Jul 12, 2011

Leg Cues for Riding Your Horse

Having solid leg cues are what make the difference between a sloppy riding performance and a beautiful, polished performance.  Solid, leg communication with your horse also make feats such as bridleless riding possible.  The cues I am listing below are the basics for which all my cues I use, no matter what I am doing, Western Pleasure, Hunt Seat or Bridleless Riding.

These cues take into consideration the natural movement of the horse and trying to make communication make natural sense to you and your horse.  
Forwards - Open knees (therefore opening pelvis) & apply calves
 *Forwards would be to ask your horse to walk off, speed up or asking your horse for more forward motion.  Get to know your horse and see how much pressure you need and how it will vary depending on the maneuver you are asking for.

Stop - Close knees (therefore closing the pelvis)
 *What I mean by closing knees is closing them against the horse, or like squeezing them together.  Think about it like you are sitting on a tube of toothpaste, your legs control the direction the toothpaste moves in the tube, try pushing a little bit of it backwards, just to bring it to a stop.

Back - Close knees (again closing your pelvis) & apply some calf contact, but slide your legs up a little bit farther than if you were asking the horse to go forwards.  Think backwards, this really does help and remember the tube of toothpaste concept.

Turn - Hold the inside leg in a somewhat neutral position and apply the outside leg forward just a hair.  This encourages the horse to round themselves around the inside leg, doing so keeps the horse collected and helps prevent common problems like a dropped shoulder.

Pivot - Slide your outside leg slightly forward and apply calf.  Do not apply inside leg unless necessary to steady the horse.  Either open, close or hold neutral your pelvis, depending on if your horse has too much or too little forward motion.  

Sidepass - Hold pelvis neutral, unless needed to stop horse from taking steps forwards or backwards (like I explained when talking about the pivot).  Slide outside leg just a hair backwards (think middle of the horse's barrel) and apply calf.

Forehand pivot - Slide outside leg back & apply calf, if needed close pelvis to prevent your mount from moving his front legs.

Head Down Cue (Asking your horse to lift their back and lower their head) - Keep pelvis neutral, lift rein up just slightly & close calves to encourage lifting of their back.  
 *This takes a little practice, but if you play around with it a little bit, rewarding the horse for the slightest movement, progress will be made.  I usually first teach this at the stand still, then eventually at the walk, trot and  canter.  

Two Track - Same as sidepass, but with pelvis open to encourage forward motion.  

These are not the only leg cues out there, everyone has a little bit different way of doing things.  But this seems to make sense to most horses that I have ever rode.  It all makes logical sense to me and seems to make sense to them too.  

Note - None of this training happens overnight, you need practice to make your leg cues solid and discrete.  Almost all leg cues are taught with a rein cue as well, to help guide the horse and often times I will use my reins to guide and stabilize my horse.  But with lots of practice, eventually you may not need it.  Such as if your goal is bridleless riding.  Read my article on bridleless riding here.


  1. Thanks for the detail descriptions, especially the information about the opened and closed knees.

  2. Thank you for the complement! I am so glad I could help!

  3. Hello, I'm training my qh mare western, but have only learnt the basics of riding and it was english.
    Can you give me a list and further explanation of the cues for the basics, as well as more advanced moves like roll backs, spins, sliding stops, etc? Thanks.


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