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Friday, 19 August 2011

Don't Forget the Outside!

Crookedness is blamed on many things – backs, saddles and even the horse’s attitude but before you rush to the phone, cheque book in hand, do yourself a favour and make sure the cause of the problem isn’t you.

Your position could be the cause of your horse’s crookedness. Crooked riders create crooked horses. BUT. It isn’t always how you sit. It’s how you ride. There are two sides to your horse. Are you riding them both equally?

School fences are the cause of many a crooked horse. The fence takes the place of the rider’s outside leg and rein. The second you move away from it the problems begin. Get away from the track. Try using the ¾ line. Without the fence to guide your horse you’ll have to ride both sides of him.

(The ¼ and ¾ lines are one and the same thing. They’re both 5m from the track and the centre line. The ¼ is the one you reach first as you ride round the short side so depending on the rein you’re on and what you’re doing the name varies.)

Your turn onto the 3/4 line is important. It’s a corner not a ½ circle. Think how you’d honestly ride a standard corner. Inside rein for bend and inside leg to push him out? Very little outside anything. Do that turning onto the 3/4 line and your horse will fall out in spectacular fashion.  

The need for outside as well as inside leg and rein quickly becomes apparent. Both reins hold your horse’s shoulders together. Both legs push his body behind them. It sounds simple but the outside aids are often only remembered when things go wrong.

In walk, trot and canter ride large but only using ¾ of the school. The 3/4 line becomes your track. As you pass A/C look and turn your body towards the 3/4 line. Take your arms round with your body so your hands stay in front of you and together the whole time. Use both legs by the girth to push your horse’s hocks under him and to keep his quarters behind his shoulders.

Turning your body and hands in this way creates a sharp turn. Your horse moves his shoulders round as one unit. Think pirouette (even though it’s not) and push on.

Ride straight down the 3/4 line. It’s harder than it sounds. Never slow down in an attempt to straighten your horse. He needs energy to stay balanced. Ride forward into a steady contact. The slower you go the more chance you have of a wobble.

Try riding a 15m circle when you get level with X. This will take you onto the track at E/B. Don’t suddenly swing your horse into an inside bend. On a circle of this size he only needs to look where he’s going – not where he’s just been! Keep your hands together and push him forward. The circle is the easiest part of this exercise. Getting back onto the 3/4 line and riding straight is the tricky bit.

On the circle turn your body in line with the curve and focus on the fence at the end of the school. (It can be useful to mark these points with string.) You should have an equal weight in both reins at all times. You shouldn’t need to take more contact in your outside rein as you get back onto the 3/4 line to straighten your horse. Use your position to show him. Straighten your body, keep your hands together and push on.

Canter is the pace most likely to be crooked. Once in canter make sure your outside leg moves forward to its place by the girth. Leave it back and you’ll be asking your horse to put his quarters in. You’ll also sit with your inside hip further forward than your outside. If your horse does the same his quarters will swing to the inside.

To practice your transitions ask for canter on the 3/4 line. Then ride straight or ride the 15m circle. Concentrate on sitting straight and upright in the saddle. The straighter you sit the straighter your horse. It’s easier to bend a straight horse than it is to unbend a crooked one.

Even when you’re on a circle concentrate on keeping your horse straight. Too much focus on an inside bend could make you collapse to the inside, draw your inside leg up or tighten the inside of your body. All problems guaranteed to make him crooked.

10m circles are good for your horse’s balance and engagement. Ride down the 3/4 line and ride a 10m circle to the opposite one. The size of the circle is entirely down to you. Find a spot on the fence you can ride to and keep looking at it. There is no easier way to turn a horse than to look where you want to go.

Get inventive. Ride a figure of eight between 3/4 lines. Ride ½ 10m circles at each end and ride diagonally across from one line to the other. Why? Why not?

Anything you do which is different will keep your horse’s interest. If he’s interested in what you’re doing he’ll always be easier to ride. When you do go back onto the track remember to use as much outside leg and rein as you had to when you didn’t have the fence to help you. It could save you a phone call.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


  1. Wish I had you to work with years ago when I was learning to ride and keep my horse 'going right.' I do believe learning dressage is absolutely the best way to start out... even if you do switch to Western! Shhh, don't tell anyone. ;-)

  2. You're so right - even barrel racers have to ride both sides - right?