(Suggested posts – Be a Lazy Rider, Keep in Touch, It’s in your Hands, There’s More to Legs than Kicking)
In order to bend something into the shape you want it needs to be straight in the first place. Your horse is no exception. Most riders will spend the obligatory ten minutes warming up and then take their horse up expecting an instant inside bend. That’s fine if you know you were straight in the first place but how can you be sure?
To keep a horse straight you need to keep your hands level and only as far apart as the width of the bit. You carry them up in front of you to keep a bend in your elbows. This stops you and your horse fixing on each other.
If your horse moves freely forward your heel can be used for corrections. Not to get him to go forward. Your calf muscles should rest against his sides and your heels should stay away.
There are two sides to every horse. Do you ride both sides of yours? Try this simple exercise to make sure.
After you’ve warmed up put your horse on to the inside track. For the rest of your session that’s where you’re going to stay. Think it’s going to be easy? Think again!
When you ride in a field or even on a road you’ll use both legs equally. The trouble with riding in a ménage is that without even knowing it you get lazy with your outside leg. Why wouldn’t you? The fence does most of the work for you. You only need it for turns, circles and lateral work. Trouble is if you’re not actually riding the outside of your horse he’s likely to be crooked. The chances are this will show up in your canter. Ringing alarm bells?
Your horse will be used to hugging the fence. Put him on the inside track and the first thing he’ll do is fall back towards the track. Give him a quick nudge with your heel to correct him. Your heel should be used as you would use a whip. Use it quickly and then keep it off. After a few strides he’s bound to drift back out again. Use your heel again. It could take a few circuits just to keep him off the track.
When your legs are used by the girth – in their usual place – they control your horse’s barrel. So if his body drifts out to the right you need to give him a nudge by the girth with your right heel to stop him. If he swings his quarters out, which is more common coming out of a corner, on a turn or going down a transition, then you need to put your heel back.
Never try to pull your horse back to the inside track. Your hands only control what’s in front of the saddle not what’s under or behind it. Without your legs he’ll only turn his head. His body will stay on the track.
Control of the shoulders is important. Lose one and your horse will fall in or out. Drop one hand and your horse will drop that shoulder. If he does that he’ll fall in. Your inside heel will put him back out but if your hand stays down you’re going to be constantly nagging him to get out. Even up your hands. Problem solved.
Many riders get so hung up on inside bend that they lose the contact on the outside rein. Do that and you’ll lose the outside shoulder. Your horse will fall out. This is an enormous problem when you come to start lateral work. Keep an even contact on both reins at all times. Another problem solved.
When you can stay on the inside track in all three paces add a circle or serpentine. Remember to only ride to the inside track. A 20m circle will therefore only be 19m and a serpentine will only touch the inside track not the outside.
Your horse will be set in his ways. When you circle he’ll expect to go back on to the track. You’ll need to focus on your rein contact and be ready with your outside leg to keep him on the inside track.
When you do get back onto the track make sure your outside calf muscle is on as much as it was when you were on the inside track. And keep hold of your outside rein contact! You’ll be surprised at the difference in accuracy of your turns, circles and lateral work. That crooked canter could be another problem solved.
This week make yourself stay away from the track. It’s going to help with everything you do be it lateral work, jumping or basic transitions. Not only that, it will do wonders for the surface of your ménage too!
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.