Does using your legs a lot make a horse dull to leg pressure? Jac Review Week

“Stacy in Episode #23 I notice when you are teaching the shoulder exercises as you are walking your legs are always bumping him is this to keep him in forward motion, does that make him dull to the leg pressure?” Sandra P

This is one of the top three ‘most asked questions’ I receive when I am riding my horse…when they are not fully trained. Once my horses are fully trained, the cues are more subtle and the question doesn’t come up as much even though I am still using my legs in the same way.

I think the reason that my leg movements draw so much attention is that people are not accustom to seeing people use their legs and body cues in an exaggerated way. In the training stages with my horses I exaggerate many cues with my horses. You will notice that I exaggerate my hand positions; during counter bending for example my hands are often held twice as wide as my body…even though in the end I will show my horses one handed and will neck rein. I am exaggerating to make the learning easier for the horse.

I use my legs in an exaggerated manner so my horses will notice and learn the cues. As my horses become more in tune with my legs I will be able to use my hands, the bit and bridle, less and less. Eventually my horses ride ‘bridleless’ or without the need for cues from the bridle because I have moved them all to my legs.

Many people assume that using my legs more will cause the horse to be dull. If you picture a dressage horse or a horse showing in the new AQHA Ranch Horse class being ridden with rein contact then by this same thinking, these horses should be dull to the rein cues. But they are not. Why?

It is widely accepted that horses can learn to accept steady contact on the reins and can ‘feel’ the subtle opening and closing of the riders fingers. Advanced horses can interpret the smallest changes in the steady hand that is guiding them. I believe that the same thing can be done with the riders legs. It is how I trained Roxy, Jac’s mother, to read my body so well.

Just as the upper level dressage horse was taught early on with more exaggerated hand positions and eventually learned to ‘feel’ the subtle cues of the riders finger movements, my horses are taught with exaggerated leg movements that eventually become invisible.

The reason my horses don’t get dull to the cues is the same reason they don’t get dull to my bridle cues: I don’t allow it. I want them to accept my leg movement but if they try getting dull to my legs I correct them. I am willing to ‘wave’ my legs to match their motion.  Lets say that a ‘wave’ is a gentle bounce of my leg that equals 4 ounces of pressure. If the horse gets dull and trys to ignore the 4 ounces of pressure, then I correct them. The horse would become dull if he were allowed to make me carry 4 ounces, then 8 ounces, then 4 pounds…but I won’t allow it. Did you notice that I was frequently carrying dressage whips with me? I use the dressage whips to hold the horses accountable if they try to make me use more than 4 ounces of pressure.

A more direct answer to your question would be: Incorrect use of leg pressure could make a horse dull, the same way incorrect use of rein pressure can make a horse dull. The reward is in the release.

Another thing to keep in mind is that my horses are very well balanced when it comes to my leg cues. I meet many horses at clinics that are either very dull to leg cues or overly sensitive to leg cues. Again, it isn’t the cue that is the problem, it is a feel for the timing of the release.

Watch the following short video that clearly shows how Jac is reading my leg cues. Then take a look again at Roxy’s bridleless ride…can you see my subtle leg cues?


  1. Mary on October 1, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Our trainer always said, when it comes to leg pressure, off is what makes on, work. 🙂 Timing prevents a horse from becoming dull. 🙂

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