Here is a challenge to work on shortening steps and riding up to the halt. This exercise involves slowing and reducing the length of steps before the halt, which will help the horse come to a balanced halt. Instead of leaning into the halt and dropping the chest, the aim of the exercise is to encourage the horse to keep their chest lifted and their front to back balance evenly distributed.
Set up poles in the arena down each long side 8m from each short side that will provide a set of four halt-over-pole obstacles.
Ride around the arena halting over each pole. After each pole, develop a feel of riding your horse ‘up’ through his body and pay closer attention to straightness from nose to tail until the halfway point between the poles then keeping that ‘up forward’ feeling, gradually reduce the length of each step to finish with a halt over the next pole. Slow and small steps without stopping prior to the halt will improve balance and coordination as the horse will not be using as much momentum to keep their balance.
As you build on this maybe put a trot or canter circle in at B and/or E.
Here is an exercise for developing your transitions between walk and canter. In a walk to canter transition the horse needs to load the back legs for springing up into the canter. This is useful for developing a balanced transition preventing the horse from being able to move faster and fall into the canter from a trot. Balance of the rider is also important to help the horse manage this transition which may be difficult at first. Visualise having weight to the back (without leaning back) and becoming light in the seat (think of your head being pulled upwards to the sky and stretching your spine upwards) to help the horse engage their hind and lift themselves up at the front.
To strike off on the correct lead, the horse needs to start pushing with the hind leg on the diagonal from the front canter lead. The order of footfalls for a left lead canter is:
left hind/right front.
The rider position for the aids are generally given as:
Leg on the same side as the canter lead (typically inside leg if not a counter canter) at the girth.
Other leg slightly behind the girth. This is to keep the quarters from drifting out and the horse bending around the leg on the side of the canter lead, which helps the horse strike off on the correct lead.
The aid is typically given from the inside leg between the time the outside hind is leaving the ground and before it returns to the ground (i.e. when the barrel of the horse swings to the outside). A half-halt on the outside rein may also be given prior to the aid for canter.
Sometimes the horse needs more help loading the outside hind leg that will push into the start of the canter gait. You can also try to slow down the pushing hind leg (diagonal hind from the canter lead), with either one or two half-halts on the outside rein in the walk strides preceding the aid to canter, or a weight shift at the hips or in the stirrup during the walk strides before the aid is given. Note that during the aid to canter the rider seat bones should be in horizontal balance or very slightly weighted to the side of the bend (this is done without leaning over to the inside, so if muscle isolation around the hips is not easy for you to do then it’s better to stick with the even balance in the seat).
You may have a few steps of trot as you are learning this exercise, but keep the trot part short or you will lose the effect of the hind-weighted balance in the transition up to canter. Similarly, in the downwards transition, you want to encourage engagement of the hind, so visualise that as you transition to the walk, sitting deep to slow the steps, allowing a few steps of trot if necessary to balance the transition.
How to ride this exercise
The solid lines are canter, dotted lines are walk, bending lines with arrows are 1/4 or 1/3 turns with the front end (pirouette style). Every 2nd turn is a canter transition. The play of a walk turn and then a walk/canter turn develops the horse in this exercise. For a warm up you can do the exercise in walk only with quarter turns in each corner and then build to trot for the canter part until you are ready to do the walk canter (or walk trot canter) exercise. The transitions to walk are to be done on a straight line with enough time to be in a steady balanced walk before the turns in the corners. Keep getting ready early and ride the canter lines with straightness.
FOLLOWING THE GREEN LINES, START FROM A AT WALK ON THE LEFT REIN
1. AT THE FIRST CORNER TRANSITION TO CANTER LEFT LEAD AND CANTER THE LONG SIDE.
BETWEEN B AND M TRANSITION TO WALK.
WALK THE SHORT SIDE
2. AT THE NEXT CORNER TRANSITION TO CANTER LEFT LEAD AND CANTER THE LONG SIDE
BETWEEN E AND K TRANSITION TO WALK
WALK THE SHORT SIDE
3. AT THE NEXT CORNER TRANSITION TO CANTER LEFT LEAD AND CANTER THE DIAGONAL LINE
BETWEEN X AND THE CORNER TRANSITION TO WALK.
CHANGE THE REIN TO THE RIGHT
(NOW FOLLOWING THE BLUE LINES)
WALK THE SHORT SIDE
4. AT THE NEXT CORNER TRANSITION TO CANTER RIGHT LEAD AND CANTER THE LONG SIDE.
BETWEEN B AND F TRANSITION TO WALK
WALK THE SHORT SIDE
5. AT THE NEXT CORNER TRANSITION TO CANTER RIGHT LEAD AND CANTER THE LONG SIDE.
BETWEEN E AND H TRANSITION TO WALK
WALK THE SHORT SIDE
6. AT THE NEXT CORNER TRANSITION TO CANTER RIGHT LEAD AND CANTER THE DIAGONAL LINE
This exercise is designed to mobilise the shoulders of the horse with 90 degree turns, practice a reinback in a straight line, and work on an egg-shaped turn that will start building into a more laterally balanced turn for outside the stockpen. It is called the Cathedral due to the shape. We have used some markers and a corridor for the reinback. This is not necessary to setup, but it maybe helpful to use markers for green or inexperienced horses to keep the lines straight and circles even. It is recommended to use the poles to mark the arena sides if you don’t have a solid barrier in your riding area.
It is best to start on the long side with the ninety degree turn to practice moving the shoulders of the horse in a moving turn on the haunches, making a tight turn with the arena sides (or poles) as a visual barrier. The purpose of this exercise is to keep the horse upright and in balance as you do the turn. The speed may slow down at first through the turn, but as you practice more, the aim is to do it in the same rhythm as the walk. Then you have a straight line up the center, halting at the end of the parallel poles (placed approximately 1.5m apart). Gather the horse and ask for a reinback 3 – 5 steps in a straight line. As you progress in reinback the horse should be collecting themselves which will feel like a forward movement backwards, and using diagonal steps (a front and opposite hind going back at the same time).
The final piece is to make an egg-shaped circle in 5 – 10m diameter (larger to start with and aiming for a smaller diameter as a more balanced execution can be achieved). Around the tip of the circle move the shoulders inwards just slightly to direct the horse on a slightly smaller bend. Then continue straight down the long side of the arena (on the quarter line for a 5m diameter and on the track for a 10m circle).
Repeat the exercise in the other direction.
This exercise is available in a pdf download here.
These exercises work on movements in bending on a straight line and counter-bend which is a preparation for lateral work. Lateral movements are introduced at the Preliminary (Canter between obstacles level) with the side pass over pole obstacle, as well building into a laterally balanced turn outside the Stock Pen.
We have devised 3 parts to this challenge so you can start at any part, and go as far as you feel ready to do with your horse.
Part 2 and 3 exercises are available in a pdf download here.
Walk down the edge of the wall (or poles used to create an edge) bending to the left in Shoulder fore (right fore between hind leg tracks) or Shoulder In (3 tracks with right fore on same track as left hind).
RIGHT BEND ON A STRAIGHT LINE
Walk up the edge of the wall bending to the right in Shoulder fore (left fore between hind leg tracks) or Shoulder In (3 tracks with left fore on same track as right hind).
The aim of this exercise is to develop consistent footfalls within tracks of the Shoulder Fore or Shoulder In movement. Starting with a few steps and building up the number of quality steps over time.
Slalom markers are 7 – 10 m apart depending on the space you have or the level of challenge you need (minimum distance for more difficulty).
LEFT BEND ONLY SLALOM AT WALK
Enter the Slalom bending left around the first marker. Continue in left bend making a Shoulder Out movement across the diagonal to the next marker. Counterbend around the second marker. Continue across the diagonal with a Shoulder In movement to the next marker. Bend around the next marker with inside bend. Continue in this pattern through the rest of the slalom markers.
RIGHT BEND ONLY SLALOM AT WALK
Enter the Slalom bending right around the first marker. Continue in right bend with a Shoulder Out movement across the diagonal, then counterbend around the next marker. Continue across the diagonal with a Shoulder In movement across the diagonal to the next marker. Bend around the next marker with inside bend. Continue in this pattern through the rest of the slalom markers.
A pdf download of this exercise is available here.