I know I’m guilty of this – not releasing the aid immediately when the horse does what was asked. I don’t know if it’s my analytical mind that keeps scrutinizing whether the horse actually gave or not. Maybe it’s my lack of confidence that I have some idea what I’m feeling. Definitely sometimes it’s that I didn’t feel that he responded. Regardless, releasing the aid when the horse does it right is critical.
Horses are relatively simple animals and they expect us to be simple too. For example, we put our leg on. The horse was taught to move away from pressure, so he moves over. If he’s a good boy, he’ll continue moving over until we release the aid (take our leg off). If we only wanted him to move over a foot but didn’t stop pushing, we have no right to get mad that he moved over five feet. But, yet, we often do. Eventually, the horse will either ignore our aids because they stop meaning anything, get angry because we’re nagging him, or get scared because he doesn’t understand. Again, we often get frustrated that the horse is not doing what we want.
“The aids” are the topic of our lessons, as well as books, videos, and articles about riding. However, more emphasis is placed on what to do with our body parts to get the desired result and less on what we should do once we get it. Stopping the aid tells the horse he did whatever it was correctly. They understand that. At least from the saddle, it works better than treats or a pat, and much better than punishment for doing something wrong. When we ride we ask for numerous adjustments in our horses in any given minute – pick up your inside shoulder, reach with your inside hind, give to the bit, etc. The good thing is that releasing the aids can be accomplished just as rapidly. The horse rounded his back after we tightened our abdomen (a half-halt)? Then we just need to relax our abdominal muscles. The horse bent around our inside leg when we put a little pressure with our calf? Great, just stop pushing.
But we all know it’s not as easy as that. If it was, we’d all be riding experts by now. My overall riding goal over all others is to be fair to my horse. The best way to be fair to the horse is to release the aid when he responds.