Corners - Its all in the preparation

As with all dressage riding, preparation is always the key. This applies to both horse and rider. Having good preparation before every turn, corner, transition or movement will not only improve the chances of success through that exercise but by making sure that due process is followed the consistency with the work will be far higher.

If a movement or exercise does not work out as planned the best course of action is to actually back track and trace your steps prior to the issue and by sure this is where you will find the problem. By knowing the due process this fault finding is made easier as you know the step by step work that was taken.

All great riders never assume; they never leave the horse to his own devices through the arena, which brings out the old maxim “Ride ever stride”. However this does need some clarification. I always advise riders to aid, obtain the result and release - so how does this go with riding every stride?

The rider needs to be mentally assessing every stride, constantly running through a checklist of their own position, the horse’s body alignment, the way of going and the exercise that is being performed. The rider only, however, needs to actually apply an aid when they need to maintain the exercise or improve the way of going. So mentally assess and aid when appropriate.

The Art of a Good Corner:

The smallest circle a horse can arc without moving laterally is a 6m circle. This takes the horse 12 steps of the inside hind leg. Therefore as a corner is a quarter of a circle the horse should take only 3 steps to move through the corner; no matter whether we are talking walk, trot or canter. This will obviously depend on the horse’s level of training as we would not expect the novice horse to be able to have the balance and lateral suppleness to step through a corner in canter with 3 steps of the hind leg. It should though be aimed for as a priority in the training.

Key point: Do not ride so deep to the corner that you cannot maintain the energy and rhythm to the gait.

The rider needs to be able to ask for a lateral flexion on the straight line without the horse deviating from that line. Lateral – to the side; flexion – at the throatlash area. This is achieved via the activating of the hind leg on the inside of the flexion into the co-ordination of the rein aids. The horse should stay committed through the stride, stay reaching out to the hand without the rhythm breaking. If the release to the flexion is not achieved on a straight line then the horse will more than likely brace against the hand in the corner and will more than likely lose balance.

One of the important factors to riding a good corner in my opinion is to make sure that the bend is asked for before the corner. If the rider is still using the inside rein through the corner then the likelihood is that they will be blocking the forward travel of the inside hind leg and negating the gymnastic benefit of the corner.

As the rider approaches the corner they need to half halt to balance the horse and then invite an inside bend. The rein aids are used and the result established prior to the corner. The hands then remain passive whilst the inside leg drives the horse through the corner with the seat and outside leg maintaining the curve through the horses body. In other words a good spiral seat is required whereby the riders hips mirror the horses hips and the shoulders mirror the horses shoulders. On exiting the corner the rider straightens with a half halt on the outside rein.

Good exercise: is to ride 10m circles in each corner, using the corner as a quarter of the circle. This really helps centre the corner, bend the horse through his whole body and supple the horse.

The rider then needs to assess whether their preparation paid off. For this to happen they must assess the horse through the corner. The main aspect here is through the seat with the rider feeling via the inside seat bone how many steps the horse takes from straight line, through curve to the new straight line. They must also assess the flow forwards, the reach to hand, the constant curve through the horses body, the balance and alignment and the resultant gait after the corner. What we would like to feel is a more energised step as the horse leaves the corner.