photo credit: marcuskillin
Just as you and I are left handed or right handed (I’m left handed by the way) your horse is more supple one direction than the other. Riding circles, turns, and changes of rein will help get and keep the horse supple so he is equally supple on each rein.
Lateral suppleness developed through the correct riding of circles will help strengthen and balance the horse for higher level movements. When working on a circle the horse should be bent from poll to tail in the same bend. If your horse is not bending properly he will:
- Pop his shoulder – if you horse pops his shoulder it can be seen and felt as a concaving (hollowing) of the inside of the horses neck and felt almost as a drifting out of the shoulder toward the wall. This is very apparent when riding on the open part of a circle; that is the part of a circle that is not made up of the wall of an arena. A popped shoulder is usually a result of the rider not riding the horse from the inside leg to outside hand or not enough supporting rein.
- Drop his shoulder – a dropped shoulder is the shoulder not being supported by the riders inside leg. If watching this horse it will ‘load’ its shoulder and the inside front leg will travel to the inside of the circle. Most riders try to fix this by using an indirect rein to lift up the horse. Although it will momentarily help the horse must learn to balance itself from the riders inside leg to the supporting outside rein. Once the horse is into the outside rein this evasion usually disappears.
- Swing his hind quarters – swinging the quarters out on the circle is a common evasion and can be corrected by using the outside leg behind the girth to keep the horse round. This is a common evasion because the horse will take the path of least resistance and swinging the quarters out is the easiest way to get out of bending and engaging the hindquarters.
- Drop his hind quarters – if the horse is stronger to one side the quarters may swing in to compensate. To prevent this from happening keep your inside leg active at the girth.
To help get and keep the correct bend:
Get help from a coach or instructor who can see if your horse is bending properly.
Ask a friend to video you while you ride. From the tape concentrate on where the horses body and legs are. If his hind hooves step into the prints of his front hooves you’re safe. If his hind hooves step on the outside of the circle that his front hooves make you will have to decide if a) he is swinging quarters out or b)dropping shoulders in.
If his hind hooves step into the inside of where his front hooves are you will have to decide if he is a) popping the shoulder or b) dropping his quarters to the inside.
Spiral into a smaller circle and then back out again. This will help develop bend and control over your horse.
Ride changes of rein. Be aware that you should never ride around the arena or schooling area more than once without performing a circle, change of rein or transition. It also prevents the horse from getting bored (no pun intended).