Episode 19: Your Weakest Aid When Horseback Riding

“It's really eye-opening to ride in a circle and pay attention to your strongest and weakest aids.” Stacy Westfall Share on X

When being a balanced rider, you have aids that can assist you. These include your right hand, left hand, right leg, and left leg. Today, I’m talking about these rider’s aids. Do you know which one of your aids is the weakest? Do you know which one of your aides you are over using?

Last week, I talked about the rider’s aids and the rider’s willingness to use those aids. When you understand how to become effective using all four of these aids, you will become a more balanced rider. Today, we will be talking about using aids when riding in a circle because it requires more balance and more navigation on your part.

“Even if the plan is to use both legs evenly, you still need to question whether you are doing it or not.” Stacy Westfall Share on X

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Show Notes

[02:43] Picture yourself riding your horse in a circle to the left, but not in a round pen.

[04:09] You have four choices of aids. The inside rein is the most common aid. The other would be the outside leg.

[04:41] The two weakest are the outside rein and the inside leg.

[06:17] We need to keep the bend to the right, but keep the horse going left.

[08:33] You need to use a combination of aids.

[09:07] Imagine riding the 50 foot circle, and the horse is bending to the inside just enough to shape it. Think about which aids you would be using a lot more or lot less.

[10:06] Riders tend to use their inside rein a lot. If you allow a bend change the outside rein becomes the inside rein.

[11:03] The inside rein tends to be the strongest aid and the outside leg is the second strongest aid. Then the outside rein and the inside leg.

[11:34] It can be really eye-opening to do this exercise.

[12:05] One aid could be doing more than it should or be out of balance.

[13:16] The training level of your horse also matters with how you are going to use your aids.

[13:44] Even if the plan is to use both legs evenly, you still need to question whether you are doing it or not.

[13:43] The awareness cycle is constantly happening.

[14:08] It’s fascinating to double-check how in balance and aware you are of the four aids as you are using them.

[15:02] If you do a lot of trail riding it’s difficult to figure out if you’re using one aid weaker or stronger, because it’s very common to switch the bend when you’re heading straight down the trail.

[15:45] You don’t establish an inside leg and an outside rein when riding straight.

[15:56] Find a flat spot and try the circle exercise. The weakest aid is usually the one your horses going out through. Sometimes horses point towards your weakest aid because they are taking advantage of it.

[17:04] An advanced rider can ride a 50 foot circle, and then lighten an aid and see what happens.

[18:00] In dressage terms we are looking for something called self carriage. Bridleless riding is also in this category.

[18:37] Ride around and lighten each aid for a count of four and see what happens. If you notice a big difference that may be the aid that you are overusing. The opposite one may be the weakest.

“It's fascinating to double-check how in balance and aware you are of the four aids as you are using them.” Stacy Westfall Share on X

Links and Resources:

Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac-Episode 17- Colt starting: Ground (line) driving and dressage whip training


  1. Tamra Williamson on July 18, 2019 at 8:10 am

    I’m a beginner rider who has just started circles. Can you break down what aides are used for what for leaking into the circle and for veering outside of the circle. Thanks

  2. Martina Brown on April 11, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Hello Stacy
    All the spiraling in and spiraling out, and wondering circles you taught me years ago has really helped Hildy and I. If Hildy were to duck into the circle my first aids that I somewhat use together are my inside leg and outside rein with a slight hold on the inside rein to keep the bend. I really don’t think I use my outside leg too much. Lots of practicing the beginning maneuvers has helped a lot!!

    • Stacy Westfall on April 11, 2019 at 11:30 pm

      Yes it did! It is why you were able to jump to the neck reining exercise! You put down a great foundation.

      • Martina Brown on April 12, 2019 at 8:38 am

        Thank you!! I learned from the best?. I love your teaching style because it is easy to follow and you explain things so we’ll. You break down the manauves in steps that I understand and can comprehend and your examples are a tremendous help!!! I like how you explain the “why”.

  3. Jackie Crosby on April 9, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Interesting read about our strengths and weaknesses while riding a horse. I notice that with myself and how my left side is more dominant. When riding, I have to work harder to use my right side with as much strength as my left. Thank you for acknowledging an issue that all equestrians face.

    • Stacy Westfall on April 10, 2019 at 9:53 pm

      Great observations. I ride multiple horses so whenever I start to see a pattern in their ‘weaknesses’ I start to suspect me. My right leg has issues. I just had acupuncture yesterday and she found lots of things to work on over there. Here’s to hoping that all the needles help! (also explains the lengths I’m willing to go to 🙂
      Conquering my fear of needles for my horses…

  4. Mary on April 4, 2019 at 7:56 am

    I am “competent” according to my trainer, but feel I am lower level intermediate. I found your explanation easy to follow and am looking forward to trying it out when the winds drop below 20 – 30 mph here in New England.

    • Stacy Westfall on April 4, 2019 at 8:35 am

      Yay! Very good. The weather is finally getting nice here in Ohio and I keep sneaking outside to ride up and down the hills when the weather has a few good moments to offer. The wind does get strong every time these temps rise and fall. I’m not sure they are reaching your speeds though!

      • Mary on April 5, 2019 at 7:51 am

        In between rain and wind, I got an hour’s ride in last night and did this at the walk. What I discovered was that, at this point in my relationship with this horse, I was giving him way too much rein. After I corrected for that, we got some really nice, collected circles in at the walk and posting trot. So that led nicely into your next podcast, which I listened to this morning. (I’ve only ridden this guy about 6 times and he is not very collected. For the 4 years prior to him, I rode a very collected horse who only needed the slightest touch of my calf as an aid.)

        • Stacy Westfall on April 8, 2019 at 10:12 am

          Discoveries like that are so valuable! I love reading an article, trying it out in the barn and then feeling something new. Great job putting it into action! (hint; that’s the next podcast:)

  5. Susie on March 27, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Hi Stacy!
    I’m not an advanced rider by any means. I was able to follow along though. I was physically standing in my kitchen and moving my hands and legs as if I were riding. (My imaginary horse and I had to occasionally get out of our circle to stir my ham and bean soup! Lol! :-))

    It was a lot of information, but you did an amazing job explaining. Your analogies were excellent. I did have to really concentrate to get it all, and had to rewind twice, but I feel I have a very good understanding of the message you were conveying. I think your explanation is on the average riders level, which in my opinion is right where you want to be. Not too difficult for beginners, and not too easy for those more experienced. All should be able to gain something beneficial from your wise words.

    Thank you for sharing! I look forward to actually riding in a circle soon! 🙂

    • Stacy Westfall on March 28, 2019 at 10:43 am

      I’m glad I’m not the only one doing the motions! I was recording the podcast and bending to the left…my hands and legs moving while I was talking, lol!!!
      The Ham and Bean soup was the gate…pulling your circle out of a perfect circle…:)
      Thanks for the feedback! I’ll keep blasting out the info!

  6. Catherine on March 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Stacey,
    I have found when riding my gelding (He’s 20 years young this year) in a circle, in the beginning he will always test each of my aids, which in turn I am adjusting the pressure as needed until he is walking equally within them all. Highly likely due to the fact that in the past I have not been riding consistently, or enough. And yep when poking around the cows checking their welfare I tend to become passive and just mindlessly ride through the paddock while I count and observe them. I have become more mindful of my need to be present when riding, which has in turn made my riding time much more pleasant. And if I am distracted by other things on my mind, I’ll get off and walk (I guess in that case, my weakest aid is my mind in those moments ?)
    Thank you again for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. I have been able to relate to every one of your podcasts.
    Kudos ?

    • Stacy Westfall on March 27, 2019 at 9:39 pm

      A perfect description of warming up and balancing between the aids! Your comment about the ‘mind’ as an aid made me laugh…and made me glad I said I was only focusing on the four aids in that podcast. We could add so many more but the mind would for sure be at the top! (which explains why I spent a whole season on the mind, lol)
      Good idea on getting off and walking. I do that too sometimes out on the trail. It always surprises the newer horses.
      I’m grateful that you have been enjoying the podcasts:)

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