Help! Help!

(“. . . . (Only) well enough to order a pizza.”)

I told the story years ago in Dressage Unscrambled, but it’s worth revisiting. Back in the 80s both Susan and I conducted instructor workshops for the USDF all around the country. The intention was to give local instructors feedback on their teaching techniques and to enlarge their repertory of training exercises.

Susan was conducting one such weekend workshop in Orlando, and one of the participating instructors had a unique problem. She was a recent transplant to the US, and while she knew a lot about dressage and how to teach it, she did not know any of the English words that would apply. She had learned high school English in the Netherlands well enough to be able to order a pizza but had no terminology that could explain a half halt. She was taking the sessions in the hopes of gaining the vocabulary she would need to earn a living with horses here. In the process of teaching an assigned practice lesson in front of the group, she could not think of the word “aids.” Instead, she substituted “the helps.”

As it turned out, we really liked that phrase. Aids, after all, is jargon, and it calls to mind formulae or recipes that you memorize and apply generically somewhat by rote. Using “the helps” inadvertently got at the essence of the process she was trying to describe. In a more organic way it explains a diagnosis of what’s missing when your communicating to your horse what you want him to do. Within the context of general guidelines, the physical inputs you give him are meant to explain what else he has to do to fulfill your wishes. The helps also include appropriate rewards as he understands and accomplishes these goals.

Yes, we will keep calling them the aids, but in the back of your mind remember that you’re not just pushing buttons but in a nonverbal way explaining to your horse what you want from him and assisting him in how to do it