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The Language of Touch: How Riders and Horses Communicate

One of the most fascinating aspects of riding is the ability to communicate with a horse through touch. Riders use their arms and hands, legs, seat, and voice to convey messages to their equine partners, and horses respond with their own body language and signals. But how does this language of touch work, and what are the benefits of learning it?

The Basics of Touch Communication

Touch communication between riders and horses is based on the principle of pressure and release. Riders apply pressure to certain parts of the horse’s body, such as the mouth, sides, or back, to ask for a specific movement or behavior. When the horse responds correctly, the rider releases the pressure, rewarding the horse and reinforcing the desired response. This creates a feedback loop that allows the horse to learn what the rider wants and the rider to adjust their aids accordingly.

Some examples of touch communication are:

  • Influence through the reins: the rider’s hands transmit signals to the horse’s mouth, the lips, bars, and tongue, through the bit. The connection is through the rider’s hands, body, arms, and reins. The hands themselves do not give the aid. The aid is given on the left or right side by the dominant rein by rotating the forearm outward and moving the elbow inward. The hand should not be moving backward. The opposite hand is holding steady. If the aid is held too long it can restrict the forward movement of the shoulder or leg. The aid or contact may be relaxed to allow the forward movement, but then repeated, rather than holding.


  • Using the legs to move the horse forward, sideways, or change gaits. The rider squeezes or taps the horse’s sides with their legs to apply pressure. These touch signals are then picked up by the sensors located in the horse’s skin, which, in turn, send a message to his brain.  These impulses will then induce the horse to decide how to respond. The horse learns to move away from the leg pressure and follow the rider’s direction. The ensuing movement will be felt by the rider in the contact areas and information will be sent to his brain via the sensory nerves. The rider is then able to make the next decision according to his feel. The sequence has then reached full circle.  


  • Using the seat to influence the horse’s balance, rhythm, and collection. The rider shifts their weight, posture, and seat bones to apply pressure to the horse’s back, which the horse feels through the saddle. The horse learns to adjust their balance, rhythm, and collection in harmony with the rider’s seat.


  • Timing is essential. For the horse to understand the rider’s aids through touch, you must consistently apply your aids at the right moment related to his action.

The Benefits of Touch Communication

Touch communication between riders and horses has many benefits, both for the rider and the horse. Some of these benefits are:

  • It enhances the bond and trust between the rider and the horse. Touch communication requires the rider to be attentive, sensitive, and consistent with their aids, and the horse to be responsive, attentive, and willing to cooperate. This creates a mutual understanding and respect that strengthens the relationship between the rider and the horse.


  • It improves the performance and safety of the rider and the horse. Touch communication allows the rider to control the horse’s movements and behavior with precision and subtlety, and the horse to follow the rider’s aids with confidence and clarity. This results in a smoother, more efficient, and more enjoyable ride for both the rider and the horse, as well as reducing the risk of accidents or injuries.


  • It enriches the learning and enjoyment of the rider and the horse. Touch communication challenges the rider to develop their skills, knowledge, and awareness of the horse’s anatomy, psychology, and biomechanics, and the horse to learn new skills, exercises, and disciplines. This stimulates the curiosity, creativity, and intelligence of both the rider and the horse, and makes riding a fun and rewarding activity.

The Language of Touch: A Lifelong Journey

Touch communication between riders and horses is a complex and nuanced language that takes time and practice to master. It is also a dynamic and evolving language that adapts to the individual needs, preferences, and personalities of each rider and horse. Therefore, learning the language of touch is not a one-time event, but a lifelong journey that requires patience, dedication, and passion. However, the rewards of learning the language of touch are immense, as it opens the door to a deeper and more meaningful connection with the horse, and a richer and more fulfilling riding experience.


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