Got a horse or pony who’s a bit tooooo laid back for your liking? While it can be comforting to ride a horse who isn’t hot and excitable, a lazy horse can be really hard work. So if you find yourself breathing harder than your horse after a few laps of trot, it’s a good sign that you need a plan to get your horse off the leg and moving forward.
What Does it Mean to Have the Horse in Front of the Leg?
Having your horse “in front of the leg” doesn’t mean that he should be racing around. In front of the leg simply means that you aren’t having to motivate your horse to move forward. It also means that he responds quickly to a light leg aid.
You should feel as though you can sit quietly and maintain your rhythm and tempo, but that your horse would be ready to react instantly if you did want to use your leg to change gaits or lengthen the stride. If you feel like your horse would need a few squeezes or kicks, or would ignore you for half a circle, he’s not in front of the leg.
Getting this is a key skill that will make it easier for you to ride at the best of your ability. And it’s loads more fun too! Whether you’re jumping, schooling, or just having fun out on the trails, here’s how to get rid of laziness once and for all.
The Escalating Aids Method
The escalating aids method of getting your horse to go more forward is quite easy to understand and implement. And it works!
Before you start, it’s essential to make sure your horse is fit and physically comfortable. Horses will often be unwilling to go forward if they are in pain, so be sure to check the obvious culprits like saddle fit. If you are concerned that your horse might have pain somewhere, chat with your vet so they can investigate.
Horses can also often be lazy when they are unfit or young. If your horse has had a long break, bringing them back into work should be a slow process where you build fitness and strength before asking for more. In young, unfit, or weak horses, remember that they tire quickly – if your youngster is only lazy near the end of the session, he probably just needs time to grow and mature.
Assuming your horse is fit, sound, and not in pain though, here’s the key to the escalating aids method to get your horse off the leg.
Getting Your Horse Off the Leg
If your horse is routinely plodding along and not responding to your requests to move forward, it’s because he has learned to ignore your leg aids. Teaching him to listen to them again is how you will get him to be less lazy and more forward-going.
Here’s the basic process, step by step:
Step 1: At a walk, ask your horse to trot on by gently squeezing your leg. Your horse should react by immediately springing into a nice, active trot.
Step 2: If your lazy horse doesn’t react to this light aid, the escalating aids begin. After the first light squeeze, you will quickly apply aids of escalating pressure until you get the response you want.
Step 3: So, your horse hasn’t leapt forwards willingly from your squeeze. Your next move is to give a gentle kick, within a second or so of your horse not responding to the squeeze. If you still don’t get the response you need, kick once more but harder. Again, within a second or so. If there’s still no response, confidently use a long whip behind your leg along with a growl or voice command. It probably won’t feel very neat or tidy, but that’s ok.
Step 4: The instant that your horse moves forward, praise him as much as possible and take your leg off straight away. This is the release of pressure and is part of the reward for going forward when asked. Make sure to be still with your hands so that you don’t pull his mouth and inadvertently punish him for giving the correct reaction.
Step 5: After lots of praise so that your horse knows he’s done a good job, repeat the exercise with the light aid again. You can repeat this as many times as you need as long as you remember to always start with the lightest leg aid possible. It won’t take long until your horse will realise that it is far easier to respond to the first aid than wait for the escalating ones.
Step 6: Once your horse is reliably listening to a gentle squeeze from walk to trot, you can do the same in other gaits.
Once you have your horse responding to a lovely light aid, it’s your job as the rider to stay quiet with your legs. If you revert to your old habits and start kicking to motivate him instead of being strict about him going off the lightest aid, he will quickly become switched off to the leg and lazy again.
So there you have it. A foolproof way to get your lazy horse going more forward. If only there was such an easy method for human laziness too – then we’d never skip the gym again!
Are you going to try this with your horse? Or do you have a naturally forward going four-legged friend? Let us know in the comments.