Body Talk

Posted by in balance, balance of the rider and horse, Blog, body, consistent, controlling the shoulders, energy, engage, exercises to get horse straight, falling in, falling out, no school, on the bit, outline, position, rhythm, rider faults, rider's position, rider's rein contact, walk trot canter exercises, walk trot canter straightness crooked canter, won't go straight after a circle on Jul 7, 2012


What’s the first thing you think of as you approach a turn? Inside bend? Most riders do. A novice rider may not think of bend as such but they’re likely to think they should turn their horse’s head to the inside. The thing is it’s actually more likely to make your turn less accurate than help your horse.


Put yourself in your horse’s position. Walk a straight line. Now test these out –

  1. Turn your head to the right. Do you turn? No. You keep walking straight but looking to the right. Which is what happens if you pull your horse’s head to the right.
  2. Turn your head to the right and look down. You’ll soon start to drift to the right. This is what happens if you drop or open your hand to the inside.
  3. Turn your head to the right and look straight up and you’ll start to fall to the left. How many times do you lift your inside hand up on a turn?


If you’re struggling to ride accurate circles, you find you’re always half a stride too wide as you turn onto the centre line or your horse falls in as you turn across the diagonal one of those could be the reason why.


Whether your horse is on the bit or off it his head needs to stay in line with his shoulders. If he’s bending correctly the bend is through his spine not from in front of the withers. When his body is curved his head, shoulders and hips should follow the same line – exactly as yours do if you do a forward roll. Turning his head onto the line first doesn’t always mean his shoulders and hips will follow.


Try walking a straight line again. Look straight ahead and then turn your shoulders and hips to the right. You’ll turn immediately – and then you’ll be looking where you’re going anyway! Do that on your horse and so will he.


Riding on the track gives you an unrealistic feel for what is happening. It doesn’t matter how you’re sitting – the fence stops your horse from falling out. It’s only when you try to turn that you realise there’s a problem.  


Riding large on an inside track is the best way for any rider to make sure they’re riding correctly. On the long sides your body should be square to the end of the school. On the corners you should turn your shoulders and hips onto the line you want your horse to take.


Once you’ve shown your horse where you want him to go your legs push him into your contact. If your contact is steady it acts as a dam to stop the energy escaping – his quarters move closer to his shoulders and his back will round. This is how you shorten a horse’s frame – not by pulling his head back towards his body.


The ¾ line is underused. It’s the perfect way to work on the accuracy of your turns and your straightness in all three paces. Any horse can canter a ½ 15m circle which is all you need to do to get onto it. BUT no horse can do a 90’ turn – unless you’re riding a canter pirouette. Never ruin your rhythm and balance by trying to. Ride a gradual curve onto the ¾ line so you aim to be straight as you pass D orG. Placetwo cones or poles at these points at either end of the ¾ line to give you something to ride for. It’s amazing how much more aware you become.


Turn your shoulders and hips to turn your horse onto the ¾ line. Focus on keeping the same pressure on your outside rein as you have on the inside. If it’s uneven you’ll lose his shoulders and he’ll fall in or out. Remember that even pressure in both reins keeps even weight on each shoulder and front leg. Even pressure from both legs pushes both hocks under his body and that’s how he stays balanced.


As soon as your horse touches the ¾ line straighten up. Look straight ahead and make sure your shoulders and hips are square to the end of the school. Now push on! There is no easier way to create a crooked line than taking your leg off and checking.


Don’t spoil things as you reach the far end. Sit up, turn your shoulders and hips onto the line you want him to take – make it a gradual curve towards A/C – and push him into both reins. When you ride up the track ride as you did without the fence to help you.


By riding both sides of your horse and making sure you’re straight in the saddle you’ll find he’s straighter and more balanced. This makes it easier for him to push himself forward and his energy levels and power will increase.


Everything you do with your horse is affected by the position of your body. If you think inside bend before you get his body in line you might get lucky and get him onto the line you wanted – but there’s a strong chance you won’t.


Good luck and enjoy your schooling. 

If you have any questions about riding or training your horse get in touch by email at 

For a more detailed look at your position and your aids check out Get Started 2. Other schooling guides in the Teach Yourself series will give you more interesting ways to school your horse. Check out the shop here  

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