How often has someone watched you schooling your horse and said “He looks fine … stop worrying.”? You smile but deep down all you really want to do is kill him! From the outside he may well look as if he’s going nicely but you’re on board and you just know he’s not giving you 100%.
This ‘passive evasion’ can be more annoying than bucking or bolting. At least then you can have a full scale row! This is much more subtle. Your horse starts off okay but as your session goes on he gets lower and heavier in your hand. He doesn’t give you quite as much bend as you’d like and he’s not quite active enough behind. You swear you’ve done everything by the book. You’ve checked, softened, half-halted and put your leg on but still he chooses to trot round the school in his own little world.
Tempting as it is to yank on one rein and give him a dig in the ribs you know it’s not the answer. Firstly you know it won’t work. It never does. Secondly (although for a split second you feel so much better) you also know that in half an hour you’ll feel so guilty you’ll end up hanging round his neck apologising!
In cases like this your horse needs something to make him sit up and listen. There’s no point getting wound up. It will only cause tension. Get clever not angry.
Try this -
Ride a 20m circle at E in trot. Get your horse settled and in a steady rhythm. After a few circles he’s bound to think he knows what’s coming and switch off. That’s when you pull out your trump card.
When you cross the centre line change the rein onto a 10m circle. That will get his attention! Ride forward and change the rein back onto the 20m circle. Ride a couple of circles and do it again.
Be careful not to do the same thing each time. Every time you return to the 20m circle do something different. Ask for canter or ride another 10m circle instead of carrying on with the 20m circle. The list is endless. Do what you like. Just keep him guessing.
On a circle at E you have four points. E, B and two as you cross the centre line. Why not ride a 10m circle at each point? You can do the ones at E and B on the same rein and with the other two you have the option to do either rein – or a 10m figure of eight.
10m circles aren’t impossible for any horse to canter as long as you sit up and ride forward. If your horse has his hocks underneath him he can balance no matter how small the circle. From canter vary the transitions you make between changes of rein. Ride canter to walk as you ride onto the 10m circle and canter to trot as you go back to the 20m.
Whilst you want to surprise your horse make sure you’re prepared yourself. Snapping him out of his daydream will sit him back on his hocks and take his weight of his shoulders. Tipping forward or collapsing to one side yourself will defeat the whole object. As you circle or make the change of rein sit up and turn your upper body. Keep your hands level and turn your head so you’re looking in the direction you are going. This will keep your weight balanced which will help him with his.
Any of those exercises can be done in walk, trot or canter. The main thing is you keep things different. Horses are prone to switch off when they’re bored. We’re not always at fault but we are the ones who decide what to do in each session. Before you criticise take a look at your schooling plan. Be honest. Have you got set in your ways? Schooling isn’t boring. Trotting endless circles is.
Good luck and happy schooling!