On the Right Track?
Posted by Lorraine in 1/2 10m circles, attention, balance, balance of the rider and horse, Blog, body, canter execises, canter exercise, engage, falling in, falling out, how to organise your schooling, rider faults, straightness, straightness in turns and circles, straightness in walk on Sep 8, 2012
Is your horse straight? Are you sure? Straightness isn’t just about riding up the centre line or down the side of the school; it’s about turns and circles too. If your turns are less than accurate perhaps it’s time you took a closer look at your body not his.
If your horse comes inside the line you asked him for he’s falling in. If he takes a wider line he’s falling out. He can only do either of these if you let him. Getting him straight isn’t as hard as it first seems. He’s like a jigsaw – get the pieces in the right place and you’ll have the whole horse under control.
Keep things simple and break it down into three sections –
- Your hands control everything in front of the saddle – your horse’s shoulders, head and neck. His shoulders are the thing to concentrate on so keep his head and neck straight in front of him.
Whatever you do with your hands your horse will copy with his shoulders. Did you know he doesn’t have a collar bone? That means he can move each shoulder independently of the other. Keep your hands together and you’ll keep his shoulders together. It’s that simple.
Many riders lift their inside hand up to stop their horse dropping a shoulder or leaning in. Don’t do it! If you lift one hand up you throw your horse’s weight down onto the other shoulder and he’ll fall towards it.
It’s not just your horse’s shoulders that follow your hands. His mouth will too. If your left hand is higher than your right his mouth will do the same. If the left side of his mouth is higher than the right his nose will tip to the left. Sound familiar?
- Your body controls everything under the saddle. To stay straight on turns and curves your horse needs to spread his weight evenly on both sides of his body. So do you.
Whatever you do with your weight and your body your horse will do with his. Lean in or drop a shoulder to the inside and he’ll do the same. Check the distance between your bottom rib and the top of your hip. It should be the same on both sides. When you ask your horse to turn, turn your shoulders and hips to the inside; don’t collapse or slide to the inside. If your hip and shoulder get closer together his will too; his body will tighten – and fall – to the inside.
- Your legs control everything behind the saddle. The best way to keep your horse straight is to drive his hocks under his body so they stay directly behind his shoulders. You can use your legs behind the girth to correct him if he swings his quarters to one side but it’s far better to keep him straight in the first place!
Push your horse on using both legs in their usual position. Each leg is in control of the hind leg on the same side so make sure you use each one as hard as the other or you could find yourself moving sideways! Keep your contact even on both reins and you’ll push both hocks under his body. Do that and his hips will drop, moving closer to his shoulders and his back will round.
When your horse’s back is round he’s shorter. This makes him far easier to control because you’ve connected his quarters to his shoulders. If you don’t push him into your contact his hocks will trail behind him – his body will get longer and that means his quarters can swing all over the place!
Using a combination of your hands, your body and your legs creates accurate and straight turns. Every time you ask your horse to turn make sure –
- Your hands are level and your contact is even in both reins – turn his shoulders and you’ll put him on the line you want him to take
- Your body turns in the direction you want to go – keep your weight even in the saddle and he’ll stay balanced
- Your legs drive his quarters up behind his shoulders – keep him short in his back and connected and he’ll be much easier to control
Put those three things to the test. Don’t waste time trotting round and round the school. Try this exercise that strings turns, straight lines and circles together to get you thinking – and feeling – what’s going wrong.
Put two poles either side of the centre line between X and C. They’re not essential but it’s surprising how much more accurate they’ll make you. You can use this exercise on both reins but for this example start on the right rein.
Ride a diagonal line from K to X. (for the left rein use FX) At X ride straight between the poles and then half circle 10m to the track in either direction. The poles will keep you focused on getting straight at X. They’ll stop you swinging out as you start the half circle too.
This is a great exercise as there are so many places things can go wrong! Use the 1, 2, 3 above as you ride through this in walk, trot or canter. Focus on –
- The turn onto the diagonal. It’s important to use the AK corner so your horse is balanced before the turn. When you ride short sides make sure you don’t start to turn the corner until you’ve passed the ¾ line. It sounds simple but it’s easily done. Riding a good corner will give you at least two extra strides meaning your horse can stay balanced through the corner and be ready for the next movement.
- The turn at X. Without a fence to keep your horse in there’s every chance he’ll fall out as you turn. Use your outside leg and rein to replace it on turns like these and he’ll turn quicker and straighter.
- The turn onto the half circle. Remember you are the one who knows which way you’re going to turn! Look and turn your body in the direction you want him to go and use your outside leg to replace the fence to stop him falling out. An inside bend is a bend through his body not from his nose! Don’t be tempted to turn his head before you turn his shoulders.
Using an exercise like this makes you think about riding your whole horse. There are three vital parts to him. Get one wrong and, just like a jigsaw, the whole picture falls apart. Get it right and it looks great.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
There are four downloadable schooling guides in the Teach Yourself series full of exercises to tackle different problems – Responsiveness, Canter problems , lack of attention and strong/sharp horses At just 99p they’re affordable and should give you plenty to do between lessons.
If you have a riding or schooling problem with your horse get in touch via the forum or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org You don’t have to be a horse owner to have a problem! Feel free to ask.