One Step at a Time
Did you read last week’s post and recognise a few of your own faults? If you did you’ll realise you need to slow down a bit, take things one step at a time.
Got any idea how? Try this –
Using the long diagonal (We’ll use KXM) you’re going to turn your horse around his quarters to get him off the track at K and turn him around his shoulders to put him back on it at M.
Any horse can do this exercise regardless of his experience. He doesn’t have to be on the bit to be able to move his shoulders or quarters around. He can do it when you move him over in the stable. If in doubt keep his head and neck straight.
The pace you use is entirely up to you but remember although you can move shoulders around his quarters in walk and canter you can only turn quarters around the forehand in walk. (Before anyone screams “That’s not true!” shoulder in and travers have different mechanics – they don’t go ‘around’ they go across.)
Start off in walk to give you and your horse the best chance of understanding the movements. At K you need to;
- Sit back and tighten your fingers round your reins. This is a restrictive contact, not a backwards one. It’s enough to tell your horse not to go forward but not harsh enough to make him hollow against you and step back.
- Lift your hands up and across to the inside so your outside hand is above his crest. Remember he’ll copy the movements of your hands with his shoulders. When your hands move to the inside so will his shoulders. When he steps across your hands will be back in their normal position again – one either side of his neck. That’s one step.
- Push your outside calf against his side, in its usual place, to push his body around with his shoulders. If he moves his shoulders round without his body he’ll get stuck. Eventually he’ll throw his quarters round as well. (Sound familiar?)
- When he does step over ‘catch’ him with your inside leg so he stops moving sideways and relax your fingers on the reins so he walks forward to M.
Your horse will have taken one or two steps to the inside. M should now be in front of you. Walk towards it until his front feet reach the track. Now halt. His body will still be on the diagonal. All you need to do now is move his quarters over to the track.
Your aids –
- Tighten your fingers round your reins again. This time your contact is restrictive but your hands stay still, one either side of his neck. This keeps your horse’s shoulders in the same place.
- Use your inside leg in its usual place to push his body towards the track.
- If he’s reluctant to step across swing your inside heel/spur back and give him a quick nudge. This tells him to move his hindquarters as well as his body. You must put your leg back in its usual position immediately. Swing it back again if you need to but never leave it there. Do that and you’re asking him to bend his quarters around not step across. (More on that another day!)
- When his hind legs reach the track catch him with your outside leg, relax your fingers and push forward again. (Never rely on the fence to stop him. When you progress to other things he’s going to need to respect that outside leg.)
Moving shoulders at one end and quarters at the other can be too much for a novice horse to cope with initially. Break it down. Ride onto the diagonal by moving the shoulders around his quarters but ride the rest of the diagonal as you would normally do. Then try turning his quarters at the end of the diagonal but miss out the turn at the start. When he understands both sets of aids join the two together.
If you’ve read The Other Way of Turning you’ll know you can ask your horse to turn by moving your body. These aren’t normal turns. In a normal turn his hips follow the same tracks as his shoulders. So if you turn yours he copies the angle you’re sitting at and moves accordingly. In this situation his front and back end are doing separate things. Make it easy for him. Keep your body square with his and turn when he does.
As your coordination improves and your horse starts to really understand the aids you can ask him to take more steps. Using K as your starting point you can turn from K to B. Increase the angle still further by asking him to turn 90’ from K to F.
In the case of the first turn you ask your horse to take his body one step over with your outside leg and stop him with your inside leg. You need to repeat this for every step you ask for, no matter what the lateral movement. It can be helpful to think of your horse’s body as a ball which you throw from one leg and catch with the other. When moving him across there is never a time when you should need to push with both legs together. You do that to move forward.
Take your time at this stage. Make sure you understand what and how you are doing things. Get this right and everything else will be so much easier. With all lateral work quality is more important than quantity. One step done well is 100 times better than a whole long side of nothing.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.