Arena Work

When doing arena exercises you increase suppleness and concentration. It's the quality of work performed not quanity that is important. It does no good to work 2 or 3 hours doing manuvers in poor form, yet if you work only 30 minutes and do it correctly you've accomplished something. Make sure you know the exercise before going out on your horse.

Eventuall you need to perform every exercise in both directions. If in a ring, ride off the rail often so your horse is not held in position by the rail but by your aids. Of course if you're like me and have no ring only a large area to work in you learn to do this quickly!

Check (half halt) your horse before, during, and after every transition; before, during and after every corner; periodically throughout any movement to re-balance the horse.

Some tips to tell if your work is correct

~Ask a friend to watch and give you feedback on how your horse is performing

~Have someone video tape you riding and working your horse. Watch the tape and "critize" yourself and your horse.(Not always easy:o)

~If possible watch yourself and your horse in large mirrors on the wall as your ride.

~Look down without moving your head at your horse's shoulders, neck, poll, and eye during different maneuvers to determine if he is bending correctly.

~Develop a FEEL for when things are going right and when they are going wrong. You should eventually be able to answer the following by feeling, not looking:

~Is there appropriate left to right balance on my seat bones? Can I feel them both?

~Is there even contact on both reins?

~Is the front to rear balance acceptable or is the horse heavy on the forehand, croup up, back hollow?

~Is the rhythm regular or does the horse speed up, slow down, or break gait?

~Is my horse relaxed or is his back tense?

~Is my horse collected as he should be(or as well as he is able at this point in training)?

~Is my horse on the correct lead?

~Can I tell when his inside hind leg is about to land?

~Can I tell what gait my horse is performing?

~Can I tell when my horse is pacey or not "in gait"?

What do you do when things go wrong?

1. Review each component of an exercise.

2. Return to some very basic exercises to establish forward movement, acceptance of contact, or response to sideways driving aids. Often, returning to simple circle work will improve straightness and subsequently lateral work and collection.

3. Ride an exercise that the horse does very well such as the walk-jog-walk transition. Work on purity and form.

4. Perform a simpler version of the pattern. If it is a lope pattern, try it at a walk or jog first.

5. Perform the pattern in the opposite direction. Sometimes, because of an inherent stiffness or crookedness in a horse, you will have difficulty with a pattern to the left but no problems to the right! Capitalize on this by refining your skills and the application of your aids in the "good direction" and then return to the "hard direction" with a renewed sense of what needs to be done. Often working to the right it improves work to the left.

Lateral Work

In lateral/forward work, the horse moves sideways and forward at the same time. When moving to the right, the horse is moving in response to the sideways driving aids from the rider's left leg. Lateral exercises supple a horse and strengthen him so he can be ridden in balance in any maneuver at any gait. Lateral/forward work contains varying degrees of lateral flexion, lateral bend, sideways movement and forward movement. Lateral flexion occurs at the poll/throatlatch area. Lateral bend occurs from head to tail along the horse's entire spine. The horse remains parallel to the arena rails.

In the most elementary of these 3 movements, the two track, the horse is bent away from the direction of movement. He has the most lateral flexion and bend and shows more sideways than forward movement. Because the horse is counterflexed, it is easy for the horse to cross over and move sideways.

Common problems are overbending, shoulder bulge, losing balance and rhythm, rushing, excessive lowering of the head and balking.

In the leg yield, the horse has a small degree of lateral flexion away from the direction of movement, no lateral bend, and about equal sideways and forward movement.

In a leg yield to the right, the horse is flexed very slightly to the left, the body is straight, and the horse is moving to the right away from the rider's left leg. The horse's left legs cross over the right legs. The forehand is very slightly in advance of the hindquarters. This is an intermediate stage on the way to a half pass.

In the most advanced of these movements, the half pass, the horse is flexed and bent into the direction of movement. In a half pass right, there is pronounced lateral flexion and bend around the rider's right leg and a great degree of sideways and forward movement; the half pass is more forward than sideways. The horse's shoulders are slightly in advance of the hindquarters.

Common rider errors are weighting the left seat bone and heel and trying to push the horse over to the right and overbending to the right by letting the right hand cross over the mane to the left. If the horse is not bent around your right leg, you are basically performing an incorrect version of leg yield.