Q: What are the weight aids? My instructor often asks me to use my weight as an aid, and I am unsure exactly what this means. I feel very unbalanced if I try to lean to one side or the other.
A: The weight aids are a large part of your seat aids and the seat aids and leg aids are really the most important aids. When a horse is correctly schooled, the rein aids will be used less than both of these aids.
The weight aids are essentially aids for use in movement. The horse feels the influence of your seat at every stride, meaning that you can use your weight to influence him in three separate ways:
- You can increase the weight on both seat bones.
- You can increase the weight on one seat bone.
- You can reduce the weight on both seat bones.
The weight aids have a huge influence on the horse (particularly at higher levels of competition), but they are often under-used as many riders fail to consider them when working with their horses. These aids are subtle and less obvious than any other aid so it is easy to assume that other riders are not using them. It is also difficult for instructors watching from the ground to assess exactly how well you are actually using your weight aids, so they often struggle to correct and advise you. This is further complicated by the fact that horses need schooling correctly to fully understand the seat aids, and if this has not been done, the results of applying the weight aids can be more unpredictable.
Increasing the weight on both seat bones should increase the ‘activity’ and ‘engagement’ of your horse’s hind legs. It encourages the horse to step further under his body with his hind legs, and carry more weight on them, thus enabling him to move more correctly. The increased weight is used in transitions to and from halt and in other transitions to create balance. To increase the weight through your seat bones, you should stretch your body upwards and tighten your back and buttock muscles briefly.This tightening should not be maintained, although the whole process can be repeated for several strides.
Increasing the weight on one seat bone is used to help flex, bend or turn the horse. A well-schooled horse interprets this shift of weight as a request for bend. You should, however, not be leaning as you mention in your question, as this is much too exaggerated a movement. Instead, when increasing the weight on, for instance, the left seat bone, your left hip will lower slightly (but not collapse!), so you will feel your weight is on the left, but not feel that you are sliding off the horse to the left. There will be more weight in your left stirrup, but your body will remain upright. This should encourage your horse (if he is correctly schooled) to bend around your left seat bone. Leg and rein aids will then refine this further.
Easing the weight on the seat bones does not mean raising your seat out of the saddle. It involves putting more of your weight onto your thighs and stirrups, with only a tiny forward tilt of your body. Experienced riders tend to use this when suppling up a horse for training, or when reducing the weight on the back of a young horse.
Weight aids take time and practice to perfect, so don’t beat yourself up that you are not yet comfortable with them. Many riders never use their weight aids at all, and instead rely solely on hand and leg, so the fact that you are considering how best to incorporate them already puts you a step ahead!