AIDS TO IMPROVE YOUR HANDLING OF THE HORSE
What are they? Aids are defined as a form of communication between the player and the horse; the player uses the aids to influence or control the horse. A player should have exact knowledge of how to carry out the aids and be educated on their effects; they should be used intelligently and not in an emotional manner.
How are they used? The aids should always be adapted to the level of training and physical strength of the horse. They vary in intensity and form and can be used individually or in combination. Eventually, good horses will be able to take these aids as indications, more than commands. The aids target the senses of the horse: sight, hearing, touch. Sight plays a small role, and while hearing is important, it is not generally used in polo; most of the aids are focused on engaging the horse in different actions through touch. For this reason, it is very important to preserve and develop sensitivity in the mouth. A player must cultivate and respond to the reaction of the horse’s body, which can be felt against the player’s legs, as well as focusing on the distribution of weight across the horses back.
What type of aids exist? Aids are divided in two groups: Natural or artificial. Natural aids are using the reins, use of legs and body weight. Artificial aids include the use of a whip and spurs. Other elements, such as tack and horse gear, can also help in the handling of the horse.
What should we know in order to use them? In order to make the most of the aids we must be familiar with the sensitive areas of the horses mouth; they will help us carry out our task. It is important to point out that the less we help the horse and the quicker the horse responds, the greater the sensitivity and thus the horses capacity to react – ultimately leading to a greater polo pony. If the rider is talented and the horse is well trained, there should be no exterior evidence of aids being used.
The sensitive areas of the horse relevant in terms of handling are: A) The mouth: This is where the bit, which slows or stops the horse, is located. The bit touches different parts of the mouth: tongue, cheek, corners, upper and lower palate. B) The neck: This is where the headpiece works, promoting inflection and extension. C) Side of the neck: The reins touch both sides of the neck. The sensitivity of the neck diminishes the further we are from the head. In polo the reins act indirectly, touching the neck on the opposite side to the direction of movement. D) Behind the elbow or in the girth zone: Contact is achieved through the heels. The area starts behind the girth and spans backwards and upwards, near the flank. E) Transferring the weight of the rider’s body in the stirrups, drawing both together as well as in a backwards and forwards motion. A horse that responds with this action alone is superior.
When should the aids be used? Aids should be used as soon as we mount the horse and begin to walk, gallop, when we change leg, check, slow or stop, start or sprint, move backwards, spin or turn on the posterior legs. These are the developing movements of a game and where we should use natural and artificial aids. Artificial aids – whip or spurs – work by empowering the natural aids.