Most people, particularly beginners and intermediate riders, think of a jump course as a series of jumps. When they enter the arena their mind is focused on the jumps. How many strides. Hitting the spot. My horse doesn’t like flowers. The order. The in and out. They may be holding their breath. They could be filled with performance tension.
But the truth is, horse and rider have only seconds of airtime over each jump.
The rest of the ride, which is the bulk of the time, is filled with lines and turns.
We all know that good turns come from good circles, half circles come from circles, and good half circles become good turns.
Good turns help set up the horse and rider for the jump.
Since these things are true, why not emphasize circles, turns, and lines from the minute your rider becomes a beginner? Why not make seeking round, balanced turns, and straight lines a normal and automatic instinct?
Anytime we can make something in riding automatic, we free up the rider’s mind for thinking, and they begin to rely on feel.
Some people say you can’t teach feel. I disagree. I believe when we create certain conditions for our students, we allow feel to develop organically. While some riders are more sensitive and athletic, I believe all riders can learn ‘feel’ to some degree.
I’ll go out on a limb and say, in the most elemental degree, almost all riding is based on straight lines and turns whether you ride western pleasure, dressage, jumping, you trail ride, or you ride bareback in the pasture. Developing balance, precision, and control of turns will benefit all these riders and their horses.
If you’ve ever ridden a horse that turned to bolt to the barn, or one that drops his shoulder on corners, you know what a bad turn feels like. A horse that turns and bolts leaves you little time for preparation but developed instinct can keep you in control. And preparation for the turn, using the right aides and balance can correct the shoulder dropper, although the confirmed horse my take some re-schooling.
Get to the Point, Please
The point is practicing turns and straight lines needs to be as important in the rider’s mind as the jump, the sliding stop, or lead changes. The problem is, unless you’re creative, practice is mundane.
Yup, so is learning how to add and subtract, but look how automatically you use it now.
If you use your imagination, the exercises in this first group can be incorporated into a ride of any type and for any level.
You will need striped jump poles. If your poles are white use colored tape (aka duct tape or electrical tape.) to mark off 3 stripes. I’m using three poles in my lesson.
Check this out
Be sure to check out the video containing the highlights of this post. I've added to the end of this blog post.
Introduce the concept of walking over a pole because not every person or every horse begins happy with this small challenge.
Place a single pole in the arena and ask your horse or rider to step over it. They will show you right away whether they need to do this more than once.
Next ask them to step over the middle stripe.
When the middle stripe is accomplished add a second pole and ask the horse or rider to step over either the right or left strip.
If you are using this exercise as a precursor to jumping you might add cones to determine when the rider should hold two-point. (Inexpensive cones are easy to find at big box stores during soccer season)
We’re not concerned about turns at this point. The only thing we want to know is can the horse and the rider cross the pole calmly and in the spot we’ve directed.
According to the level of your rider, do this at a walk, trot (jog), or canter (lope).
Add variety, assess the rider’s control, and the horse’s cooperation.
Scatter the three poles in the arena at different angles and ask the rider to take the horse over the center of each.
Now mix things up. Choose your gaits according to the horse and rider’s level. This diagram asks the rider to go over a different section of each pole.
If you need to make this more challenging, ask the rider to do this three times changing the stripe on each pole and not the same two in a row. For instance: Left, middle, right, middle, right, left, etc not left, left, left, middle, middle, middle.
Or make cards with the order and let them choose a card.
Use your imagination and you’ll find a number of ways to mix this up.
Establish a circle with one edge lining up with the center of the pole.
Go over the aids for a circle.
The gait is dependent upon the riding/training level of your horse and rider.
A cone at the center may give the rider a reference point
Once the circle is established, the rider can continue straight over the center of the pole.
Establish a circle for the second pole and end up riding straight off the circle over the middle of the 2nd pole.
Below is a picture of how that might look:
This is a bit more difficult because there is no cone for a reference point. If you choose to use a cone be sure it is placed for the smaller circle like it is in the image below:
Awareness of turns for the poles and taking the time, using the aids, and balancing the horse to get there. Giving importance to the turn.
Once steps #1. And #2. Have been accomplished, put the whole exercise together. The ride should look like the image below:
Enjoy this short video of the blog post highlights.
Thanks for taking a look at these lesson ideas. I'd love to know if you find them useful. AND if you have any ideas about lines, turns, and circles you'd like to share, please comment below.
May all your rides have smooth turns and even smoother lines,
Barbara Ellin Fox