Question: In the indoor arena where I ride, my mare keeps slamming me up against the wall. I try to use my outside leg to push her off, but my teacher doesn’t like me coming off the wall.
My mare also doesn’t do circles very well. What can I do?
Answer from April Reeves: Get off the walls! We call it the “loser’s loop”, when people ride up against a wall or fence with no real clue as to why they are doing so. Ride at a minimum of 5 feet (10 if you have room) from any wall. One of my students rides in an indoor arena of 60 feet by 100 feet, and rarely uses the wall (on a continual basis. You do need to get close once in a while when doing certain exercises).
Several reasons for this: you will never get a horse straight when you continue to “prop” a horse up against the wall or fence. That may be part of your problem: the horse is “using” the wall which takes him out of “straight” and therefore slamming you against it
I see it far too often: riders enter the arena and begin to go around and around with no real idea why or if they need to do something else. My suggestion is to challenge your trainer for more exercises that pertain to obedience and suppleness. That way you’ll never have to “use” a wall again. Always think why you need to change up exercises and change appropriately.
I use the diagonal and center and quarter lines a lot in doing straight work. Also, riding outside in an open area away from any fence is valuable as well. Having a ring the size of 200 x 300 will really challenge the horse to opening up and straightening out. I mix up my stride work, asking for lengthening and shortening, moving into longitudinal stretching and rounding and strengthening the back, but that’s another post!
I have often used the incorrect diagonal up the sides of the arena, as it tends to softly (on some horses) help straighten and “push” the horse off the tendency to want to move into the wall or rail. You will have to use the correct diagonal around your corners and bends, but this change of diagonals is only for moving straight up the outside line. It’s very subtle: you may not feel the effect, but what you may feel is that the horse loses it’s desire to pull you back into the wall. So, as you come off the last corner and begin to move 10 feet off the wall along the long side, switch your diagonal until you reach the next corner and change back to the correct diagonal. It doesn’t work on all horses, but I have corrected many using this simple and very subtle technique.
The outside rein for going up the long sides correlates to circles as well:
Ask your trainer to help you use and understand the outside rein. I call it the “forgotten” rein, as most riders use the inside rein for bend, when the outside rein – inside leg will create correct bend. The inside rein only tends to throw the shoulder out and bend the neck over incorrectly, leaving the horse crooked.
The outside rein is often called the “bearing” rein in English. It asks the horse to move away from it when pressure is applied. Using it in conjunction with the inside leg will keep the horse straight and “fill” up the inside angle. Keep contact with the inside rein but don’t use it by pulling or forcing inside bend. Be careful you only ask for enough bend to keep the body straight around the circumference (size) of the circle you are working on. There is no need to exaggerate the bend on a circle.
Riders get themselves in trouble when they cannot see the dimension of the circle they are about to ride. This usually results in the horse moving on a larger circle than the rider anticipated (but couldn’t see) and the rider suddenly realizes the circle should be smaller. The result is, the horse is then “forced” into a bend on a circle much smaller than he thought the rider was asking for. The head gets pulled in to far, the shoulders pop to the outside, and the horse stumbles around the circle crooked.
To correct this, stop looking at your horse’s head while circling. Get comfortable with “feeling” what’s happening underneath you. Ride the circle at least one quarter “ahead” of you. That way you are prepared ahead of time for the line you are on, and eventually, this logical approach to correctness will become intrinsic to you. This is why perfect practice is SO important! If you are going to train your memory you may be best served to train properly. If you’re going to do something, do it really well.
One way to help you do perfect 10m, 15m and 20m circles is to take a stake, attach a 10 or 20m string to it, with a large funnel at the end. Drive the stake into the ground, fill the funnel with flour and walk the circle, releasing the flour as you go. This will give you a line to train your eye to “see” and also be environmentally safe. You can use the stake and draw a line in the ground as well, but the flour stands up to more rides than the line will.
There will always be horses (that have been poorly trained by someone) that need re-programming. These horses often continue to blow through the outside rein and “break” at your inside leg instead of creating a smooth straight bend. In this case, I go back to basics, over and over, using the outside rein (not too forcefully) and the outside leg to ask the shoulder to move over. Once the horse has the memory and repetition of moving straight from the outside leg and hand, you can then begin to go back to outside rein – inside leg and get the proper aids for the bend. This may take a few weeks or months, depending on how strong and how long the memory of doing it incorrectly exists. Do take the time it needs, or you will just be skipping over valuable foundation training that builds the horse from the ground up properly, and you will continue to have problems.