(You may also find it useful to read – Keep in Touch, There’s More to Legs than Kicking, More Power Less Speed, It’s in Your hands, Get Straight to the Point)
Most riders have been tanked off with at some time or another. It doesn’t mean your horse has bolted or taken off. It simply means he’s doing what you asked him to do but at his own pace.
You know the type of thing. You go from canter to trot and your horse unceremoniously sets his neck and tanks to one end of the arena before your caller has had a chance to suggest that you “Circle at E, 20 metres.” Or you turn for a fence and he sticks his head down ploughing towards the jump at a speed worthy of a rocket. Ok, he jumps it but, really, wouldn’t it have looked so much better if you weren’t leaning back pulling his teeth out all the way in?
There will have been times like those that you’ve laughed about, others may have put the wind up you or frustrated you but there’s one type of tanking that you might not even have noticed. The lateral tank.
A lateral tank happens with horses of all levels. Similar to any other tank the horse is asked to do a movement, ignores any attempt to control him, and hurries through it because he thinks he knows best. It’s easy to be ‘grateful’ and sit it out until you get to the end of the movement but it won’t be correct. Does this ring a bell with you? Perhaps you didn’t know you were doing it. Now you do try asking for one step at a time.
The ability to stop a lateral movement half way through is something every rider should be able to do. Think of lateral work as a pace not a movement. If you were trotting round the school and your horse got strong you’d do something about it, right? Be brave enough to do the same in leg yield or shoulder in.
Too many riders rush round a corner and throw their horse straight into a lateral movement. Slow down! Give yourself and your horse time to think. Get straight before you even think of going sideways. Take half a long side if you have to. If you’re not straight before you ask how can you know if he’s moving correctly?
Hands cause the majority of faults in lateral work. Kept together and level they’ll have little effect but drop one, tighten up or pull back and your horse is guaranteed to resist. Resistance creates tension. If your horse is tense there’s no way he can step forwards correctly let alone sideways.
Whatever your movement – even a turn on the forehand – start off with just one step and ride out of it. Don’t be in a rush to do a whole long side of shoulder in, a 180’ pirouette or turn on the forehand. One step done correctly is a far greater achievement and it will create a solid foundation for your future lateral work.
You’ll need to be strong with your outside leg to stop your horse setting his shoulder and rushing away from your inside leg. If he ignores it carry your whip in your outside hand and don’t be afraid to use it. Older well schooled horses can think they know best and plough on regardless. A sharp nudge with your outside heel and a tap with the whip should be enough to get their attention back on you.
Never worry about spoiling a movement because you have to correct something. You’ll ruin that movement but the next one will be better. That’s why you school your horse. Making a correction midway is far more beneficial than sitting it out and trying again next time. If you don’t correct how can your horse understand what you want? If he was cantering on the wrong lead would you complete the circle or ask him to trot and start again? Lateral work is no different.
When you start out on to the lateral path it’s an exciting time. Be proud of yourself for reaching that level but don’t be in awe of it. Remember the days when you were first taught to canter? You were probably nervous but you got through it. You weren’t told to canter three circuits of the school when you first learnt either! You took one step at a time. Do that laterally and you’ll never look back.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.