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Discussion on Leg cues

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Patricia K. Wilt (Patricia)
Posted on Wednesday, Aug 9, 2000 - 10:10 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I'm a little confused when it comes to leg cues. I have spent my riding years riding made horses and never paid much attention to leg cues, but am working with my greenie - an 8 year old mustang that I have spent the last 3 1/2 years working with. I find that I am given what appears to be conflicting information, or maybe its just my interpretation. One theory is to teach a horse to move away from pressure. One trainer tells me that to cue the horse to turn with the leg, you "push" him in the direction you wish him to turn with your opposite leg. Another tells me that I should cue him by touching him with the leg on the side to which I wish him to turn, as if moving him around a post (my leg). These two theories seem to be opposite to me. What am I missing. My boy is responsive to rein cues, but I want to continue his training correctly. Help.
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Amy E. Coffman (Redroan8)
Posted on Wednesday, Aug 9, 2000 - 11:00 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi Patricia,
Wow, that's so cool that you have a Mustang! I really hope to have one some day; I rode one at a clinic several years ago and fell hopelessly in love--he was one of the kindest horses I've ever seen.
Regarding cues, it's really up to you. He can be trained with any cue system your imagination can come up with, as long as you're consistent with it and make sure anyone else who rides him is as well. Equine author and behaviorist Moyra Williams once trained a jumper to respond solely to finger pressure at the base of the neck.
The more common way is probably going to be the one you mentioned first--cueing him with the outside leg. If for no other reason than the fact that most other people who might ever ride him will be more likely to use that cue, I'd probably choose it. I've never used the other method; it might be a dressage thing. I'm sure someone can jump in and enlighten us both there.
Sounds like you've got a terrific start anyway.
Have fun!
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Lisa Mathewson (Lisam)
Posted on Thursday, Aug 10, 2000 - 1:20 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Actually, in both cases your horse is moving away from leg pressure. My trainer describes it this way: your inside leg at the girth (and a soft "vibrating" inside rein, if you ride english) creates a bend in the horse, in the direction in which you wish to go. Your outside leg slightly behind the girth, and a firm outside rein, tell the horse to move forward around that "pole" that your leg has become. When done correctly, you can feel that the horse uses his entire body through the turn. Your outside aids prevent him from swinging his hindquarters out, and your inside aids soften his body into the bend that you wish him to hold. Incidentally, turning your hips and torso (the Centered Riding folks call this the "barber pole" ) to match the bend that you wish to create will automatically put your legs in the position I have described. Your horse will respond to both your seat and legs.

I've found Jane Savoie's "Cross-Train Your Horse" books to be a great resource for explaining in plain language these subtle aids that encourage the horse to use his whole body in a balanced way (which applies to every riding style). I also like Sally Swift's Centered Riding, but the imagery does not match everyone's way of learning.

Have fun with your mustang!

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Dr. Carol Artlett (Cartlett)
Posted on Thursday, Aug 10, 2000 - 1:26 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Patricia, How are you riding, English or Western? I can't comment on the Western bit but for English, it is a combination of both methods that is used. It is not really pushing but the position of the legs. The outside leg stops him from ducking out of the circle as it is moved slightly back behind the girth. This stops his butt from swinging out and the inside leg is at the girth. I have actually found that if you pretend that your inside knee is pointed in the direction you want to go he moves right around the circle very balanced. This is a Mary Wanless concept and it works very nicely. I have noticed that what is happening here is the leg has positioned itself better, produced additional pressure and your hips are turned slightly to the inside. My corners have improved immensely from this and my trainer no longer complains about the turns I do. If the outside leg was not in position, then you could with the inside leg only generate a turn on the fore and get his butt to swing around so you are facing in the opposite direction without the horse moving forward.
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Christine C. Mills (Chrism)
Posted on Thursday, Aug 10, 2000 - 1:30 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Ah, leg cues. They can be so complex and so simple. First, you want to be correct for your discipline for your horse's sake. No sense teaching him to turn when you whistle Beethoven's 5th because another rider won't try it, GRIN.

The trick is, what will work. Rather than worry about what is "right," worry about what you are trying to accomplish and whether he understands and responds. Then you can make your cues more subtle, classical and correct as he catches on.

You can basically cue a horse with your heels/ankles, calves, thighs - using all or 1. You can also cue at the girth, or a bit behind the girth by pressing against the horse's side. You can also weight a leg down through the heel and get a reaction. Depending on what you do, where, with what body part and which side, supported by seat and rein adds, and what the horse is doing at that moment, you can do all sorts of neat responses or none at all!

Then, combine that with the horses experience, and you may need more obvious aids for a green horse and less obvious ones for a school master. But the school master may respond to the same aids in two different ways, depending on the context! Just like fly can be a bird's motion and an insect, depending on how the word is used.

Back to your question, are you turning your horse through a corner? Around to change direction? To move on a circle?

Then, what is his reponse to your request? Does he turn is head but move his body along the same line? Does he turn, but drift out? Does he stop?

There are so many ways to influence a horse each step based on what he is doing, that any of them can be "right" for that moment.

All that said (sorry for diatribe, GRIN), to turn through a corner with a green horse, I would try an opening inside rein while giving a small amount with my outside rein. I would sit straight and turn my shoulders to match the horses shoulders in the turn. I would watch that he doesn't bulge with his outside shoulder and close my outside rein and outside upper leg a bit if he does. Forward energy, if needed, is created with both legs at the girth using my lower leg. Once half way through the corner, I close my outside rein a bit and think of moving the horse straight through the next long side. I try not to lean on the turns, like a motorcycle as the weight applied that way would unbalance the horse. I also look where I am going, not down at the horse's neck. I check my body position often - every letter in a dressage ring and fix problems.

GRIN. Can you tell I'm a dressage rider, LOL.

If you write back more specifically with what kind of turn you want, at what speed and in what context, as well as how your horse is responding to which aids you try, we may have a few specific suggestions.

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Teresa Alexander-Arab (Teresaa)
Posted on Sunday, Aug 13, 2000 - 10:22 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi Patricia,

I'm just going to add one more thing to this discussion about turning. I ride english, mainly dressage at the moment. That way you know where I'm coming from. My training is to use the outside leg activly behind the girth with the inside at the girth encouraging him to bend around the corner. The outside rein maintains a steady contact while the inside vibrates softly to encourage him to keep his poll flexed. The idea is have the horse turn (say a corner) with his body 'straight'. In going through a corner to be straight his body actually has to be bent to match the turn. You don't want him popping out his shoulder by just turning his neck or leaning to the inside, like a motorcycle. A good way to get a horse to do this is to ride a 'square'. The exercise works like this(given going to the left):
ride a straight line at a walk. At a specific point make a 90 degree turn to left. To do this cue the horse with small pressures on the outside leg behind the girth, not a continuous push. Keep a steady pressure on the outside rein to keep his shoulder straight. Give with the inside rein to encourage the turn and keep the inside leg at the girth quiet. It only comes into play to preven him from turning too much. then ride the straight line again. Do this for each of the four corners. You'll find your horse keeping nice and straight through the turns and beginning to soften on the inside. As he becomes proficient at this you can make the turns less sharp and more circular.

I hope I haven't made a hash out of describing this move. But good luck.
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Patricia K. Wilt (Patricia)
Posted on Monday, Aug 21, 2000 - 9:19 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Thanks much for all of your responses. They have been most helpful. One thing I have realized while working with this crazy mustang is that he makes you work for what it is you want. Once you teach him the cues, he will make sure your request is correct before you get the answer you're looking for. I suppose the question will always be "who is the teacher?" Again, thanks much. You all did a great job of describing in words what is much easier to actually DO.
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