Lucy McCarthy (née Wiegersma) takes eventer Abbie Hughes through a step-by-step exercise aimed at helping to improve your horse’s balance and acceptance of the aids through corners and on straight lines
“This exercise works on the acceptance of the aids and the connection on straight lines and through turns or corners,” says Lucy McCarthy (née Wiegersma). “It develops the rider’s awareness of the positioning of the horse beneath them, including how to ride a corner”
The exercise: how to ride a corner
1. Find an area where you can ride a square of at least 20 metres. You don’t have to mark out the corners with poles and cones, but it will help with the discipline of the shape of the square and riding proper corners if you do.
2. The cones need to be two to three metres in from the point of the corner — keep them on the generous side for green horses that will inevitably find tighter turns more difficult.
3. Lucy advises to start this exercise in trot. “It’s so easy for the horse to drop behind the hand and leg at walk,” says Lucy. “I think it’s easier for people to develop the feel in a higher gear. When established in trot then move up to canter and make sure you work on both reins.”
4. Ride four straight lines and four corners. As you come into each corner ask for a half halt — use both legs to create impulsion from behind.
5. “Be careful not to clamp your leg on as this will make you and the horse stiffen in the back,” adds Lucy. “Close your fingers around both reins but don’t pull your hand back to your body as you will just shorten the horse’s neck rather than achieving connection. With the outside rein create an ‘honest’ contact, while being careful not to block with your hand. Create inside bend by applying a little more pressure with the inside leg, while supporting with the outside leg to stop the horse swinging its hind quarters.”
6. Use ‘sponge fingers’ — squeeze and release as though you were squeezing water out of a sponge — with the inside hand to keep the neck soft. “Hold the half halt for the two or three seconds that you’re travelling through the turn, and then release the pressure of the half halt and ride the horse forward onto the straight line,” says Lucy.
7. Whether you’re on a turn or a straight line, remain aware of the horse’s position beneath you. The horse’s shoulders should remain square in front of the rider’s shoulders at all times.
“Common mistakes are for the horse to fall out through his outside shoulder on the turn, or swing his quarters,” says Lucy. “Keep things simple by remembering that each hand and leg controls its respective quarter of the horse. If he falls out through the shoulder create more weight in the outside rein and if he swings his quarters out use the outside leg slightly further back to stop that.
“Remember that this is quite hard work for the horse so take a break from the exercise before he gets tired,” adds Lucy. “Let him stretch and relax in between. I would normally do no more than five or six corners in a row on a young horse. Also, remember to reward him with a scratch on the withers and the use of your voice when he achieves what you want.”
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