice re: saddle, but it seems ok.

Overall I'm just reassured that they should be able to feel a light squeeze through the saddle. That alone helps me a lot.
     
    11-29-2011, 07:59 PM
  #9
Yearling
You can ask your instructor - when *you* think you are laying a leg on, if that is also their perception. With the too-small saddle I *thought* I had a leg on, but my trainer said that my leg position was such that I had only the tiniest bit of contact with the part of my leg that should be there. So I guess this is something that teachers can *see* - it would be worth asking about it.

Hahahaha...the ol' Lesson Horse Gate Stop Trick! Thing with that is to stay on top of it. Be there and bump him right as he's starting to *think* about parking at the gate...don't wait for him to slow down, just bump him right then. Head that stuff off at the pass, soon the horse will learn that he may be able to stop at the gate for *other* riders, but not for *you*.
     
    12-15-2011, 03:43 PM
  #10
Foal
Hi there,
I can certainly relate to your troubles - it's not easy to start a new experience, is it?
But good for you for wanting to do it right!

Here are a few things that I hope will help you.

First question - about feel:
So feel in riding is not different then feel in the rest of your life. However, riding demands feel in parts of your body that you probably didn't need to feel before :). That is where practice comes in. A handy tool for this may be a physio ball - you can sit on and it will be your horse at home :)

So a starting place - which you can do at home, I realize your on-horse time is pretty limited right now - is just sitting on your chair and pressing the inside of your calf against your hand. What you feel is what your horse feels as pressure. Light/heavy etc. are very personal - depending on the rider and the horse (you are right to guess it varies)- you will come up with your own definition of heavy pressure - and light pressure - if you use a numbering system where 0 is no pressure and 10 is the most, then you just rate your pressure that way - 5 would be medium and so on.

You will learn that there are many different ways to ride and interact with the horse. Since you have an instructor - of course follow her/his advice!

But here are some tips anyway:
As for the leg position - arrange your legs on the horse so that your thighs lay flat against the saddle - that way your knees will be on the saddle and your kneecaps will point forward and so will your toes. You don't want to have contact with the back of your thighs - knees (and toes) pointing out. So to achieve the correct way - you may have to physically take your legs away from the saddle, reach around with your hands and pull the back of your thighs away from the saddle, then lay your legs on in the new alignment.

Next step: your heels should be under your hips (on the same vertical line), with a bend in your knees. So you may have to look down, and make sure you are in this position - most people start out with their heels ahead of their hips - so that may be why things feel more effective for you when you bring your lower leg back.

In this position, I would suggest holding your lower legs /calves slightly away from the horse - call that "0" pressure. Then, when you are ready to go, you bring your calves towards the horse to apply your chosen level of pressure. Ideally nothing changes above the knees - just your lower legs touch the horse's sides - without turning the toes out - think of touching the stirrup irons together, instead of touching your heels together...

Now you are doing everything right and the horse still won't go?

It certainly happens :). So that is where you need to back up your "nice way of asking" with a demand. If you have a riding crop - use it. Or you may have to give an actual kick - maybe talk with your instructor to see what is appropriate on this horse. The important thing is: You need to make enough of an impression on the horse so that next time you use the leg nicely, he will believe you! AND you need to say "thank you" by then leaving him alone - go to your "0" pressure. (and of course a pat on the neck or a "good horse" are appropriate too)

As far as differentiating aids for increase of speed or change of gait - again, lots of different ways to do this.
In my opinion - and to set you up for more advanced work later on - it is your seat - where you connect to the horse with your underneath, that determines what you are really saying to the horse. This may be food for thought for your later rides - but to put it simply:

You have probably noticed that the horse's back moves differently in different gaits - the walk feels different from the trot and things feel different again at the halt. Eventually, you will be able to guide your horse by "plugging in" to him through his back and allowing or disallowing or even creating a movement you are looking for. So then your leg aid will be processed by the horse simultaneously with your seat - once you learn how to be clear.

For now, what might work is just changing the strength of your aid - let's say it might take a "3" to increase the speed of the walk, while it will take a "7" to go into trot. Don't be afraid to experiment and find out for yourself!

Zuzana
     

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