Jul 03, 2017

A Breakdown of the Aids with Eric Dierks

By Carly Easton - Mythic Landing Enterprises
USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA.

Eric Dierks approaches training his young horses to start their career in the USEA Young Event Horse program in a methodical way with an abundance of patience and understanding from the horse’s point of view. He explains that a lot of times, riders and trainers are so performance-driven that they get caught up in the subjective score and a one-dimensional picture, instead of the horse's needs. Dierks’ approach to training involves producing a horse that is rideable, understands the aids and understands the questions. If the horse leaves the show with a grasp on those three topics, that is a success, regardless of the ribbon.

Dierks explains that that the very basis of his training program is ensuring that his horses have a desire to go forward and offer to stay in front of the leg. “If I’m squeezing with my leg every step of the way, my horse is not offering to go forward. If I continue to just squeeze with my leg, they’re just going to brace.”

He continues, “The horse needs to have an impression of my leg aid. I don't want to squeeze through any more pressure than feeling the hair on their sides and for no longer than a ¼ of a second. If they don’t respond, I may need to use my whip to start instilling in them that if they don’t do what I ask, or choose to ignore me, there will be consequences.”

Ultimately, Dierks is looking for the horse to start offering themselves to him, rather than having to demand a specific action. This is an important idea, as it focuses on the horse accepting and understanding the rider and the aids.

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Putting this idea into action is simple. Dierks explains, “When you’re ready to trot, give the horse the aid to do so. Squeeze with both legs and then release. The release is critical as that is the moment in the transition where the horse offers to do what you ask, when they pick up the trot. The idea of the horse offering themselves is translated through everything you do: transitions stretching, lateral work, even jumping.”

This brings us back to the earlier idea of presenting the subjective picture or presenting a horse that truly understands what is being asked of them. When the rider doesn’t get the picture they want, it becomes easy to apply force. Applying force only allows the horse to be abrasive towards that force. Dierks encourages riders to think of the word ‘aid’ as something that cannot be relied on and used continuously – but as a tool to ask the horse to do a particular action for them and take accountability for their own balance.

“I like to think of aids like an elevator button. You press the one you need to get to where you want to go. Pressing that button harder, or more than once isn’t going to get you where you want to go any faster. The aid should be used as an indication of what the action is that you want,” Dierks explains.

Dierks encourages his students to really get more in touch with their horses as there are a lot of emotions hidden behind training young horses. It’s always much more important to listen to your horse as their training progresses rather than worrying about a subjective score or picture. It’s imperative to take the time to establish the basics and fundamentals with your horse to continue to grow and move-up in the sport.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where Dierks walks us through a few exercises that use balance to instill confidence in young horses.

About Eric Dierks

Eric Dierks is graduate “A” pony clubber that bases himself out of Renovatio Farm in Tryon, North Carolina. Eric has earned many accolades throughout his career including being long-listed for both the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Spain and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. A strong advocate of education, Eric believes, “The equestrian world is an art of peace, rhythm and communication, no matter what discipline, and that success is measured through horse and rider understanding.” His program allows him to take a patient and sympathetic approach to the training of young horses to be successful in the sport of eventing.

To learn more about Eric and his program, please visit his website: http://ericdierks.com/Home.aspx

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