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Friday, 2 December 2011

He'll Bend - if you let him

Are you struggling to keep your horse out on a circle? When you return to the track does it take you three strides to get straight again? When you ask for canter do you find yourself heading across the school rather than up the track? You’re not alone. It’s a common problem. The good news is it’s easily solved.

If you ride a 20m circle at A or C the chances are everything feels fine. But do the same at E or B and suddenly you find you can’t quite get your horse out to the track on both sides. Kick as you might with your inside leg he just won’t step onto the track. It’s all you can do not to get off and drag him there, isn’t it?

Most riders come up against this problem at some stage. It stems from focusing too much on the inside bend. Without thinking about it the pressure on the inside rein gets stronger and stronger whilst the contact in the outside rein gets weaker. Lighten up a bit on the inside rein and you’ll notice a huge difference but take a look at the rest of your body to see why your horse reacts like he does.

The more you focus on the bend the more your inside hand tightens and draws back. As your arm draws back your shoulder drops down towards your hip. Your horse will start to fall in and you’ll need more inside leg to keep him out. As you do that your leg will creep up towards your hip. Within a few circuits your whole body will be curled up around your inside hip.

Your horse is a master of mimicry. Whatever you do with your body he’ll copy and do with his. If you’re curled inwards around your inside hip he’s going to do the same around his. This tightens his body making it harder for him to move forward or across. It’s not that he doesn’t want to listen to your leg it’s just that he can’t!

Put yourself on a 20m circle at E/B in walk. Establish the circle and focus on your position before moving on into trot. Look directly between your horse’s ears and straight ahead. It’s easy to end up looking at the floor about twenty yards ahead but keep your eyes up. If you’re not looking where you’re going is it any wonder you end up off line?

To maintain the shape of the circle turn your body from your waist onto the line you want to take. Pay particular attention to the distance between your hip and your bottom rib. It should be the same on both sides. Pull up through your body and lean back until you feel your stomach muscles pull. Then trot.

At each quarter of the circle – E, B and as you cross the centre line – ride two strides in a straight line. Turn your body so your shoulders and hips face the front and your horse will do the same. As you straighten up make a conscious effort to push your inside hand forwards an inch. This doesn’t mean you lose the contact. What it will do is release any tension you’ve got in your arm. Your horse will relax in his neck and you’ll feel him rebalance onto the outside rein.

Hold onto that feeling as you turn your body back onto the line of the circle again. Check the distance between your hip and your hand on each side. If you’re drawing your hand back the distance on the inside will be shorter than the outside.

This is a simple thing to do but it will have an immediate effect. You’ll find you reach the track at E and B easily. Your horse will move forward and be more relaxed because you’re not scrunching his neck to the inside and you won’t draw your inside leg up because you won’t be trying desperately to kick him out.

When you come to go large from the circle all you have to do is maintain the straightness in your body and keep your inside hand forward. Push on with both legs so your horse is in no doubt that you want him to go straight.

Try some canter transitions. As you ask for canter push your inside hand forwards an inch. (Remember NOT to lose the contact) If your horse hasn’t got to move into canter with his body scrunched to the inside he’ll be straighter in the transition and he won’t come in off the track as he strikes off either.

Try changing leg through trot between the ¼ and ¾ lines. Turn onto the diagonal, pull up through your body and look directly ahead. As you ask for trot push your inside hand forward, keep it there through the trot and as you ask for canter again. You’ll find the transition is straighter and you’ll hit the track just before the marker instead of struggling to keep your horse out.

An inside bend is important on a circle but only if it isn’t affecting everything else. Remove the pressure and your horse will bend naturally around your inside leg because he can. The more you practise the easier it will be to feel when you’re tightening up. When you can feel a problem nine times out of ten you can solve it.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

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