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Saturday, 1 October 2011

Let Your Horse Work for You

No matter how much you love your horse you’re bound to have days when you wish he’d just exercise himself. Any exercise is better than no exercise so, with that in mind, why don’t you choose something that will make him work harder than you?

The easiest thing to do is reduce the size of your circles. 20m circles are useful but don’t really require your horse to exert himself. 10m circles are ideal. Ride them from each marker in the school, the four points of a 20m circle or change the rein by riding half 10m circles from E to X to B. He’ll have to push his hocks further under his body just to get round which will use the muscles in his back as well as his hindquarters.

10m circles are a big ask for a young horse. Use 15m circles instead. Or slow down and ride some in walk. They’ll be good for his balance and keep his attention too.

Four loop serpentines are a great way of making your horse do more work with less effort from you. You’ll be riding more half 10m circles but this time with straight lines joining them across the school. Spend a session riding them up and down the school. You’ll use both reins equally, keep his attention and get him using his hocks.

Diamonds are really useful shapes. They’re often overlooked or perhaps not even thought about. They can be ridden in all three paces and in two different sizes. The most obvious is a diamond using the four points of a 20m circle. Technically it’s a square but working away from the fence at each point means your horse has to stay focused on you.

A true diamond can be ridden between C, B, A and E. The points at A and C are sharp. They encourage your horse to sit on his hocks and move his shoulders as one unit. They’re not beyond the capabilities of any horse. Even a youngster can cope with one in walk. It’s an ideal way for you to get control of his shoulders before moving on to lateral work.

To turn your horse in walk around a point on a diamond sit back and close your fingers around the reins. This tells him not to go forward. Move both hands to the inside (Your outside hand should be above his withers) and push with both legs. He can’t go forward so he’ll follow the direction of your hands and move his body and shoulders around his quarters and across to the inside.

Used behind the girth your leg specifically controls your horse’s quarters. Used by the girth it controls his barrel. If he starts to move his quarters round as well as his shoulders and barrel swing your outside leg back and give him a nudge with your heel. That will tell him to keep his quarters still.

When you move your hands to the inside your horse moves his shoulders across. Your hands are then back to their original position – one either side of his withers. To move him across again move your hands over and push with both legs. When he’s on the line you want to take relax your fingers on the reins and allow him to go forward.

There’s one significant difference between asking your horse to move laterally (sideways) and just turning. To turn you use your body to tell him which way you want to go. Your body turns before his. When you move him sideways your hands and legs direct him but your body stays still. His body turns before yours.

The sequence of legs in trot makes it impossible for your horse to move his shoulders around his quarters so the points must be ridden as a turn. It may be less accurate but it will still be enough to make him step further under his body with his hocks.

As you approach each point turn your upper body and hands in the direction you want to go. Push forward with both legs. Keep your fingers relaxed on your reins to encourage him to go forward.

Riding diamonds in canter isn’t beyond the capabilities of any horse with practice. Try a 20m diamond where the turns are less sharp. Treat each turn as you would a corner. Sit up and turn your body. Keep your hands directly in front of you as he turns to keep his shoulders together. Ride forward to keep him back on his hocks and be ready to nudge him with your outside leg back if he swings his quarters.

Next time you feel less than enthusiastic try something different that will challenge your horse more than it will challenge you. Nobody said schooling had to be hard work all the time. Not for you anyway.  

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


  1. Looking forward to trying this. Do you use the whole of the school for the diamond?

  2. You can use the four points of a 20m circle which is really just a square at an angle or ride one in the whole arena between A, E, C and B.

    The larger/longer the diamond the steeper the angles at the points.

    Have fun. Lorraine