Most horses naturally respond to aids based on visual cues. They are constantly watching us to decipher what we are trying to say. Unfortunately, we sometimes accidentally teach them not to pay attention to us because we are so inconsistent. We move ALL over the place. Horses are much more obvious with their visual intentions. They probably wish we were too.
There are 4 fundamental visual aids you can use to put pressure on a horse and act as your “gas” pedal. They are listed (roughly) in order of the amount of pressure they put on a horse.
1: Your eyes: Are you looking directly at the horse or not? The more you are looking at the horse, the more the horse thinks your intentions are directed at him, hence more pressure. You can look directly at your horse to increase speed while lunging and look away or to the ground to decrease speed.
2: Your shoulders: Are your shoulders parallel with the horse’s body or perpendicular? When you look straight at your horse and have your shoulders parallel/facing your horse, you are adding pressure and increasing speed on the lunge line. To decrease speed, you can turn your shoulders away/perpendicular.
3. How big do you make your body? Increase speed on the lunge line by making your body seem bigger. Lift your hands higher. Put your whip in a vertical position. These are all “go” aids when lunging. Slow your horse down by lowering your whip. Lower your hands. Make yourself look smaller.
4: How close are your to your horse? Step into a horse’s personal space and you definitely increase the pressure and therefore speed while lunging. Your horse will move away at a faster pace. Step away from your horse for a downward transition.
You can play with these aids to see which aid or combination of aids causes your horse to respond the best. For Wiley, you will see me step into his personal space and lift my whip to horizontal for a trot. Step closer again and lift my arms and put my whip to vertical means canter. Downward transitions are just the reverse. I do also sprinkle in the other aids such as look down for downward transitions. I am probably not as consistent as I could be.
Notice on the downward from the trot to the walk, I ask for the downward and then immediately have to pick up my left hand slightly to put a little pressure on to get the walk. With absolutely no pressure, Wiley will just turn and walk into the center. I have to play around with the aids to understand just how much pressure or lack thereof Wiley needs for each transition. Also, just like when you are driving a car, you need a bit more gas/pressure to get up to speed. As soon as your horse reaches the desired speed, take a little pressure off to signal that the horse did the right thing. You will see during the upward transition to the canter that my arms get big until he gets the canter. Then I drop them a bit but keep my whip vertical as a reminder.
At 2 years old, Wiley doesn’t lunge for exercise. It is too hard on a young horse’s joints. He does, however, do light lunging occasionally to learn how to lunge and to improve our communication. I want him to understand my intentions….when I want more energy out of him and when I want less. I also want him to pay attention to subtle movements in my body. Wiley isn’t fully trained on visuals. He still needs a lot of “gas” to keep his attention, but he is getting better. When he is fully trained, he will be able to do all of his transitions without me having to walk into his personal space to support him. I will just stand in the middle and have him watch the whip. He will canter as long as the whip is vertical. Trot at horizontal and walk when the whip is touching the ground.
The video below shows Wiley at 2 1/2 doing some basic lunging off my body language. Notice his transitions are instant. He just needs to work on maintaining the pace without so much support. Also notice that I use voice commands. This will help Wiley transition into under saddle work.