Understanding the aids – DJ Dressage series Part 1

We are very excited to be starting a series from DJ Dressage ( find them here) with tips and tricks for training. Starting with the understanding the aids part 1. 

In simple terms the aids are the signals that we give to our horses to ask them for what we would like them to do and how we would like them to perform.  

The ‘natural’ aids are the rider’s body; legs; hands; seat; weight; back; balance and voice. 

The ‘artificial’ aids are all those not concerning the rider’s body egwhip, spurs, running reins; martingale and a huge host of many other pieces of equipment. 

Natural Aids 

The Legs: 

The primary influence being to; 

  • Create forward movement and energy 
  • Activate the hindquarters 
  • Indicate direction 
  • Together with the hands keep the horse straight 
  • Ask for bend 
  • Create and direct lateral movements 


The riders natural aids starting with the legs should always operate using a pressure/release system. Pressure and release is the basis of all training from ground work to advanced dressage movements. The consolidation of this training is achieved by repetition and consistency. The premise of this system is very simple in theory and involves applying the aid and as soon as the horse responds in a positive way releasing it. For example to encourage the horse to move forward both legs would be applied at the girth and as the horse responds the legs would release the pressure. Where this can become trickier is with a horse that fails to respond or instantly slows as soon as the pressure is released. This is often because the horse has not been taught correctly during the initial backing process and will be covered in a future blog.  

The legs are also used individually to achieve bend and lateral movements. The rider will use the leg to encourage the horse to move the hind leg on that side forward (yielding to pressure). By applying the leg as an inward press the horse is encouraged to step under the weight of his body and move his body sideward’s away from the pressure to achieve a lateral movement.  


Applying the Leg Aids 

  • Legs should be applied with changing pressure not with a constant squeeze or heavy pressure. 
  • They should not be used in time with the horse’s stride as constant kicking/squeezing or chasing will turn your horse’s sensitivity off and creating impulsion will become far more difficult.  
  • Legs should be applied as lightly as possible as thumping and kicking will cause your horse to become dead to the leg.  I always liken this to the tone of a person’s voice. If someone is quietly spoken, one always listens intently to make sure every word is heard. In contrast if a person shouts we tend to quickly switch off as it doesn’t make for pleasant listening. 


Next blog in understanding the aids we will be covering the basics of the hand aids and their correct use.

If you want to check out the amazing mother and daughter duo take a look at their website.