The herd of aids? – visual and thinking experiment to improve your effectiveness in the saddle

Have you ever been told that you need to coordinate your aids better in order to achieve more quality responses from your horse? Or perhaps you sometimes wonder which leg to use when, where to look, how to position your shoulders in lateral movements etc? Or maybe you are a little confused about the aids altogether as different instructors teach you differently?

If so, you might want to try this imagery. It might work for you and help you ride your horse more effectively yet with more sympathy for his/her physical and mental issues.

Herd Instincts

Before we start, have a look at the below video, it’s very short and rather pretty 🙂

Now, we all know horses are highly sociable animals with intricate relationships within the herd. It is now very much questioned that each herd has a dominant, alpha horse that rules everyone. Instead, there is a possibility of a quiet leadership within the herd with various roles being undertaken by different individuals.

Picture a weak horse within the herd that travels away from danger. Where would that weak horse be? Very likely bang in the middle of the herd, protected from each side by fellow herd members, those perhaps a little stronger or simply more confident individuals. There would be a pathfinder in front of the Weak Horse and there will be definitely one very self assured individual at the back. In his position in the running herd, the Weak Horse is kept straight by the Side Horses, it is kept well directed by the Pathfinder and it is kept travelling at required speed by the Back Horse. It is kept secure and focused on going exactly where the herd needs him to be going.

WHAT IF the moment we turn our horse into a riding horse he becomes the Weak Horse? He doesn’t know a thing about our “riding manual”, he is on his own in the arena with a foreign speaking individual of a different species.

WHAT IF as a Rider we need to be all these things for our Weak Horse so he moves straight, active and where we want him to go…? What if we picture our aids – the inside/outside aids, the controlling rein aids, the driving aids, the directional weight aids etc etc, as elements of the herd dynamic? 


Perhaps if we picture all this that way we will be able to understand better which aids need to clearer for our horse, where we need to focus our attention and what to do to have the horse positioning his body as we want him to…Perhaps then we can avoid/limit frustration, the kicking, the pulling, the “why is he doing this to me?” moments…

Let’s have a look at some practical applications of this imagery…

Let’s for a moment assume the following:

Pathfinder Horse = rider’s intention, eye focus, desire to reach certain spot in a field or arena, the hands, the reins, the contact

The Side Horses = rider’s pelvis position (each seat bone on each side of the horse’s spine), upper body position, rider’s thigh position (baring weight of the rider’s upper body, well placed around the ribcage, snug but not gripping nor floppy), rider’s lower leg position (around the ribcage in passive, confidence giving contact with horse’s body, no undue gripping), rider’s inside and outside weight aids and leg aids.

The Back Horse = rider’s core stability, energy level, natural muscle tone, mental intention on going places, driving aids (weight aids and leg aids), ability to put pressure on and off, ability to keep the pace without rushing it or letting it drop…

Now. let’s look at some riding issues…

If you tend to be “handy” and “ride the head” and your horse is “behind the leg”, “lazy”, “unfocused”, “falls in and out of circles and corners all the time” [enter other issues here] – picture your hands and reins as a Pathfinder horse for your Weak Horse. There is just your Weak Horse and Pathfinder Horse. There is no Back Horse that motivates the Weak Horse to keep moving and no Side Horses to keep him straight, secure and focused.

If your horse is “always running” and “spooky” and  you “can’t touch him with the leg” – how about your Weak Horse being in a herd made up of Back Horses but no passive leadership from Side Horses and Pathfinder Horse?

If your horse is crooked beyond the natural crookedness to the point of being unable to pick up correct canter leads or perform round 20m circles – you might need to find your Side Horses.

Feel free to try to add your own examples!


If you think about your aids like this you might be able to figure out where your training efforts need to be directed. Sometimes it means that you need work on your own seat so your weight aids, your driving aids or your natural muscle tone bring the right elements “to the herd”.

You might want to take this game further and think about your own horse’s mentality…perhaps he is a natural born Pathfinder or natural born Back Horse. Perhaps he feels your weaknesses and it’s you who in his eyes is the “Weak Horse” that needs to be protected/sped up/directed etc

I find this imagery a very jolly way of explaining the shaping of horse’s body to novice riders. It is fun, encourages riders to read up more about natural instincts of the horse, about their nature and the way they learn 🙂

I hope you enjoyed it, let me know if you did or didn’t!

All the best,


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