Bending Your Horse Correctly on Curves and Squares, Part 2

You've learned the basics of asking your horse for square turns and arcs. Now it's time to put your horse to work and perfect your technique.

In Part 1 of this series, you learned the basic differences between asking your horse to turn on a curve and asking your horse to perform a square turn. Now, read about some common problems that horses and riders have with these maneuvers and how to fix them.

Common Problems

These are some common problems with riders:

Looking too soon - On a square, a lot of times I see riders looking for the corner a little too soon, which causes them to round the corner a little. I like to see them get all the way to the corner, and then look and make the turn.

Looking down - On an arc, I often see riders either not looking ahead or looking down at the ground in front of them. I like to see the rider looking ahead, visualizing the track of the circle they are riding in the air, visualizing where they are going to ride.

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Oversteering - Another thing I see is a rider oversteering. You’ve got to refine your steering so that more steering comes from your leg and less from your hand. It looks better from an aesthetic standpoint for the judges.

If your hand is 6 inches or a foot to the left, it looks like your horse isn’t steering even though he might actually be steering really well. It’s better if you keep your hand within 3 or 4 inches of the horn.

These are common problems horses have:

Not moving off your leg - On a curve, a lot of times you see a horse leaning into the rider’s leg and showing some resistance. A rider then often compensates by using too much hand. A horse that’s not moving away from your leg or not giving to the pressure of your leg is going to bow out on a circle in his body or keep his shoulder popped out.

Dropping a shoulder - On a corner, you see horses wanting to drop the inside shoulder and kind of “dive” into the corner. So before he gets there, he is already leaning into the corner.

What to Do

Work on your leg - I have riders practice the maneuvers steering from the leg more. You must make the horse learn that you’re not going to drag the rein or be continually pulling him around the circle.

You can make a correction of the horse with your hand but then put your hand back to the center of his neck or near the center. I’ll make the correction with my hand - bump the horse in the direction I want to go - and then my hand goes right back to the center, and my leg keeps working.

I do that with both circles or curves and corners.

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Practice looking, then asking - You must work on looking straight ahead and riding to the corner. We’ll set up four cones 30 to 40 feet apart and practice trotting squares around the four cones. And then we reverse it and trot the other way.

I tell my students to look right or left, just before they ask, maybe a stride before they ask for the corner itself, but not any sooner than that.

Visualize your circle - I also have my riders do a lot of circles without using cones, making them work on finding and keeping the center spot, keeping the circle balanced. Then go the other way.

Often what happens is you make a circle to the right in one half of the arena, then the next circle is more to the right, and you lose the middle.

So if you’re doing one-half of a figure-8 in your arena, and you’re going to the right first, you want to keep hitting that center spot between the two circles that make up your figure-8.

To do that, you have to look ahead, visualize your circle, and have a good track and a plan of where you are going. And practice.