While I admire the Dixon Oval at Devon, there’s nothing like a corner for teaching a horse.
It’s a place where you can help a horse learn to bend, learn to engage the inside hind leg, learn to maintain rhythm and tempo and impulsion, and learn balance.
It’s a place where riders can learn about the outside rein, the sometimes forgotten indirect rein, their own straightness, timing and feel.
It’s a place where horses can learn how to coordinate their front and hind ends and where riders can learn to coordinate their aids, and ride the hind end of their horses.
It’s a place where the holes in your horse’s training — or your riding — really show.
As it is with shoulder-in, it takes a while for horses and riders to be able to make their best corners. But it’s something to start working on as soon as the basics of go-whoa-turn are in place. It’s nice to know that if you do any traditional work in hand or groundwork that involves displacing your horse’s hindquarters, you’ve already introduced corners.
In lessons, I start talking about “square corners” long before horses or riders are ready or able to make their corners square — or what we think of as square (which is actually a quarter of a circle with a small radius). But just thinking about square corners makes corners better from the get-go.
I’d like to share one of my favorite exercises for working on corners. It works so well, paradoxically, because you don’t ride in the corners of the ring.
Here’s the exercise:
Ride in a fenced or indoor arena. You’ll be introducing the exercise at the trot, and then later, at the walk. I know what they say about starting everything at the walk. This is the exception that proves the rule. Trust me. It’s easier, and will go better, at the trot.
First, establish a good working trot around the arena, maintaining a consistent rhythm and tempo.
Then, come off the rail on the short side onto the centerline, consciously maintaining your rhythm and tempo. Ride to the opposite short side but don’t turn until your horse’s nose is close to the rail. Maintain your rhythm and tempo. If you turned right onto the centerline, turn right coming off the centerline.
You may notice that the corner you make coming off the rail is a lot crisper than the corner you make coming onto the rail. You may find that it’s easier to maintain your rhythm and tempo coming off the rail than it is to maintain your rhythm and tempo coming onto the rail. You may find it hard to wait for your horse’s nose to be close to the rail before you start turning. You may find it hard to turn straight up the centerline, and even harder to stay straight coming off the centerline onto the rail.
The next time you ride up the centerline, try to get your horse’s nose close to the rail before turning onto the short side. Maintain your rhythm and tempo. Ride the inside hind leg around the corner. Stay straight on the centerline, no veering as you come on or come off. Maintain your rhythm and tempo. Turn left if you turned right, or vice versa.
Develop the exercise by riding up one quarterline and down the other, so your time on the rail on the short side is brief. You’re aiming for the same feeling in the corner approaching the rail as the corner leaving the rail.
Jumble it up — ride the centerline and then a quarterline, the eighthline, stay on the same rein, change direction. Make it interesting so you’re not drilling the figure, you’re practicing while refining your horse’s performance under different scenarios (always a good idea). Just altering the exercise slightly keeps your horse listening to you, discourages anticipation, and prevents him tuning out from boredom.
When you feel like you’ve nailed it, ride your corners anywhere you want in the ring. When you return to riding the four corners along the rail, you’ll know what to ask of your horse and how to ask it, your horse will know what’s expected of him, and both of you will enjoy better coordination and confidence.
Try it and let me know how it works for you.