Riders often struggle with distance. They have a difficult time developing an eye. In my experience, teaching students to judge the distance proves to be one of the most difficult. More often then not, the distance is not the problem, they struggle with rhythm, pace, and straightness which ultimately leads up to a bad distance or poor fence. In order to solve this problem of distance, riders need to have a better plan, better control, and a better rhythm. This will ultimately produce a better distance. I have chosen a few exercises I have learned over the years through practice, other trainers, and books to help work on these issues. The exercises of the week include how to better regulate your speed on a circle, how to properly spiral in on a circle, how to keep control around the ends of the ring, and serpentines.
More often then not, when working with novice riders they do not think through the entire exercise or course and just try to memorize the order of the fences and have a general idea of where they are going. It is important to go over the exercise in your head, and really think about exactly where you want to go, what tempo you need where, and identify areas that will be difficult and need your extra attention. This does not just apply to a course or exercise of multiple fences, but to your flatwork as well. For example, when you make your serpentine, don't just have a general idea of where you are going. Instead, make sure all the loops are even, concentrate on the shape of your horse's body through the turns and on the straight lines. Try to be more definite and exact about what you want and when. When I am going into a class, especially a big class where I am nervous, I sit down and visualize exactly what my plan is. As riders, students, and trainers, it is very important to think everything through before acting, to ensure a better plan and a more successful outcome. Obviously, things do not always go as planned but having a plan and an idea of what your goal is throughout the course has always proved to be useful to me.
Regulating Speed on a Circle
Practice regulating speed on a twenty meter circle. First start off at the walk, be sure your circle is the shape of a circle. Sometimes it helps to put something in the center of the circle as a point to ensure you stay equal distance from the center of the circle. Alternate between a forward working walk and a collected walk. Once you are successful with that, practice changing speeds each half circle, and then each quarter. It is very important to make sure you horse is working from the hind end into the contact rather then mouth first. You should continue to work this exercise at the trot and canter. Make sure you do not stay on a twenty meter circle the entire time, definitely take breaks and work the entire arena as well. Your goal should be to be able to control the different gaits while maintaining a nice shape in the circle. Also, pay attention to your position, do not get sloppy and try to keep your body quiet and legs connected while changing your rhythm.
Spiral in on a Circle
Start your horse on a twenty meter circle. Again it may help to put something at the center of the circle to ensure you stay equal distance from the center of the circle. Once you have achieved a twenty meter circle with good tempo and rhythm, begin to spiral in, about two meters each circle, until you reach a ten meter circle. Use your outside leg to spiral in, and it is very important to take your time when making the circle smaller to ensure your horse's tempo stays the same and they continue to work properly from the hind end to the front end. If your horse is older, or unfit, only spiral in as much as you can comfortably with your horse. Only spiral in to the point where you remain successful. If you are having difficulty maintaining rhythm on a sixteen meter circle, then work that size circle until you are successful. Once you have spiraled in to where you are comfortable and successful, then start to spiral back out using the inside leg. Again, spiral out slowly increasing the size of the circles by approximately two meters each circle. The goal is to be able to keep the rhythm and tempo even while changing the size of the circle. Just as the first exercise, you should practice this at the walk, trot, and canter. Always start out with a slower gait, and once you are successful continue on at other gaits. It is important to remember when working all of these circles, to give your horse breaks and not to over work the circles and spirals. The ultimate goal of this exercise is for the rider to get and keep the shape of the horse and to keep the horse working from back to front.
Keeping Control Around the Ends of the Ring
When practicing controlling the corners, first practice using the entire ring, you can then practice using half of the ring. When you use half the ring, you may find it useful to set two poles at a ninety degree angle, creating a false corner to help you follow the correct track. As the other exercises, start with a pace you are comfortable with and grow from there. When you are practicing corners, pay attention to your horse in your hands, through his back, and his hind end. Practice keeping control of your horse from back to front around the corners. Make the corners very square. The goal is to achieve where your horse comes through the corner and is well balanced, not tilting his head in the corner or leaning out of the turn with his shoulder. Your horse should be balanced on both reins, and in between your hand and leg at all times. It is important to not let your horse just turn in when he wants to. Like all exercises, this should be practiced both directions equally to keep your horse symmetrical. You should only practice it at more forward gaits once you have achieved good balance at slower gaits. Better corners will improve your fences because you will have better control and balance when coming off the turn to the fence. It will also improve your horse's listening through the ends of the ring.
When practicing serpentines for novice riders, start at the working walk and picture cutting the arena into four quarters, this will make a four loop serpentine. The initial goal is to keep our horse at a working walk, and keep you horse bent around the turn without its hind quarter falling to the outside of the turn. That being said, don't keep so much outside leg that your horse falls into the turn. Try to keep your horse in balance around the turn and make him completely straight when cutting across the width of the arena. Pay attention that the horse does not get behind the leg in the turn and keeps the same pace. Once you have achieved this at the walk, then move onto the trot, and canter. If your horse does not have a lead change, or you do not want to over work the lead change (which is a huge pet peeve of mine), you may find it useful to to simple changes to either the walk, trot, or halt when at the center line in the loop. If your horse is having trouble being successful on a four loop serpentine, you can change it to a three loop serpentine and cut the arena into thirds to make the turns wider and simpler. Once you have achieved good loops and rhythm at all gaits in the simple serpentine you can make it more difficult. You can make it more difficult be increasing the amount of loops, or instead of making normal turns with an inside bend, you can practice turning your horse's shoulder and keep his head and neck straight through the turn. This will be achieved by using the indirect rein and outside leg. You can make a serpentine even more advanced by doing a turn on the haunch in your loops. No matter how simple or complex you practice this exercise the most important thing it to make sure your horses hind quarter is staying in line and your rhythm is staying the same.
When practicing these exercises and any exercise for that matter, practice it until you are successful, do not over work the exercise. Do not try to make the exercise more difficult and complex if you are not successful, this will only undo your horse. It is important to make sure that every time you put your horse away, he has ended on a successful note and is well worked but not over worked. I hope you enjoy this weeks exercises, check back next week for new exercises and please as always feel free to ask questions during your lessons. Enjoy practicing this week!