Back To Work

September marked my return to work. It’s been six months, and although not a holiday as such, I do feel that I’ve had a good break and am refreshed.

Inevitably, I think you get stale in any job. Tired, and there’s an element of repetition. I have far more variation to my job, by teaching and riding a huge range of horses and riders, but despite this there are various common themes which you can end up repeating – we all know the stereotype instructor instructions! In fact, many people have placed bets on Mallory’s first words being one of my teaching phrases.

Anyway, during the long break I’ve only dabbled with the odd lesson – e.g. Pony Club, and Mum/Matt – to keep my eye in. As well as obviously training Phoenix and having the odd lesson myself as I totally believe that you never stop learning. Which is why we strive to find a random fact to share around the dinner table each evening. Mine today is that the collective noun for a group of bats is a cauldron.

I was surprised though, when planning my return to work how being away from the job had left me doubtful of my own abilities, and lacking in confidence. After all, my clients had survived six months without me … did they need me back? What if they’d moved on to a different coach? Would I be able to build my business back up again?

I then realised that I’m rather attached to the riders and horses I worked with. I almost harped back to twelve months ago. I think it’s because my favourite part of my job is seeing a horse-rider relationship develop, educating them both, and having that mentor relationship with my client. Being involved with planning their goals, helping them achieve them, and bursting with pride when the excitedly tell me what hurdle they’ve overcome as a result of my teaching, or when the penny drops in a lesson and they “get it”.

Despite this, I have felt like I’ve picked up the literal reins where I left off. I taught a lesson yesterday with a client I hadn’t seen since February and we picked up exactly where we’d left off. She’s been working hard and they’d continued to improve on the themes we’d been working on, but needed a couple of reminders and, most importantly, I felt like I’d slipped back into that favourite pair of shoes.

It’s been slow starting things off again and my diary looked strangely empty. But I want to steadily increase my workload and childminding hours so I find the right work-life-baby balance which works for us.

Now I’ve had my first few days, a bit like those going to new schools or colleges, I’m back in the rhythm of things and I need to remember that I have good qualifications, am experienced, and enjoy and thrive off my job, so will get busier in the next few weeks. New clients will come along, and the good ones will come back!

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Shallow Loops

To add variety to lessons I often throw in some shallow loops. Then the other week a kid asked me what was the point of them. Good question really, and it’s always good to know what you’re trying to achieve with an exercise.

Shallow loops are ridden on two tracks – they’re sometimes mistaken for leg yielding away from the track and then back to the track by riders who like to over complicate things – along the long side of the arena. Coming out the corner ride off the track towards the three quarter line, then after riding a couple of strides parallel to the track, riding back to the track in time for the corner.

The shallow loop can be made easier by not riding so far off the track, or harder by riding the shallow loop more steeply so that it reaches the centre line.

The shallow loop is very good at improving a horse’s suppleness because there is a series of changes of bend. For example, on the left rein, you have left bend around the corner and riding off the track. At the deepest part of the shallow loop you change to right bend. Upon returning to left bend for the corner. To execute a shallow loop well the horse needs to be balanced enough to switch seamlessly between bends.

I also find shallow loops very useful in checking that a rider is using their leg and not relying on their reins to steer. If they are cheating with their aids the horse will lose rhythm and balance, and swing through their neck as they drop onto the forehand. They will also get an exaggerated bend through the neck. A horse who relies on the fence for balance will wobble as they come away from the track and lose the quality of their gait.

Shallow loops are particularly useful in improving the quality of a horse’s canter because riding counter canter on the return to the track improves their suppleness and balance so the canter becomes straighter and the hindlegs more active.

In terms of jumping, riding shallow loops will improve your ability to ride dog leg turns smoothly and the horse will maintain a better quality canter so is more likely to jump cleanly.

From a teaching perspective, having these multiple changes of bend allows a coach to introduce the concept that outside aids are relative to the direction of bend as opposed to the direction of travel around the arena.

So add them into your warm up and it’s surprising the difference it makes to your horse’s way of going.

Kids and Grids

As we know, I love gridwork. I do find it’s not introduced to children early enough in their jumping education though. Obviously you can’t or don’t need to build a long, complicated, all singing and dancing grid for those learning to jump, but a simple grid can help develop a child’s feel for a good jump, build their confidence, and develop their feel for their jumping position.

I find that children have less understanding of and ability to ride the different types of canter, and creating and maintaining a quality canter on the approach to fences, so a grid in this situation has to be built bespoke to the pony and adjusted through the lesson.

I start with three canter poles, with one pony stride between. The pony I did this with last week has quite a short striding canter, and stays very steady over poles, so I laid the poles out five of my strides apart. That’s about fifteen foot. They cantered easily through the poles, with my little jockey focusing on keeping straight and keeping the canter going through the poles.

Then I made the first fence into a little cross, and rolled out the following two poles so they were sixteen foot apart because the act of popping over the little cross pole opens up the pony’s canter and he needed more space between the poles.

Once they were confident and consistent through this setup, I rolled the second pole out slightly more and then made it into another jump. Then I corrected the third pole so it was still sixteen foot away from the second fence. Each time the pair went through the grid I checked the pony’s take off and landing points to see if he needed the distances lengthening. I didn’t want my rider to have to try to adjust the canter, I wanted the pony to easily negotiate the grid and make a good shape over the jumps to improve my rider’s feel.

I put the third jump up so we had three crosses, about seventeen foot apart, and then spent some time working on my rider’s position. It took a couple of attempts for her to find the rhythm of folding and sitting up quick enough for the series of jumps, and then we checked she was giving with her hands and not restricting his neck over jumps. Even if the first jump was taken a bit long or short, my rider soon began to see their take off point and stayed much more balanced throughout. So the grid was helping improve her balance, eye for a stride, and confidence over the fences. Prior to riding this grid, she’d got left behind over bigger jumps and hadn’t always looked in sync with her pony.

One at a time I turned the second and third jump into uprights, and raised the cross slightly. As each fence got bigger, from 45cm to 60cm, I tweaked the distances so that the pony met every jump well out of his canter, and my rider didn’t have to change the canter.

This little rider worries with upright and spread fences, so I used the grid to introduce these fence shapes. With the third fence moved out slightly further, I made an inviting spread with a cross at the front and a back rail. The grid ensured she met the jump well, and I hoped that having a good experience over an oxer would increase her confidence.

The pair finished with the grid below; the back rail of the oxer was 60cm. Easily the biggest she’s ever jumped, and she stayed balanced during the bigger bascule. They got a little close to the first jump, which meant they were a little close to the second too. I could have the distances slightly wider, but I didn’t want them to take a long one over the first fence and then either chip in for the second fence or take a very long jump. When we next do a grid I aim to get them jumping closer to 70cm, so the distances will be closer to the textbook 21 feet. However, I will let the pony dictate the distances as my little rider is less able to adjust the canter if things don’t go to plan.

Grids for beginners, even if they’re barely more than poles on the floor, are understated. So long as the instructor adapts the distances so the horse or pony can jump them out of their comfortable canter, it’s a great opportunity for a rider to develop their jumping position, balance and feel.

Linking Lunging to Ridden Work

Mum and Matt had boot camp again this weekend, and we spent some time improving Mum’s ability to relate lunging Matt to schooling him. I find it’s a common problem for horse owners. They have their ridden aims, but their lunge sessions rarely compliment them.

Let me explain.

Mum has been working on Matt’s trot; getting him to be more active behind, engaging his hindquarters and lightening his forehand, then maintaining self-carriage.

Mainly, we were working on her half halts to rebalance Matt. So when he drops on the forehand she half halts with the seat and outside rein whilst almost simultaneously closing the leg and driving him forwards.

We also worked on the concept of riding Matt from leg to hand. That means preparing Matt with a teeny half halt before using the leg and seat to send him forwards from the hindquarters up into her hand then to allow him forwards as he goes into the contact.

Matt is lazy and can drop behind the bridle very easily as he switches off, so it’s important for Mum to send him forwards into the contact. Yet as with many lazy horses, it’s easy to drop the contact so that there’s no hint of a brake on. Again, as with many lazy horses, Matt actually works more actively when he has the security of a light contact to give him confidence. So we spent a lot of time working on the concept of riding Matt between leg and hand, and riding him from behind, whilst keeping a steady contact.

After two sessions they were improving; Mum was straighter in her position and keeping more of a symmetrical, consistent contact; getting a more active trot by riding Matt from leg to hand in the transitions, and could feel Matt was less on the forehand, more engaged, and in self carriage, working over his back.

Mum lunges Matt frequently, but after saying last time I was in Wales that Matt “never goes like that” when she lunges him, I thought she needed a revision session to help.

Of course, Mum knows how to hold all the equipment and can lunge to exercise Matt, but now we need to move on to lunging to improve Matt.

Firstly, I explained how the lunge line is the lunge equivalent of the rein contact. You can half halt through it, monitor the tempo, and improve the balance of the horse.

The voice and lunge whip are the leg aid replacements when lunging. So by considering these aids in relation to ridden work, Mum managed to get Matt to work from behind and then go forwards into the contact by keeping the lunge line a bit tighter and utilising half halts before sending Matt forwards from the whip and voice, which meant that he effectively lunged from leg to hand. This meant that the Pessoa was helping to improve Matt. Unless a horse steps forward from behind and goes into the contact then the Pessoa is useless and they just work in a hollow fashion. Once Matt became more active with his hindquarters he lifted his withers and stretched over his back. Then by half halting and driving him forwards she could stop him dropping onto the forehand, and keep the trot consistent and in balance.

Once Mum had established the trot so that it was as good as her ridden trot work, we looked at improving it further. In the same way that she would when riding. I laid out some trotting poles and Mum sent Matt over them, focusing on keeping him straight, maintaining momentum, and him staying round and not hollowing over the poles. As when you ride, the poles improve the length of stride, cadence and engagement of the horse. When Mum’s more practiced lunging over poles and Matt is stronger she can lengthen the distance between the poles and raise them to further Matt’s suppleness and balance.

Using transitions on the lunge, between the gaits and within the gait, so long as Mum has a contact with the lunge line, will ensure Matt pushes from behind more, as well as helping improve his balance so he’s working over his top line and improves in consistency. I think it will also help improve her eye as she can see what a good trot looks like and equate that to what she feels in the saddle.

Matt tends to fall in on the right rein, and when she’s riding Mum has the naughty habit of pulling him out with the left (outside) rein. I nagged her about using the right leg to push him out rather than using her left hand. He does the same on the lunge, so I got Mum to push Matt back out on the lunge by waving the lunge whip at his shoulder. After doing this a couple of times, I noticed on the lunge that Matt was straighter on the right rein and maintaining the correct bend. Hopefully Mum will feel this reflected in her ridden work and she’ll find it easier to keep him straight on the right rein and will be less likely to resort to her bad habits.

By considering her ridden aims when lunging Matt, Mum should find that she can use her work with the Pessoa and on the ground to improve his way of going which will help Matt develop his topline and become consistent in both his work ethic and way of going.

Keeping Fences Low

With Pony Club Camp last week and the ground being incredibly hard this summer, there was a lot of talk amongst the instructors (which didn’t necessarily relate to me and my six year old riders) about how to keep the fences low in the jumping sessions. After all, there is a huge trend towards people (and not just the children) judging how good a rider someone is based on how high they can jump. I would much rather see a horse and rider jump a lower height safely, stylishly and confidently than “keeping up with the Joneses” and have an accident, lose confidence, and have an ugly round. Besides, none of us question Charlotte Dujardin’s riding ability and she rarely jumps.

Anyway, one exercise I did a few weeks ago was a relevant option for keeping the fences low yet still still testing the rider’s ability.

The exercise started with a cross pole at X which I had my rider jump on a steep angle from both reins. This tested that they could ride their line and the pony wasn’t trying to run out through the open side.

Then I set up a skinny fence, one canter stride away from the cross, on the line they’d been jumping. The skinny was an upright, with a plain pole, so had very little visual clues to help the rider stay on their line.

This particular pony always runs to the left so the double was first set up to be ridden from the right rein. My rider carried his whip in the right rein so if his pony drifted to the right he could use it on the shoulder to help stay on their line.

It was a tricky exercise because although the cross was a nice, encouraging fence, having only one stride to the skinny meant that the pair had to prepare properly, and set themselves up accurately to the combination as there was no time to do any repair work between jumps. In all honesty, I was surprised when they succeeded the first time and jumped the skinny very accurately and stylishly.

After riding the line a couple of times I rearranged the exercise so that they jumped it off the left rein. This would be their harder rein, because the rider has a weaker left leg and the pony tends to drift through his left shoulder which, combined with the fact the pony is encouraged to veer left through the double, means it is more problematic.

The first time they drifted left, then my rider really applied his left leg and the whip on the pony’s left shoulder. Which unfortunately meant that the pony overcompensated and ran out to the right.

So I used some poles to help guide the rider and pony. The tramlines were leant against the jump wings so that they ran diagonally down to the ground. This meant they clarified the question to the pony and helped funnel him towards the skinny. After a couple of times where they jumped the guide pole rather than the skinny they successfully rode the double. As soon as they cracked the line and stayed straight as an arrow, the double was a perfect canter stride and the pony made it look effortless. When they wobbled off their line, however fractionally, the distance between the fences became longer so the pony squeezed in an extra stride to the skinny.

This exercise really tested both horse and rider without being very high, because the rider had to have a good eye and be able to ride their line, and the pony had to be on the aids. In Pony Club jumping sessions, a course could be set up with lots of tricky lines and combinations which encourage accurate riding rather than jumping big and fast. After all, lots of jumping on hard ground will damage the horse’s legs.

Dressage with Kids

Even the easiest of dressage tests can be overly complicated for kids, which I found out this week.

Just before their dressage competition this afternoon I snuck over to the judge’s car and stuck a sign on the front with an arrow pointing left. This is because my riders don’t know their left from their right and I wanted the girls to have a successful experience to hopefully encourage them to further their dressage education.

However, I did think that you’d enjoy my adjusted commanding for the test so that the little kids could ride their best.

1. At A walk towards C … straight! … C’s over here! Halt at X … now! Salute (try not to laugh at the flamboyant salute).

2. C turn left … other left! At H walk to F … trot now!

3. At A 20 metre circle … bigger … bigger …

4. Just after K walk. Not yet, keep going … now walk.

5. C halt and count to three SLOWLY! Now walk on. Don’t let them go back to their friends!

6. At M walk towards K … trot now!

7. At A 20 metre circle …. bigger than your last one! Stay in the arena …

8. Just after F … keep trotting … now walk.

9. At H change the rein across the diagonal to F with long reins … keep walking … no, don’t trot, just walk. Short reins at F.

10. Between A and K … wait for it … yep ok, trot! Quick, trot!! At E rainbow across to B.

11. Walk in the corner … keep going, keep going. Now walk. Don’t leave the arena!

12. A turn down the centre line … keep walking … keep walking … straight … stop …. right there. And salute!

All seven of my riders managed their test, albeit with some assistance, and I was pleased with their marks and the huge improvement in their riding over the week. But commanding those tests wasn’t easy!

“Put Can’t in Your Pocket…”

This week at Pony Club camp I’ve dragged up an old adage my childhood riding instructor used to say:

“Put can’t in your pocket and pull out try”

She used to say that to any child who said they couldn’t do an exercise before they’d even tried it.

Now why have I brought this up? Because for some reason my group of little girls lack confidence and the desire to try new things.

In some areas they’re very confident, but as soon as I mentioned the concept of jumping, I had a couple of them say “I can’t do that… I’ll just go around the jump/I’ll only walk over the jump. I can’t do it.” The same with cantering and their dressage test.

So I had a good talk with all of them about giving things a go. Walking on the edge. Widening their horizons. Thinking positively.

I have to admit that today they were a bit more positive about their own abilities and with some gentle coercion they agreed to try the exercise. For example, one girl agreed to try to trotting over a cross pole instead of walking. And another tried jumping without a leader. Another agreed to try cantering on her own.

So I think my main aim for this week is to create a group of riders who have a positive attitude towards trying new things, and have more self belief in their own abilities. After all, they’re more than capable and have lovely, willing ponies who look after them.

A Grid of Skinnies

I built this grid the other day to help with improving the rider’s eye for straightness, their accuracy in the turns and ability to ride a line. and to test the horse’s straightness over fences. It also builds a horse’s confidence over narrow fences.

The first jump was of normal width, with jump wings to give the horse plenty of guidance to the fence. I laid a pair of poles perpendicular to the first fence, which along with the inviting cross shape focused both horse and rider on the centre of the fence, which would hopefully give them the best chance of going straight over the skinnies.

One canter stride away, I made a skinny fence with some blocks as the wings. Initially I put it as a cross to keep horse and rider central. With a green horse, I would use jump wings to discourage the horse from running out, but this horse and rider combination are competent with narrow fences. This fence later became an upright, which meant there was no discernible wings to the fence because the blocks were level with the height of the fence, so increasing the difficulty.

Then, another canter stride from the second element, I placed a barrel on it’s side. I put two upright barrels as wings here, and then once the pair had negotiated the grid successfully I made the final fence an oxer by putting a short pole and two wings behind the barrels. Alternatively, I could have removed the barrel wings, but as this caused them some problems a couple of weeks ago, I’m leaving that option for another week.

I built the grid up slowly, fence by fence in order to keep them confident. If at any point, one of the skinny fences had caused a problem, or the horse was drifting over the fences, I’d have got out some guide poles. Initially, I’d have laid the poles so they formed a funnel, one end on the jump wing and one on the floor, to help encourage the horse to stay straight and jump the skinny fence. Then these poles can be laid on the floor so they are still helping the horse, but he becomes less reliant on them. Then finally, jump the fence without the guide poles.

This grid can be made more complicated by using bounces, converting the first fence into an upright and removing the tramlines at the beginning. I can also make the skinny fences narrower … watch this space!

Straightness Versus Suppleness

I went through this last week with Mum and Matt, but it’s a frequent topic in my lessons, so I thought it was time for a blog post.

We discussed improving Matt’s suppleness by straightening his body. That is, by reducing the bend in his neck and encouraging his inside hind leg to step under and carry his body so that he works consistently on two tracks.

I think this issue arises for several reasons. Firstly, visual feedback is often far more instantaneous and effective than any other form of feedback. Secondly, as riders we are obsessed with circles and bending. Thirdly, it is easy to turn the head and neck whilst riding with the hand than it is to bend the rib cage with the seat and leg. Fourthly, suppleness comes way before straightness in the scales of training.

Let’s start with the Scales of Training. I believe that suppleness comes before straightness because only when you are supple can you work evenly and efficiently throughout your body. But I think the Scale assumes the horse is a blank canvas whereas in actual fact most horses come with asymmetries. From previous training, from old injuries, from conformation, from previous riders, from life in general. In order to begin to progress through the Scales of Training you need to iron out any previous issues, which first means straightening the horse before focusing on improving their suppleness.

When you learn to ride you watch people which means that you initially see the obvious observations first. Such as if the horse has their head turned in the direction of movement or not. You also get feedback from what you see whilst riding, i.e. what’s in front of the saddle, verbally from your instructor i.e. positive or negative, and finally kinaesthetic feedback. This is what you feel, and it can be hard to adequately describe what you are feeling, or for someone to describe what you should be feeling, so a rider’s feel is usually the slowest to develop. Because of the instant visual feedback in a rider’s frame of sight, it can lead to them focusing on the position of the head and neck. When riding a circle, they see that the head and neck are following the line of the circle … but aren’t aware of what the rest of the body (which is out of sight) is doing.

Likewise when learning to ride you perfect the coordination of the hands for rein aids first, and can manoeuvre a horse more easily by the hands than the legs and seat.

Onto circles, and our obsession with them. We strive to ride the perfect circle, which often means we sacrifice the correct bend for the roundness of the circle.

Now with Mum and Matt, along with everyone else I mention this to, they had more bend in the neck than in the rest of the body. A bit like a jackknifed car and trailer, the outside shoulder is wide open. This means that the rider has less control over the outside shoulder, the horse falls out through the outside shoulder instead of engaging the inside hind leg. The rider uses the inside rein because the horse is drifting out through the turn, which exacerbates the bend in the neck so compounding the problem. If you were to look from above a horse with the perfect bend on the perfect circle the inside limbs and outside limbs create a pair of parallel lines. Like a train track. On a horse who is jackknifed, the front limbs follow the line of the circle whilst the hind limbs look like they’re going off on a tangent.

To begin with, I got Mum to ride squarer circles. I don’t think she quite understood, as I didn’t want her to ride a square at first, but she needed to lose the roundness of the circle. By riding a squarer circle and thinking of keeping Matt straight like a plank of wood, she automatically reduced her inside rein action, reduced the bend in Matt’s neck, and he started to straighten up in his entire body. Mainly because she wasn’t so focused on him bending around the circle.

Then I did get her to do some square work, so that she was applying the outside aids to remind Matt he needed to move away from the outside leg. The corners also helped engage his inside hindleg and get him lifting his abdominals which led to Matt being more balanced, less on the forehand and lighter in his way of going.

By riding with her outside aids, and not using her inside rein … even when she thought she wasn’t going to make the turn … Mum found Matt kept his rhythm and tempo through the turns. Which meant her straight lines were better because he started off with a better trot. Once the outside leg was more effective, and Matt was like a plank of wood through the turns, we added the inside leg in again. This, along with her turning her body and using the inside seatbone, created a bend through his rib cage.

A gentle curve through his head and neck then followed. This is a more correct bend as it involves his whole body, but it was a shallower bend than Mum is used to because visually she can see less of a curve in front of her. However, Matt requires a greater degree of suppleness in his barrel in order to achieve this. Next, we can refocus on the Scales of Training, and improve his suppleness by riding smaller circles with the correct bend throughout his whole body and changing the bend frequently, as with serpentines.

As an instructor, I think it’s so important to encourage riders to learn to interpret kinaesthetic feedback, and to increase awareness of the horse’s body which is out of sight of the rider. And to use squarer circles and turns to encourage the more correct use of the outside aids – the outside leg pushing the horse around the turn and the outside rein monitoring the bend in the neck – so that the horse moves in a straighter way before trying to improve their suppleness by asking for a bend with the inside leg. It might take longer to get there, but once on the right path the horse has a good working life projection because they are using their body efficiently and evenly, so won’t overtax a limb or muscle group. Unfortunately though, I still see instructors teaching to get immediate results, and not looking at the long term health of the horse, by taking shortcuts in their training.

Falling In or Falling Out

After a few days in Wales giving Matt and Mum boot camp, and introducing him to his new jockey, I’ve plenty of blog material.

Let’s start with my Mum’s favourite phrase of the week – “is he falling in?”

Firstly, what can you see if a horse is “falling in”? When lunging, which is probably the easiest way to see, the circle gets smaller, ends up with a straight side, and the lunge line is slack. When riding you’ll find they cut corners, of drift onto the inner track. It’s a common problem with ponies who are being a bit cheeky and lazy, and taking the short cut.

What do you feel when a horse “falls in”? I always feel that it’s like driving a car with a flat tyre: the horse is loading their inside shoulder and may well go stiff and tense on the inside of their neck. With a horse who falls in you constantly feel like you are riding a motorbike.

Why does a horse “fall in”? It’s usually lack of suppleness and balance, so instead of curving through their whole body on a turn and staying balanced, they don’t flex through their barrel and so lose their balance on turns.

How do you correct a horse who “falls in”? Take them back to basics. A lot of novices pull the outside rein, causing the horse to turn their head to the outside but still continue to lean on the inside shoulder. Masking the symptoms but not solving the problem. The problem is usually a lack of straightness and a lack of suppleness.

I take it back to basics: check the saddle is straight, check the rider is sitting centrally. Using the long side, I get them to focus on being straight, and then we check that they aren’t using too much inside rein on the turns which will encourage the horse to fall in. After correcting their turning aids, I get the rider to apply their inside leg through turns to give the horse a pillar to bend around. Sometimes a rider over rides a turn, which causes a horse to turn too sharply and lose their balance, so I check that the correct amount of aids is being applied.

By now, we can see if the rider was encouraging the horse to fall in, or if it’s a stiffness or crookedness issue in the horse. So I turn my attention to improving the horse’s way of going. Activating the inside hind leg and getting the horse to unload the inside shoulder, can be done with some leg yielding. Either spiralling out on a circle, or leg yielding from the three quarter line to the track. Once the horse feels more even, and less like they’ve got a flat tyre, it’s back to normal suppling school movements to improve their flexibility and balance.

If a horse and/or rider is crooked and has a tendency to fall in on one rein then odds are they will fall out on the other rein. Falling out is most noticeable on the lunge, when you feel the lunge line being pulled through your hands as you’re pulled off your pivot point. When you’re riding in the school, falling out can be disguised with a fence line, which acts as a support for the horse and is a damage limitation tool.

A horse who falls out, drifts through their outside shoulder, tending to take any turns a little wide. Sometimes you feel like you aren’t going to make it round the turn, or that they’re like steering a canal boat.

Again, I start by straightening up the rider and increasing their awareness of straightness and ensuring they’re using the correct aids. Then, we begin to improve the horse. Initially it’s about gaining control of the outside shoulder, so shoulder in is very useful, as is a little bit of leg yield from the track to the three quarter line. Once the horse is bringing their outside shoulder around the turns and responding to the outside leg aid, they just need their overall suppleness improving through circles and serpentines.

Let’s take Matt as our prime example. When I sat on him on Sunday I could feel that he was loading his left shoulder; falling in on the left rein and falling out on the right rein. Mum is booking physio for him now that he’s doing more schooling, and to be honest it was a minor asymmetry between the two reins. On the left rein, I did some leg yielding to the right, just a couple of strides in circles, straight lines, etc. And then on the right rein I rode some shoulder fore on straight lines and circles. Then he got his act together, realised I meant business and started carrying himself more. Because each hind leg was then stepping under more actively he could propel himself forwards more efficiently, and his abdominals had to lift, so his topline engaged and he put himself in an outline.

I’ve given Mum homework of some groundwork exercises which will help get his hindlegs stepping under in the turns, and she can do some leg yielding with him to help. Once she’s cracked the straightness element … which I’m afraid to say, is in Part 2!