Win­ning In­sights

Learn why square cor­ners mat­ter in pat­terns.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

This of­ten-over­looked con­cept can make or break your pat­tern work. Bonus: Use it to square-up your horse’s shoul­ders.

A square cor­ner can make or break your ma­neu­ver. But many rid­ers don’t rec­og­nize its im­por­tance, whether it’s for an ap­proach to your run­down to a slid­ing stop or a des­ig­nated ma­neu­ver as part of a ranch rid­ing or horse­man­ship pat­tern. I’m here to tell you: The 90-de­gree an­gle mat­ters for every­thing that hap­pens af­ter it.

Here I’ll de­tail the cor­rect and in­cor­rect paths to make a square cor­ner us­ing the di­a­gram be­low for ref­er­ence. I’ll ex­plain the pit­falls that de­velop when you stray from the cor­rect path. Then I’ll dis­cuss a very sim­ple way to prac­tice your square cor­ners at home us­ing two cones placed in each cor­ner or your arena.

Ex­am­in­ing the Two Paths

The di­a­gram at left ex­plains it clearly. In the or­ange path, the cor­ner at the cone is cut off. The path veers to the in­side of the arena, and then over­cor­rects to get straight again. In­stead of one fluid mo­tion around the cone and down a straight line to a stop (or what­ever ma­neu­ver comes next), there are three prob­lem points: 1.) let­ting the horse cut off and round the cor­ner, 2.) steer­ing back in the other di­rec­tion to get on the cor­rect path, and 3.) straight­en­ing out the path. All the ex­tra fuss in­ter­feres with build­ing speed for a stop or set­ting your horse up for the up­com­ing ob­sta­cle. Plus, it’s all un­nec­es­sary and teaches your horse that pre­ci­sion isn’t im­por­tant; you’ll just fix it (maybe) as you go along.

Now look at the blue path. It’s straight­for­ward. There’s no ques­tion­ing the in­tent. The 90-de­gree an­gle is crisp, and the path ex­it­ing the turn is straight. The horse is set up for what­ever comes next, whether it’s a tran­si­tion to a trot to cover a set of logs or a slid­ing stop.

Past the Path

Be­yond the ba­sics of the path, there are serious con­se­quences when you let your horse lazily cut a cor­ner. The big­gest be­ing that your horse is a crea­ture of habit. If you let him get lazy and round a

cor­ner, he’ll take lib­er­ties to cut it each time. It be­comes a habit that’s dif­fi­cult to break and sets him up to go his own way when­ever he wants.

Ad­di­tion­ally, when you cut the cor­ner, your horse drops his shoul­der into the turn. He’s not trav­el­ing squarely, so you have to pick him up, square his shoul­ders, and set him up to travel cor­rectly. You might find that he’s more apt to drop his shoul­ders else­where, too—not just in a cor­ner turn—which be­comes a big prob­lem to fix in the fu­ture.

The good news is it’s a fairly easy habit to keep from hap­pen­ing—if you’re an ac­tive rider and think about what you’re do­ing with ev­ery stride.

My Tech­nique

Set cones in the cor­ners of your arena, about 15 feet off the side and end fences. Col­lect your horse and lope on a straight line. As you ap­proach a cor­ner, pick up your hand to gather up your horse and el­e­vate his shoul­ders. Lope just slightly past the cone, and then steer your horse into the crisp turn. You can see my horse’s po­si­tion in re­la­tion to the cone and my body po­si­tion in Photo 1. I use my out­side leg to help steer, my in­side leg sup­ports to keep my horse on the path, and my hand is el­e­vated to keep his shoul­ders up.

As we fin­ish the sec­ond half of the cor­ner in Photo 2, you can see that my body po­si­tion is ba­si­cally the same as it was in Photo 1. My hand moves back to­ward my horse’s cen­ter­line so he can straighten his body and exit the turn ex­actly where I need him to be for the next steps.

Photo 3 shows our straight exit from the turn. We’re both look­ing for­ward at what comes next, and my horse’s straight­ness sets him up for suc­cess at my next re­quest.

The Long-Term Ben­e­fit

Your horse will have long-term suc­cess if you ride him like this in­stead of let­ting him de­velop bad habits. Once a horse cuts off a cor­ner, he’s not lis­ten­ing. And that lack of at­ten­tion will creep into other as­pects of your rid­ing. A suc­cess­ful horse needs straight­ness, at­ten­tion, and col­lec­tion. This ex­er­cise en­com­passes all three of those things.

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