Advice from Ken McNabb on Teaching Your Horse to Move Off Your Seat and Legs
When horse riding, it's important to create control with your seat and legs. Your hands are the most aggressive tools you have so it's important to work toward using them the least. Your horse's bit should be used as much as needed, but not more. Ideally, your seat and legs should be used as the FIRST cue with the horse bit only used as an enforcer when necessary.
Horse Riding Leg Positions: A Quick Review
Following are three key leg positions used to control a horse's body:
- Position 1: Leg is up near the front of the horse cinch. This position moves your horse's shoulders.
- Position 2: Leg is straight down underneath you. This position moves the horse's ribcage.
- Position 3: Leg is back closer to the back cinch. This position moves the hindquarters.
Teaching a Horse to Side Pass
Now that we have a mental picture of each of the leg positions, let's take the next step and think about body control and teaching a horse to side pass. After you teach your horse through leg and seat cues to fluidly move the shoulders and the hindquarters (the two easiest exercises to work on), you are prepared to teach the side pass.
Get started by going back and forth between moving your horse's shoulders and hindquarters, just a step or so at a time. Then, place your leg in position 2 to ask for the ribcage to complete a side pass. When you get one side step, release. Start building on the number of steps before you give the release and you and your horse will be mastering this maneuver in no time!
Think of this process as a building block exercise. Some riders may take minutes to put it all together while other riders may need to work on this for over a week or more. No matter how long it takes, remember to study the release and look for moments to reward your horse for the correct answer.
The more we learn to feel each part of our horses, the stronger we grow in our horsemanship. A helpful suggestion from Ken: If it is your first time asking your horse for a side pass, line your horse up facing a wall. This prevents your horse from going forward and allows your cues to be taught a bit more easily the first couple of times.
A Few Important Pointers to Always Remember:
- Stay Upright and Balanced: Maintaining a balanced seat helps you stay out of your horse's way and allows him to move freely.
- Don't Move Your Entire Body: While you may need to exaggerate a movement at first to get the feeling of your seat ingrained in your own body, always work toward staying upright and balanced using only your seat with minimal body movement.
- Teach the Release: Don't be afraid of your horse saying “no,” and don't give up! Release only when your horse gives you the desired response.
Equipped with these helpful lessons, you and your horse will be on your way to achieving clear communication that leads to fluid movements and reliable body control. Whether you're in the arena, on the trail or working on the ranch, you'll discover teaching these horsemanship fundamentals is time well spent.