6 Steps To A Well-Balanced Change of Direction

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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

How often have you seen a horse and rider negotiate a change of direction, only to flatten out through the curve into a straight line, causing a sharp, imbalanced scramble far misplaced from the original intended location? In mild cases, the rider hangs on adeptly, perhaps unseated but still able to negotiate the inaccurate change of direction. However, the sharp turn always runs the risk of unbalancing the horse to the point of tripping or stumbling, and the rider falling off.

How often has it happened to you? If your horse is used to leaning into a change, or dropping a shoulder or cutting corners, then this article is for you!

Changing directions smoothly can often be as challenging as achieving any well-balanced transition. Most horses are stronger on one side than the other, much like their human counterparts. Suppling the horse enough to be able to bear weight equally on both sides takes time, quality practice and a solid understanding of how the aids can assist the horse in maintaining balance while remaining loose and athletic through a turn.

There are many types of turns – a change of direction across the diagonal, several changes of bend through a serpentine, a teardrop that starts toward the end of the ring and arcs back to the rail, and so many more. They can be done at all gaits and require the same sort of balance change regardless of location or type of turn.

The approach to any change of direction can be narrowed down to 6 steps that are similar regardless of gait or placement of turn. Let’s use this most basic change of direction as an example. I call it the “S change” (because it looks like an S and spans from one end of the arena to the other). I’m assuming you are riding in a 20×40 meter arena but please feel free to modify based on your own needs. 

S change

Let’s say you are approaching a change of direction at X (in the center of the ring). You are on the left rein at A and you will go through X to turn right.

1. Approach a straight line – still bent in the original direction.

This means that you are using your left turn aids – weight on the left seat bone and body pointing slightly left. At this moment, you are riding the turn more as if it were half of a 20-meter circle, even though it won’t be a full circle. You do not go into the corner of the ring. You hit the rail just past F but then come off the rail withing 3 strides, back to the original 20-meter circle. However, instead of continuing on the circle, you head for X.

Your horse should be both flexed and bent to the left. Make sure he is looking in the direction of the turn (flexion) and also lightly bent to the left through the rib cage. Only flex and bend enough to be riding in line with the curve that is needed (in other words, don’t overbend the horse).

2. Half-halt (usually on the outside rein).

Several strides before you come to X, apply a half-halt. This helps to rebalance your horse and lets him know something is going to change.

3. Straighten.

Now, instead of continuing on the original left circle, you are going to head right.

BUT – at this point, many people make a mistake. They often go directly from the left bend to the right. It’s almost as if they are driving a car or a bicycle and turning the steering wheel (or handlebars) from left to right. This gives the horse no time to reposition his legs or carry his weight. 

Instead of just switching your aids left to right, wait for a few strides. Straighten the horse and allow him to get his hind legs underneath him. As you go over X, be straight! If you give yourself 3-5 strides of straightness, your horse will be able to be much more balanced going into the turn. So imagine that you should be straight two strides before X and two strides after X. You can always cut the number of strides shorter as your horse gets better at rebalancing into the new turn. But at the beginning, give him plenty of room.

4. Half-halt (usually on the outside rein).

Yep. Use another half-halt at or just past X. There is going to be another change to the new direction. Again, the half-halt helps him rebelance to the hind end and gives him a hint that something new is coming.

5. Flexion and bend to the new direction.

I like to break this part down into two quick stages. First, use your new inside aids (right) to get your horse looking to the right. This is flexion. Then, use your turn aids to bend the horse to the right. Note: You are still moving straight over X at this point – do not actually turn yet.

6. Turn.

Once you have your flexion and bend, simply allow the horse to complete the change of direction. The new bend should be in line with the new curve and you will proceed to hit the rail for 3 strides, then come off the rail. Don’t go into the corner but head to C as if you are on a new 20-meter circle. 

These six steps take a matter of seconds to complete. There isn’t much time, so know what you’re going to do ahead of the S, and then just do it!

I know what you’re going to say. These 6 steps complicate matters far too much! 

In fact, the steps simplify things for the horse. I know we all want to just sit there and let the horse handle everything, but when we can break things down into mini-steps, the horse almost always benefits – in a physical, mental and even emotional way. So riding actively, helping the horse navigate through the change of bend through a straight line, and rebalancing with half-halts invariably sets your horse up for more success in the long run.

Practice these steps in your changes of direction over and over again. If your horse has a habit of leaning into the turns, it might take a month or more of gentle repetition to see significant changes. But if you do stick to the plan, one day you just might notice that your horse flows through direction changes as if he were just born that way!

Try this over the next while and let us know how things went in the comments below.

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 If you likes this article, you might also enjoy:

4 Steps to Help Your Horse Through A Turn: Very much related to the article above.

Riding Straight Through A Turn: Although it sounds like an oxymoron, travelling straight through a turn is essential in maintaining the balance of the horse.

Secrets To A Great Turn (Shift Out To Turn In): How to develop a balanced turn.

Where Does Your Half-Halt Start? Here Are Four Suggestions: Under most circumstances, the half-halt shouldn’t start from your hands.

What To Do When A Half-Halt Won’t Do: Balance does not happen magically on its own.

 

Ready? Steady! (Or How to Ride Calmly and With Consistency)

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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Achieving consistency in riding is not a matter of waving a wand and then simply hanging on for the ride. It’s more than learning a few “tricks” and hoping they all fall together in an effortless synchronization. In fact, riding smoothly through transitions left and right, up and down while maintaining a steady rhythm and impulsion, outline and self-carriage is nothing to be scoffed at!

If you have tried to put together a series of movements, you are probably familiar with how you need to be aware of the horse’s balance. You likely know that you need to actively maintain the horse’s engagement through the various bends and figures in order to maintain a rhythmical, uniform look and feel to your ride. You understand that in horseback riding, in particular, a lack of excitement is a highly desired state.

You see, it’s because what we interpret as calm or routine might be just the right thing for horses and their riders.

The opposite – confusion, frenzy, turmoil – all paint a picture (and feeling) of discomfort and disarray. In riding, excitement manifests in ways that indicate discomfort for the horse. When a horse bucks, rushes or pins his ears, he is sending out messages that he is not feeling good in his work. The rider that has to make a spectacle of riding by using loud or overly active aids or voice cues certainly gives the spectator something to look at, but is inevitably not riding for the benefit of the horse.

What It Takes to Be Steady When You Ride

Boring is very underrated, but highly valued in horseback riding. You might be tempted to think that you are watching paint dry when you see a horse flowing effortlessly from one figure to the next, setting a consistent rhythm regardless of what he is doing, and a rider that is just “sitting there”. People might complain that riding (especially flat work) is not a spectator sport and therefore not deserving of attention.

The truth is that both the horse and the rider have to achieve a very high level of proficiency to portray such composure and tranquility. To appear to be doing nothing, the rider and horse must both make continual adjustments to their balance, in order to stay in balance while they progress in space, together, through various movements. How do they do it? Here are a few ideas.

1. Maintain energy level

Impulsion is the first main component of any riding. Keeping the energy at a steady level requires a horse and rider that are adaptable and quick to respond to changes of balance. Too much energy, and the horse falls to the forehand. Too little energy, and the hind end disengages and the horse again falls to the forehand. You need to ride strategically in order to keep the energy at the most effective level that helps the horse maintain a comfortable balance.

Use half-halts to prevent the horse from running out from underneath you. If you can aid quickly enough, and your horse is responsive enough, you will be able to control the leg speed but allow the energy to be transferred over the horse’s topline. You can develop a rounder, bouncier gait by half-halting so the energy doesn’t just translate into leg speed.

On the other hand, you may need to use leg aids to help the horse increase his energy level when coming to a more difficult movement. For example, horses tend to often “suck back” when coming into a corner or turn. They might shorten their hind leg stride length and hollow the back, resulting into a bracing movement through the corner. To counteract the drop in energy, use both legs to urge engagement of both hind legs. Maintain the rhythm that has already been established by not allowing the horse’s legs to slow down in the approach to the corner.

2. Maintain straightness

The moment the horse lose straightness, the rhythm and energy level is affected negatively. The straighter you can keep your horse, the easier it will be to establish energy and impulsion. So in a way, impulsion and straightness are interchangeable much like the chicken and the egg – which one is needed first to improve the other?

You must know your horse to answer that question. Some horses lose straightness because they lack impulsion. So the secret to helping those horses move straighter is to get them to work better from the hind end. Other horses lose impulsion because they over-bend on one direction, or brace into stiffness in the other. These horses have plenty of leg movement, but they drift out or fall in, perhaps because they have too much energy that is ending up on the front legs. These horses would need half-halts and secure aids that encourage them to keep their body in alignment while they move.

Straightness isn’t something that anyone is born with. Both the horse and the rider likely have a stronger and weaker side and the resulting movement is determined by how the rider can control both her and her horse’s crookedness. This takes time (years?) to develop but yes, you can chip away at it slowly but surely and one day. realize that your horse is tracking straight on the lines and bends.

3. Communicate

Constant communication is one of the key ways to maintain consistency. Through half-halts before and after each maneuver, the horse/rider team shares in the knowledge of things to come. Use weight and rein aids for bend, turns and to reinforce half-halts. Use your voice to reinforce your aids, and always be sure to acknowledge your horse’s efforts while you ride.

The quiet rider is the one who is communicating subtly but regularly enough to avoid any surprises. The confident horse is the one who indicates that he knows his job and what is expected. You will know that you’re on the right track when someone says that it looks like you’re doing nothing, while the horse is floating along with an active regularity seemingly under his own initiative.

4. Practice 

Well, it is true that (as close to perfect as possible) practice makes perfect. There is no replacement for practice, and all you have to do is get out there and put the time in. Well, maybe it isn’t quite that easy.

You have to put in the best quality rides in that you can, over time. Maybe that means that you need more than one lesson a week with a  qualified instructor. Or maybe it means that you and your friend can help each other out by being an “eye on the ground” and giving each other feedback. However you want to approach the concept of “effective” practice, make sure that you develop a routine for the benefit of both your body and your horse.

Here is your “homework”:

Think about your rides and how you might be able to develop more regularity and steadiness in what you do. Even if you don’t maintain “perfect” rhythm and stride length through your whole ride, see if you can be steady for longer and longer periods of time. As you and your horse get better at maintaining rhythm, energy and stride length, make things more challenging by introducing more transitions and changes of bend. Work on developing flow, swing, bounciness, roundness, and all those things that make your horse snort and release through the body even more.

And let us know in the comments below, how things went and what your horse thought about it.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

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 More articles relating to developing steady: 

How to Ride the Stumble Out of Your Horse: Do you have a horse that seems to regularly trip or stumble, either in the front or hind end?

How to ‘Flow” From the Trot to Walk: Although we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse’s mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to.

Why You Don’t Need to Panic When Your Horse ‘Falls Apart’: Even if you are not thinking “panic”, your body might be communicating it by either being completely passive or too reactive after the horse is off balance.

When Good Riding Instruction Becomes Great:  How much can an instructor really do to help a rider improve?

‘Go and No': The Connection Between Forward and Half-Halt in Horse Riding: How to develop the two seemingly opposite aids.

Book 2 Is Now Available!

3d Book 2Today is the day! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round To Training Success is now online in both paperback and digital versions.

This book is for riders who want to develop their riding and training skills – all for the benefit of the horse. This book is comprised of the best of the training and riding articles from the blog.

With over 20 “Five Star” ratings, Horse Listening – The Book, the first book in this series, has received great reader reviews and praise. Book 2 promises to do more of the same!

Paperback version – only 24.99: Click here.

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What readers said about the first book:

 Excellent book! This is now my “go-to” book when I am not connecting with my horse. I totally get that it is typically rider error (me!) when I do not get the response I am expecting from my horse. It gives me a clearer picture in my head as to what body part I need to engage when asking the question. I have been waiting for a guide book such as this one to help me visualize lightness and balance in my riding. I can’t put this book down! I carry it in my gear bag and even to work in my work bag so that I can reread certain segments of the book. – East Coast Horse Lady

 

Kathy Farrokhzad is a talented writer. She has a unique ability to write about dressage and horse training in general. The principles of dressage can seem very complicated and overwhelming. Kathy has a special gift in communicating the concepts clearly and logically without making it seem like rocket science. I love her Horse Listening Blog and the book is a must have for dressage riders or riders of any equine discipline who want to learn effective and humane riding techniques that can improve the human-equine relationship, be more effective in their cues and free a horse’s potential for flowing and powerful movement. – Barbara

 

On the “must read” list for my students. Especially if you are a dressage oriented rider every page will hit home (or needs to!) Well worth the price of the book if you consider the cost of lessons and here you have reading that will sustain you for years. Can and needs to be read over and over. – Sheryl Butler

More details about Book 2

“Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success” provides practical and theoretical suggestions to improve the training of both the rider and the horse. Compiled from the articles of the popular blog, Horse Listening, this book explains fundamental concepts and skills such as: 
 - contact 
- rider position and aids 
- developing suppleness in both horse and rider 
- communicating effectively with the horse 
- bends, turns and half-halts

Over 40 chapters on the most fundamental aspects of training the horse and rider have been collated according to three themes, and prepared in a tidy, all-in-one package for quick and efficient reading (or alternatively – long, thoughtful perusing of deep and meaningful concepts)!

You’ll get 236 pages of information on the basics as well as more advanced concepts of how to train the horse and rider. Best of all, there are many practical, ready-to-use exercises designed to help you keep your horse happy, healthy and athletic in his work.

The first section of this book, The Theory – Forward and Round is directly focused on everything I have written about the concept of “forward and round”. Filled with ideas about how to achieve impulsion and energy, these articles give you some background into the why as well as the how of some of the basic exercises and understandings needed to create the type of energy we need.

In Section 2, The Skill – Rider Development, we consider many aspects of rider training. From the initial concept of contact, to the use of the seat, rein and leg aids – this section is devoted to rider improvement and awareness. The end of this section goes deeper into philosophies and practical techniques that can inform better all-around horsemanship.

The third section, The Training – Getting Deeper Into the Basics, outlines many exercises that you can use in developing your horse’s basic skills. From turning, to bends, neck reins, transitions and suppleness, these ideas are designed to give you some exercises to practice while riding in the ring. Many are somehow connected to the concept of riding forward and round, whether by increasing energy or inside hind leg engagement.

As with all Horse Listening material, the purpose is to help the rider improve so that the horse can benefit.

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Winners of the Pre-Launch Giveaway!

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Thanks to over 240 people who participated in the Book 2 Giveaway draw!

The names were randomly drawn – all the comments (entries) you left on the blog and on Facebook were included. Thanks to everyone for the detailed feedback in your comments – it’s great to know that Horse Listening is making a real difference to so many people.

I continue to be amazed at how the words I write on the blog (and in the books) can make a positive change in people’s daily riding. Thank you for reading, and for your kind words, encouragement and suggestions.

Here are the 5 winners of the new book, Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success! 

Congratulations to the winners. :-) Please email me privately at fwdnrnd@gmail.com for details.

 

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I’d love to read more of the Horse Listening to get better with our lovely horse therapists. Volunteering there has been therapy for me, too. It is my “mental health day” away from work, cell phones or computers.

 

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Horse Listening has helped me communicate with my horse. It has made me better able to absorb the information he’s giving me & act on it appropriately. Thank you!!

 

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