As riders we are always trying to improve our cues and by improve I generally mean get our horse to react to them faster or learning to control our rhythm, balance, and timing. While that is our “goal”, we tend to make our cues also more noticeable which means that it now takes us twice as much muscle or time to get the horse to react to them. Following this our horse becomes more stiff and less responsive and we scratch our head trying to figure out what went wrong. If only we could ride like Shawn Flarida, for those of you who don’t know him you can find videos of him riding reining horses and making it look like he does nothing and the horse reacts to the slightest pressure. Or maybe some of the riders at the Spanish Riding School, their horses go in all directions at the smallest request of the rider. What we all want is to be able to ride our horse without forcing or micro managing every step of the way.
To answer this question of how to have your horse move with you without you putting so much as an ounce of pressure on your horse, you have to understand the Phases or steps of your cue. It’s as simple as finding the lightest softest beginning and building on it until the horse feels you move and moves right with you.
So here is a rough outline of how a Cue breaks down:
- understanding or preparation of the cue – plan your cue and practice it before you teach it to your horse
- the beginning of your cue – what amount of pressure is the slightest amount
- the middle of your cue – how to ask the horse to keep going and when to tell him to keep going
- the end of your cue – exaggerating your release
Now here are those parts explained:
Understanding or Preparation for the Cue
Learning to plan every move you and your horse makes, takes conscience thought. You can tell when this step is skipped as a rider rushes through something hoping that the horse happens to pick the right maneuver. This step is probably the most important. In our preparation the horse becomes prepared and then we move as one!
The Beginning of the Cue
Starting with the slightest amount of muscle may seem easy enough but what if we used no effort and only the weight of or arm or our leg. This is truly the beginning of a cue, when your body begins to tense. Watching the warmups at Rolex last year I noticed the best riders were making it look like they weren’t standing in the stirrups but almost as if their feet glided with the stirrups. That is control! When your leg or hand changes in any way the horse can feel it and will begin to react, it is up to us to notice if it makes a difference!
The Middle of the Cue
This part is the most interesting to watch. If a rider can truly stay in balance with his horse there might be a slight pause between each step the horse takes. Although this is not as noticeable as a horse stopping completely it is still present. The middle of the Cue is the time of release and then tension as you ask for the second or third step in the maneuver. Again the horse or rider cannot rush but must do this together without anticipation. If the horse is too fast then the rider will behind and if the rider is too fast the horse is behind.
End of the Cue
This is when the rider releases all tension and relaxes his body so that the horse comes to a resting point. Whichever point that might be, a resting stop, or a resting walk, or a resting trot, as long as the rider is no longer cueing the horse. As people we love to micro manage this might be the most difficult step for us because we have to learn to let go. You are showing the horse a form of reinforcement and depending on how you release the Cue will determine how well he reacts to that same Cue in the future. Make it count!
These guidelines do not just apply to riding but groundwork as well. I may do an article on each part of the Cue as there is so much more to this topic. For now these will definitely get you started on the basics of the Cue!