On Your Marks!
Do you ever start out full of good intentions only to lose enthusiasm once you’ve warmed up? You wouldn’t be the first rider to set out thinking you really ought to ride and then wish you hadn’t bothered. Your horse will take his lead from you – the second he knows your heart’s not in it he’ll start to lose interest too. What you need is a ‘no brainer’. Some fail safe way of getting you through at least twenty minutes of constructive exercise. Look no further!
The best thing you can do when you’re feeling less than enthusiastic is get going. You may not feel like brushing up your canter pirouettes but it doesn’t mean you can’t do something constructive. A school contains at least eight markers. Use them to your advantage and you’ll find time flies.
If you really ‘can’t be bothered’ stay in walk. It’s far easier to get your horse to do more of the work for you and it can be really beneficial. How often do you actually spend in walk? Probably not as much as you should – or as much as you’d do in trot or canter.
By getting your horse walking into an even contact you can keep his quarters connected to his shoulders and encourage him to use his back muscles correctly. He doesn’t need speed to do that. Stay in walk and get control of his body by riding sharp turns across the school between markers. But remember – you need to use both legs and maintain an equal amount of weight in both reins to keep him straight and balanced.
Using E and B you can vary the degree of each turn. How often do you change the rein using short diagonals? OK it’s just a change of rein but the turns are sharper so he’ll have to work harder. The change from your usual long diagonal can be enough to get his attention too.
Short diagonals are useful for even the youngest of horses but why not ask a bit more? On the right rein ride from E to B or from E back on yourself to F (stay on the same rein) and you increase the difficulty for your horse without increasing your own effort. You’ll need to move his shoulders around his quarters to get a clear turn. To do that you need to approach E with an even contact in both reins to keep his head and neck straight in front of his body.
When you ask for a turn or a circle you use your body position to show your horse where you want him to go. (He copies what you do with your body with his.) When you ask him to move laterally your body should only move when his does. Your hands move first to position his shoulders and your legs push his body in the direction you want it to go. Your shoulders and hips follow his when they move.
To ask your horse to move his shoulders around his quarters you need to tell him to stop going forward by tightening your fingers around both reins and using your knee and thigh pushed into the saddle. (Think of yourself as a human clothes peg!)
Keeping your body square with your horse’s shoulders take your hands to the inside until your outside hand is above his withers. As you move your hands use your outside leg to push his body over in the same direction.
Think of your horse’s body as a ball that you throw from one leg and catch with the other. As he takes a step over put your inside leg on to stop him shooting round too quickly. Then use your outside leg again. In this way you’ll take his shoulders round one step at a time. Ask for as many steps as you need to get him facing the marker you’re aiming for.
Markers are a great way to get you and your horse focused. Start by going large in any pace. Then set yourself a target of doing something at every marker you pass. You can change the rein, change pace or ride a turn, circle or halt transition but make sure you do something. Here’s an example to give you more of an idea –
- Start on the left rein in trot
- From A ride a 20m circle
- At F change the rein to E
- At H ride a transition to walk
- At C canter
- At M ride a 10/15m circle
- At B trot
- At F halt and walk on
- At A turn down the centre line
- At D trot
- At X half circle left to E
- At E ride a 20m circle
The list is endless …
Simple changes at markers can be enough to help you get through a session when you’re feeling less than motivated. There’s nothing more mind-numbingly-boring than wandering round miserably on the buckle. This way you’ll feel you’ve done something constructive – and so will your horse.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.