Have you discovered that your horse is a bit of a maths whizz? He has somehow figured out that if he shaves just a few meters or yards here and there off of the odd corner or three, he has to do less overall in each lesson or schooling session. He seems to have a strong understanding of distance and how to make it shorter – much to your frustration and annoyance!
Cutting corners is something that, the mere mention of, takes us back to that one riding school pony in our past who, no matter what you did, insisted on taking shortcuts every circuit of the arena
However, unfortunately any horse has the potential to become a corner cutter. It is one of those niggling issues, that if it is not straightened out correctly once and for all with correct re-schooling, will plague almost all activities you choose to do with your horse. Poles on the ground throughout your jumping rounds due to a crooked approach, marks dropped in dressage due to no difference between a circle and going large, lack of bend, lack of flexion etc…
So, the question is; once a horse has really become a genuine, bona-fide corner cutter, how can we begin to correct this?
Well, let’s first take things back to the beginning of the issue, where the problem first began to become noticeable. Usually it is caused by a rider that is, well, less than accurate on how they are planning to ride a corner. A lot of riders, particularly novice riders, tend to see corners as a means to get to the next ‘straight part’ of the arena. Little attention is paid to actually riding the corner, which of course, when ridden badly will affect the quality of the ride on the same said ‘straight part’ of the arena.
To begin remedying a corner cutter, the rider needs to first become really clear on how exactly they want to ride the corner and what that would look like
It is important to keep in mind when planning this that your horse has a much longer back than you, and where you can literally pivot on your ‘inside leg’ and turn the corner, he will need to take the corner more like a train would. It is also worth keeping in mind that with a train, the shorter the carriages, the tighter an angle or arc it could technically round a corner on… The same principle applies to your horse, the greater collection, the deeper into a corner or the smaller the angle will be that he can also round the corner with.
Of course this does not mean that you need collection before riding a corner, however your horse does need to be balanced and the chosen track must be a suitable match for how your horse is going before riding into the corner.
By looking at your own horses unique situation, where he is in his training and how developed is he physically and mentally will dictate the track you can expect to follow when riding the corner correctly.
Once you have an exact and realistic plan in your mind of where you want to go, the next step is to communicate this to your horse. This means you must get clear on is your aids both before the corner, to set things up, and then as you ride through the corner. If you have learned to drive a car you will most likely know that when driving round a corner or bend, the general rule is break before and then accelerate through. When you are told to break, it really means to check your speed and ‘rebalance’ the car before each corner.
A similar principle applies to your horse, however rather than ‘breaking,’ your half halt is vitally important to firstly communicate that something is about to happen, but also to rebalance him before attempting to ride the corner.
Just like the train we spoke of earlier, if your horse is long and ‘strung out’, he will not be able to ride deep into the corner, which may in turn make your circles and corners look similar! Use your half halt to begin shortening things up a little and engaging the hind quarters, so as you can ride deeper into the corner and avoid any corner cutting!
You may find that if your horse is a true and true corner cutter, you will need to ride quite a few half halts to really begin seeing the results that you desire, but the half halt, coupled with a lot of transitions, will soon have him more responsive to your aids and listening to you more…
Which leads us on to the next point – becoming really clear on your aids while riding through the corner. Once you have half halted sufficiently and your horse is listening to you, you must then apply the aids to ask your horse to begin bending around your inside leg.
He must continue to move forward at all times through the corner, all the while bending and flexing his body around your inside leg
To maintain the rhythm, it is your responsibility to keep a consistent contact with the outside rein, and only using the inside rein to flex the head and neck in the direction you are travelling.
Many riders make the mistake of pulling with the outside rein to try keep their horse ‘out on the track’, but what almost always happens is the horse cocks his head to the outside, but then continues to shift to the inside. This can look like bulging out or bracing his body against your inside leg or moving the shoulders to the inside with each step, almost side passing around the corner. The rider inevitably gives up and the horse merrily continues on, readying himself for the next battle of wills at the next corner!
If you find this is the case, re-schooling your horse to become more responsive to your aids is essential if you are to successfully eradicate the corner cutting from your horses habits. Spend time working on your horse moving firstly off your leg and forward, and once you have established that, he must also learn to come back when asked. Then turn your mind to your horse moving away from your leg, or yielding to your leg.
Begin by riding on a 10m circle in one of the corners in your arena. Stay in walk for the duration of the exercise, but make sure your horse is moving forward at all times, not dragging his feet or becoming ‘sticky’ with his front end rather than stepping out on each stride.
Focus on the quality of the bend, is your horse really bending around your inside leg. Do you truly have a consistent contact with the outside rein? Is your horse’s hind legs on the same track as his front legs at all time on the circle?
Think of your horse’s tracks as train tracks, the back hoof must follow the corresponding front hoof on both sides, equal even and remaining parallel to each other as he travels around the circle.
From here, begin working large around the whole arena, but still riding a 10m circle in each corner. Use the long sides of your arena to ask for some transitions, whether it be between walk and halt or walk and trot, or all three, but make sure you are back into a relaxed, rhythmic and forward going walk approximately 5 meters before each corner.
once you and your horse can consistently maintain the correct bend in each corner, on the track you have decided on each time, change rein and work on the opposite rein. Notice any differences your horse might show between the two directions and, if you do pick up on any stiffness, create a plan with each ride to begin helping your horse to loosen up.
Finally, once your horse is truly responsive and listening to you on the circle at each corner, just go large, no circles. See if you can continue to maintain the bend in each corner as you ride through it, and if so, begin working in trot. You may find that once you add a little more speed, things become a little harder to control and maintain. If so, begin the same exercise, with the circles, in trot, however you may need to ride a larger circle depending on your horse’s level of training.
Consistency, as always, is the key to banishing your horse’s corner cutting habits for good. Remember to ride each corner as its own separate movement and then you should begin to see a continuous improvement in how well your horse can ride a bend and also, the quality of the work as you ride out of each corner.
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