• Fiona Darling

Part A: A Leadership Strategy to Enable Lightness in a Horse’s Responses. By Fiona Darling

Imagine standing with your right foot slightly ahead of your left foot with your weight more on your left than right foot. Your dance/aerobics/yoga/fitness Instructor then asks you to step to the right with your left foot in that moment keeping in time with the music playing. What do you think/feel/do in that moment? Was it possible to follow the instruction in an easy, harmonious way?

The timing of our ask with our horse to achieve a willing response is so important, requiring us to think all the way down to each of our horse’s feet and asking at the moment in time when our horse is able to respond to our request.

If I was to ask you to lift your left foot off the ground what sequence of events must take place in order for you to follow the request? Yes first you would have to process the request in your brain to decide what parts of your body would need to get into action. Next you would have to organise your body bending or moving it in such a way that you would be able to take the weight in your right foot. This would then allow you to redistribute your weight to your right foot freeing up your left foot. Finally you would be able to lift your left foot now unloaded. There is time involved for the request to be responded to.

With this in mind it can be seen that the response cannot take place immediately in the moment of the ask.

Knowing the foot falls of the horse in each gait is an important consideration for the timing of our ask/aide in order to gain a light harmonious response from our horse. To set a horse up for success an ask needs to take place as the horse is just taking or about to take the weight off that particular foot in preparation for the movement of that leg in its part of the stride sequence taken in that gait.

Asking when the horse is bearing weight on that foot or when that foot is in the air and the horse has already committed to where it will be placed does not offer the horse good leadership causing disharmony between horse and rider/handler.

Knowing/feeling a horse’s foot falls and balance of weight over the body for each gait is an important element for the timing of the ask for any manoeuvre as our horse’s leader in our dance together.

Key to having good timing in an ask/aide in building a horse’s understanding, confidence and respect for us as a worthy leader is knowing through feel when riding or in observation from the ground what each leg of the horse is about to do in that gait.

Examples for knowing when the best time for an ask or aide would be:

One front or hind foot forward and back over a pole.

Advancing Backup from the horse’s nose in time with foot falls, FQ and HQ yields in time with foot falls, timing for rising trot and canter strike off.


Advanced timing for sideways moves and flying change.

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