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In Front of the Leg

What happens when you put your leg on? If your horse is too hot or too dull to this aid, here’s how to train a better response.

The beautifully trained dressage horse is so attuned to his rider that he responds to the lightest of aids, appearing to dance of his own accord. But some mounts fall elsewhere on the spectrum—somewhere between a balky Thelwell pony and a speed racer that Just. Won’t. Slow. Down.

The tortoise and the hare actually share the same problem. In dressage terms, they are not in front of the leg.

Horses are not born knowing that the rider’s leg means “go.” The horse that fails to respond to a light calf squeeze either hasn’t been educated properly or he’s tuned out the rider as a defense mechanism, says Sherry Guess, a U.S. Dressage Federation-certified instructor in Porter, Okla.

“Light, responsive horses are made that way by their riders”, she says. “Unfortunately, so are dull horses. Many riders send contradictory messages: Their legs say ‘go forward,’ but then they pull on the reins to say ‘put your head down.’”

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Horse Illustrated December 2019