Now is the time to be ruthlessly honest. If your schooling consists of sticking doggedly to the outer track and becoming so engrossed in getting your horse on the bit that you forget to ride school movements, you may as well go out for a hack! School movements are not complicated look at them as a series of straight lines and circles with the occasional change of rein, and suddenly they seem within your reach. Try these simple exercises next time you school your horse. If you have lessons at a riding school, ask your instructor to incorporate a couple in the session.
On the straight and narrow
Riding straight lines is not simply a matter of trotting down the long side of the arena. When riding at the edge of the school, most horses use the fence or boards for support and bring either their shoulders or quarters closer to the edge of the arena. This means he will be crooked, but unless you try riding off the outside track, you’ll never know.
Ride a straight line down the quarter line (turn off the short side about 5m before the track) and rejoin the track at the opposite short side. lf you have a freshly harrowed surface, check your horse’s footprints to see how much he wobbled off a straight line. Better still, get a friend to stand at the far end of the school and watch as you ride towards her.
You also need to work on your horse’s body. From the saddle you should be able to see whether his neck is straight. If you can see more of one side of his neck or head than the other, check that you have an equal contact in both reins. Ask your friend to check that his hind hooves follow, more or less, in the tracks of his front hooves. Bear in mind that most horses are wider in the quarters than shoulders so the back feet will hit the ground slightly outside the tracks left by the front feet. if both hind hooves hit the ground to one side of the front hooves. correct his crookedness by asking him to move his forehand over.
For example, if on the right rein, your horse’s quarters move to the inside, use your right leg to prevent his quarters stepping any further to the inside and keep your left leg close to the girth.
It may be necessary to move your left hand sideways towards his neck (don’t pull back) to encourage his shoulders to the inside, while your inside hand guides him to the right until his front feet are directly in front of his hind feet and he is straight.
Round in circles
Going ride in circles in just as important as riding straight lines, the art is in riding them so that they are of benefit to you and your horse.
Many guides state that, on a circle, horse’s body should be in a constant bend from poll to tail, following the line of the circle. However, this is now believed to be impossible to achieve because the horse’s spine cannot bend uniformly. Most of the movement is in the section of spine in front of the withers and the area underneath saddle, so these are the areas the rider should concentrate on.
The are behind the saddle has hardly any lateral flexion at all because the sacral vertebrae (the area between the croup and the tail) are fused.
However, because the horse is wider at the quarters than at the shoulder, it appears to the observer on the ground that the neck bend is flowing into the tapering shape of the body. This is what the dressage judges are looking for in a test and this what the guides are talking about!
Here’s how to do it
Start your circle at a point in the school, say A. Place more weight on your inside seat bone and use your inside leg next to the girth (often referred to as asking your horse to bend around your inside leg).
Use your outside leg behind the girth to stop the quarters swinging out too much. The inside rein is used to lead the horse round the turn while the outside rein allows flexion but prevents excessive bend. When the circle is complete, ask your horse to go straight.
Combine the two
Now you can master straight lines and circles, there’s an infinite number of school movements at your disposal. Why not invent some of your own.
Plan the movements before you ride them so that you don’t drift aimlessly around the school and make sure your straight lines are straight – an observer should immediately be able to tell from your horse whether you’re on a big circle or a straight line!
You don’t need a school to ride schooling movements. Measure and mark out a 20x40m area in a corner of your horse’s field and work here. This will help you to ride movements accurately.
If you’re not used to riding lots of movements, or haven’t schooled that often, give your horse, and yourself, regular breaks. You’ll both tire more quickly than usual – this is hard work for mind and body!